A low-budget Mexican feature with real heart and a delightfully gamey sense of humor, “Caiman’s Dream” represents a significant step forward from director Beto Gomez’s unmemorable 1997 debut “El Agujero.” While it takes some time to get all cylinders firing, this unprepossessing black comedy comes together remarkably well, distinguished by captivating characters, punchy dialogue and a genuinely satisfying, bittersweet final act. Folding together a rich feel for vintage Mexican cinema and Latino soap with a refreshing irreverence toward death, this raw B&W production could springboard from festival slots to limited exposure on the arthouse margins.
Action starts in Spain, where Inaki (Daniel Guzman) makes a living from low-level crime. When an old man (veteran thesp Francisco Rabal, who died recently) expires during a burglary and Inaki is spotted leaving the scene by a neighbor, the youth is forced to flee the country.
He hooks up in Guadalajara, Mexico, with his estranged father, Patxi (Kandido Uranga), whose shady past gradually is revealed. Patxi and Inaki’s wily uncle, known as El Caiman (Rafael Velasco), rent rooms from motherly cross-dresser Aunt Carmen (hilariously played by Roberto Espejo), who allows her niece Anita (Sara Ruiz) to date Inaki, convinced he has a bright future as a doctor.
The script by Gomez and Ignacio Siro Medrano spends a little too much time idly sketching the family of endearing deadbeats before the film takes shape and its characters find a sense of purpose. But its depiction of a Mexico full of oddball eccentrics, surreal occurrences, magic and superstition keep it lively and entertaining. One especially amusing strain has Caiman being badgered by repeated visits from the ghost of his belittling mother (Patricia Reyes Spindola).
The narrative kicks into a higher gear when Caiman latches onto Inaki as the element he needs to make his dream a reality. Recalling his younger years in a lazy beach location crawling with beautiful, available women, Caiman aims to open a classy bar there with the proceeds of a bank robbery, roping in Inaki and his father to help. The haphazardly planned job plays like a bizarre, low-rent “Dog Day Afternoon” riff, with the inept robbers aided by compliant bank staff, clueless cops and a volatile crowd of onlookers.
The modest but appealing film functions equally well as a crime caper, a rocky romance, a spirited reflection on the importance of family and friendship and a tale of the redemptive power of dreams for a bunch of innate losers. Gomez and his actors display genuine warmth for the droll characters. Standout work in the able cast comes from Velasco as an aging wise-guy who thinks he’s a lot smoother than he really is; Reyes Spindola as the most disconcertingly down-to-earth of spirits; and Espejo, who supplies one of the most enjoyable deadpan drag turns since Divine.
Shot on 16mm and blown up to 35, the film’s dirty visuals match the rough-edged characters and story. Jaunty, foot-tapping score by Mastretta helps keep the ambling action buoyant.