A weekend house party among Mexico's college elite becomes a vehicle for addressing issues of class and privilege in "Deficit," Gael Garcia Bernal's respectable but drawn-out helming debut.

A weekend house party among Mexico’s college elite becomes a vehicle for addressing issues of class and privilege in “Deficit,” Gael Garcia Bernal’s respectable but drawn-out helming debut. Produced by Canana, Garcia Bernal’s personal shingle with Diego Luna (here exec producing) and Pablo Cruz, pic signals its intentions too soon and then, like the party, goes on far longer than interest can sustain; no surprise this was originally slated as an hourlong TV episode. Garcia Bernal’s genuine likeability on- and offscreen has kept “Deficit” in festival spotlights, though buzz is waning and theatrical is unlikely to make up the shortfall.

Cristobal (Garcia Bernal) arrives at his parents’ country home in preparation for a weekend party with friends. Younger sis Elisa (Camila Sodi) is already whooping it up with her drug-addled homies, but Cristobal’s compadres are a more snobbish lot, self-satisfied and smug within their privileged world. Used to having lackeys always within earshot, Cristobal calls out orders to the staff in that friendly but unmistakable manner of master and servant.

Paradise, however, is an ephemeral state. Cristobal’s parents are in Europe, running from corruption charges, and money is uncharacteristically tight. More immediately, gardener Adan (Tenoch Huerta Mejia) refuses to behave like a servant, thinking that growing up with Cristobal puts them on equal footing.

Friction develops when friends bring beautiful, sad-eyed Argentinian Dolores (Luz Cipriota) to the party, and both Cristobal and Adan vie for her affection. Deliberately delaying the arrival of g.f. Mafer (Ana Serradilla) so he can score with Dolores, Cristobal gets too caught up in the currents of conflicting emotions to successfully orchestrate a harmonious resolution amid the rising tensions.

Garcia Bernal sets his worthy themes down clearly, but rather than the subtle exploration of the corrosive effects of class in “Y tu mama tambien” or the directness of “La Zona,” he and scripter Kyzza Terrazas create the kind of endless weekend party that just makes you want to rush out the door. Granted, he’s included a few characters more intriguing than the dull, unsympathetic group freeloading on the estate — beginning with Dolores, coming from an equally privileged/corrupt background as Cristobal but now forced into exile. Newcomer Cipriota has a magnetic, melancholic charm that could signal greater things ahead; so, too, Huerta Mejia, nicely capturing Adan’s limbo state between servitude and independence.

Garcia Bernal does his best to make Cristobal a sympathetic figure, but his partial success has more to do with the performer than the role. As Cristobal clings to his world of privilege while knowing his father’s riches come from unsavory exploitation, his weakness and inability to control the increasingly decadent events around him will only increase auds’ desire to leave him to his house-bound fate.

Lensing adds a sense of claustrophobia, and pic reveals Garcia Bernal as a helmer who understands how to direct the camera to reflect his themes. Utilizing a fair amount of Steadicam work, he gets close up to his actors’ faces, moving slightly around them to increase the feeling of unbalanced lives being scrutinized.

Deficit

Mexico

Production

A Canana Film production. (International sales: Sogepaq, Madrid.) Produced by Pablo Cruz, Gael Garcia Bernal. Executive producers, Diego Luna, Luciana Kaplan. Directed by Gael Garcia Bernal. Screenplay, Kyzza Terrazas.

Crew

Camera (color), Eugenio Polgovsky; editor, Alex Rodriquez; music supervisor, Lynn Fainchtein; production designer, Mily Moreno; costume designer, Anna Terrazas; sound (Dolby Digital), Martin Hernandez; line producer, Daniel Jacobs; casting, Alejandro Reza. Reviewed at Rio de Janeiro Film Festival (Latin America), Sept. 30, 2007. (Also in Cannes, Toronto, AFI Los Angeles film festivals.) Running time: 79 MIN.

With

Gael Garcia Bernal, Camila Sodi, Luz Cipriota, Tenoch Huerta Mejia, Alvaro Verduzco, Giovanna Zacarias, Dagoberto Gama, Fermin Martinez, Cesar Braga, Fernanda Castillo, Malcolm Llanas Stansbie, Jorge Luis Moreno, Ana Serradilla, Asuka Iida, Jin Hee Lee, Juan Pablo Medina, Pamela Reiter, Fernanda Valderrama, Siouzana Melikian, Pedro de Tavira.
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