Review: ‘Guilt Free’

One of several recent Mexican films to feature a major plot point involving the disposal of a loved one's ashes, "Guilt Free" is a modern-day Cain and Abel tale graced by an extraordinary Gothic ambience. Major drawbacks are the slow pacing, soap opera theatrics and overdetermined stereotyping of one of the major characters. Offshore chances look slim. Pic opens with the funeral of a patriarch, a philanderer, and concern over his remains runs throughout like a leitmotif. The man's spoiled 21-year-old son, Esteban (Francisco Ribera), returns to the family fold in Cuernavaca a year later. Esteban is a romantic wanderer, a would-be writer, an elitist (he refers to the masses as "mediocrities"); unfortunately for him, he has no talent. Younger brother Juan (Martin Altomaro), 17, is the good, pure son, devoted to his newly widowed and fervently devout mother (Martha Navarro) and, as chance would have it, a very gifted poet.

Esteban proves to be a bad influence, and Juan leaves the family’s huge home to set up digs in a tenement with girlfriend Alba (Masha Kostiurina), a wealthy schoolmate whose parents are dead set against the relationship. Mom, strapped for ready cash, takes in two boarders, Catholic theologians who give her the sustenance her absent sons had previously provided. Greedy, mean Esteban provokes mother, brother and, ultimately, brother’s sweet girlfriend, in a physically intimate encounter that sends sensitive Juan way over the edge.

Juan’s gradual descent into madness is expertly realized, and the excellent score by Zbigniew Paleta includes a haunting use of violin and harpsichord that reinforces the feeling of psychological imbalance, not to mention the overall Gothic mood. Contributing mightily to the latter are the outstanding efforts of lenser Serguei Salvidar Tanaka and art director Miguel Angel Alvarez.

Guilt Free

Mexican

Production

A Producciones Mexico/Instituto de Cultura del Estado de Morelos/ Ayuntamiento de Cuernavaca/Cooperativa Conexion/FONCA/Servicios Filmicos Arturo Hernandez/Universidad Autonoma del Estado de Morelos/Estudios Churubusco Azteca/IMCINE production. (International sales: Maria Eugenia Garzon, IMCINE, Mexico City.) Executive producer, Avelino Rodriguez. Directed, written by Marcel Sisniega.

Crew

Camera (color), Serguei Saldivar Tanaka; editor, Sigfrido Barjau; music, Zbigniew Paleta; art direction, Miguel Angel Alvarez; sound, Aurora Ojeda. Reviewed at Guadalajara Film Festival (competing), March 17, 1997. Running time: 100 MIN.

With

Juan ..... Martin Altomaro Esteban ..... Francisco Ribera Alba ..... Masha Kostiurina Mother ..... Martha Navarro Isabel ..... Ines Somellera Susana Contreras ..... Natalia Barraza
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