This film is very much a companion piece to Y tu mamá también (Mexico 2001). Carlos Cuarón wrote the earlier film which is brother Alfonso directed. This time Carlos both writes and directs and Alfonso produces (alongside the two other amigos, Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarittu). The same two actors, Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna again play the leads and the film is a co-production involving Luna and Bernal’s Canana, the tres amigos Cha Cha Chá and the Hollywood studio Universal/Focus Features.
The earlier film saw Luna and Bernal as middle-class sophisticated Mexico City adolescents on a road trip to a kind of maturity in the Pacific seaboard province of Guerrero. The new film reverses the narrative so Tato (Cursi/Bernal) and Beto (Rudo/Luna) are ‘country hicks’ spotted by a talent scout who stumbles across their performances in a local football team. With the two plunged into Mexico City life as unlikely stars of top teams, a sharp satire of football and Mexican society ensues. If you are a football fan you’ll quickly work out all the likely scenarios, though the ending might throw you a little.
Like many aspects of the film, the ending seems almost devised to alienate an American audience. I presume that most of what happens to the pair as footballers also happens to basketball, baseball and American football players as well, but American audiences may not be familiar with the references that Latin American and European audiences will pick up on. There are also a couple of specific points that I noted thanks to posters on IMDB. The Mexican film poster above shows Diego Luna clutching his genitals – a reference to an incident in the film, but also an iconic image of footballers protecting themselves on the pitch. In the American film poster (look on the IMDB page for the film) Luna’s hand has moved to a pointing finger. The talent scout in the film speaks Argentinian Spanish and the subtitles reflect this by giving him British English words like ‘wanker’ and ‘bugger’ – quite a clever idea, I think, but puzzling for some audiences.
I’m sure that there is a lot of the film that I don’t get. Like Y tu mamá también, I suspect the film offers a discourse on Mexican politics and social issues, though not as directly or as pointedly as the earlier film. Once again, there is a voice-over that comments on events, although this time it is one of the characters in the narrative rather than an anonymous observer. The film seems ‘realist’ rather than escapist (another ‘anti-Hollywood’ trait?). I don’t want to spoil any narrative enjoyment, so I’ll just point out that the inevitable often happens to characters and though the film is clearly a comedy for the most part, it isn’t starry-eyed or overly-optimistic. That was a slight problem for me in that I didn’t laugh all that much because I knew what was coming (i.e. as a football fan). However, I did enjoy the film overall and the twin performances of Luna and Bernal are excellent and worth the price of admission alone.
I recommend the Bulletin Board discussions on IMDB. One board in particular carries a detailed discussion about the ethnic mix in Mexican society and the rights and wrongs of having ‘white’ European Mexicans playing Rudo and Cursi. Unlike the all-to-common slanging matches on IMDB boards, this is an interesting and thought-provoking discussion. Slightly less revealing are the attempts to translate the nicknames ‘Rudo’ and ‘Cursi’ given to the two country hicks by the Mexico City tabloids. I like the ‘rough’ and ‘mushy’ translation best, although ‘corny’ is possibly more correct for Cursi. Like many sporting nicknames, these are both derogatory and affectionate – there is a lovely scene in the film when Cursi meets fans who state their intention to tear him limb from limb if the team doesn’t win and then beg for his autograph.
For Gael García Bernal fans (I know that there are plenty out there), I should also mention that Tato’s dream is not really to play football (which he is very good at) but to sing (which Tato certainly isn’t good at – but Bernal may be, for all that I know). Still you do get to watch him in a nice Western suit and hat combination.