After many years of directing openly commercial films, Rafael Montero has returned to a personal mode in "Broken Hearts," an ambitious if unsatisfactory mosaic about the existential angst of the Mexican middle-class. Large cast of well-known actors may attract viewers on its domestic release, but depressing nature and loose narrative won't help sprout any legs.

After many years of directing openly commercial films, Rafael Montero has returned to a personal mode in “Broken Hearts,” an ambitious if unsatisfactory mosaic about the existential angst of the Mexican middle-class. Large cast of well-known actors may attract viewers on its domestic release, but depressing nature and loose narrative won’t help sprout any legs.

Montero focuses on the diverse tribulations of the inhabitants of one building in a huge apartment complex. Housewife Eva (Veronica Merchant) is leaving husband Horacio (Rafael Sanchez Navarro) because he’s unemployed. Aging call girl Celina (Ana Martin) redefines Oedipal relationships with her teenage son Santiago (Jairo Gomez), who secretly dresses in her costumes and spies on a gay neighbor.

Good-looking Teresa (Lorena Rojas) experiences a casual sex encounter with a former nerd from high school. Religious zealots Josafat (Salvador Garcini) and Ruth (Toni Marcin) endure the noisy sexcapades from the scheming neighbors above (Cristina Michaus, Odiseo Bichir). Mr. Cano (Jorge Galvan) suffers a stroke and reveals he is penniless, to the selfish concern of his no-good offspring.

All the characters lead lives of not-so-quiet desperation, but Montero just skims the surface of their problems; an ample bank account and/or a satisfactory love life seem to be the sole concerns of this collection of extreme urban neurotics. Schematic characterizations are further hindered by the repetitious development of the same conflicts.

The story of the splitting couple, a sort of sequel to Montero’s 1988 feature “El costo de la vida,” is the only one to hint at a hopeful resolution, and it benefits from sensitive turns by Merchant and Sanchez Navarro. Other thesps tend to overplay their emotional hands.

Helmer adopts a variety of stylistic gimmicks — dizzying handheld shots, wide-angle lensing — to differentiate his stories, but the ploy is more distracting than effective. One recurrent and unifying pop song on the soundtrack adds another pretentious note.

Broken Hearts

Mexico

Production

A Producciones Volcan, Imcine, Fondo para la Produccion Cinematografica de Calidad, Fondo de Fomento a la Calidad Cinematografica, Renta Imagen production, with Total Filmes (Brazil) and the support of Guazu-Media Production, Distribucion Audiovisual (Uruguay) and Ibermedia. Produced by Jorge Prior. Directed, written by Rafael Montero.

Crew

Camera (color), Rafael Ortega; editor, Oscar Figueroa; music, Pedro Gilabert, Andre Moraes; art director, Martha Papadimitriou; sound (Dolby) Jesus Sanchez; associate producers, Iafa Britz, Juan E. Garcia, Laura Ruiz. Reviewed at Guadalajara Film Festival, March 12, 2001. Running time: 112 MIN.

With

Veronica Merchant, Rafael Sanchez Navarro, Carmen Montejo, Odiseo Bichir, Cristina Michaus, Lorena Rojas, Francisco de la O, Jorge Galvan, Norma Herrera, Ana Martin, Jairo Gomez, Salvador Garcini, Toni Marcin, Luis de Icaza, Alfredo Sevilla, Juan Carlos Colombo.

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