Nicholas Ray meets Jean-Luc Godard in “I’m Gonna Explode,” a punchy exploration of unattributable teenage angst that expands the usually male view of “Rebel Without a Cause”-type dramas to include an equally well-scripted femme lead. Helmer Gerardo Naranjo showed a special affinity for the subject in one of the multiple storylines of “Drama/Mex,” but here he’s refined the vision and made a stronger film, wedding a biting sense of humor with a razor-sharp, psychologically probing vision. Sure to travel far along the fest circuit, pic should find Euro arthouse screens equally amenable.
With each new work, cutting-edge shingle Canana, co-founded by Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna and Pablo Cruz, continues to prove the worth of investing in young Mexican talent, fueling the current wave of creative diversity south of the border. With “I’m Gonna Explode,” Naranjo strengthens his shooting-star status.
Two disassociated teens, Roman (Juan Pablo de Santiago) and Maru (Maria Deschamps), meet in detention. The son of rich, right-wing politico Eugenio (Daniel Gimenez Cacho), Roman takes desperation for parental attention to the extreme through multiple expulsions and a witty mock-suicide in the school talent show.
Maru’s working-class, a lost soul uncertain of where she fits, pouring her thoughts into a diary. After they assess each other’s outsider status, Roman turns his violent fantasies into semi-reality when they pretend he’s abducting her at gunpoint.
Typically for someone of Roman’s social status, rather than doing a real Bonnie and Clyde, the two hide out on his rooftop, where the comforts of home are just a few floors away. Nesting in a tent (decorated with a Smiths poster), they share an outsider status that binds them together but often seems based on typical teenage projections of angst-ridden ego rather than a true melding of hearts and minds. Uncertain what to do next, they finally steal a car with the idea of making it to Mexico City.
Naranjo calibrates his construction carefully, using quick edits at the beginning that gradually slow down as the teens themselves enter a different rhythm. Pic loses some momentum about three-quarters in, when Roman and Maru discover their future is equal parts exhilarating and frightening. The fine script impressively balances both figures, capturing Maru’s greater maturity and desperation for the love of a twin soul, and Roman’s greater independence and anger at the world in addition to his yearning for recognition.
The two leads, both screen novices, embody youth’s petulance and energy, their physicality as actors branding itself on the screen. Eugenio is little more than a caricature of the privileged politician, but Cacho relishes his scenes, as does Rebecca Jones her scenes as Eugenio’s younger second wife, mildly amused by her stepson’s hijinks.
Visuals are impressive, every color carefully considered and contrasted, from the golden light warming the tent to the persistent reds associated with Maru. Naranjo nearly overdoes it with the frequently moving camera (confidently wielded by Tobias Datum) but stops short of overkill. Music, with selections from Mahler and Albinoni, is at once unexpected and spot-on.