An unerring compositional eye plus firm control of an inventive structure keep “Drama/Mex” well within the attention span, even when the script wanders without seeming to know why. In his sophomore feature, helmer Gerardo Naranjo has honed his skills and begun to fulfill the promise he showed with “Malachance,” crafting a deceptively complex tripartite character study of love, despair and unexpected compassion. Exec produced by Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna’s shingle Canana, pic is solid arthouse material, and could ride the new wave of Mexican cinema to more than mere fest play.
Naranjo tells three disparate stories centered around one night in Acapulco, but this is not a flashy tourist part of town, and, while Naranjo’s obviously influenced by Alejandro Inarritu, he’s no slavish copyist.
Beautifully woven together in a kind of relay style, each section moves further along in time and then gets handed back to the next to recover some ground before continuing into the present. Such a precariously balanced structure can easily come tumbling down, but Naranjo skillfully maintains the shifts and the momentum.
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Persistent young charmer Chano (Emilio Valdes) follows ex-g.f. Fernanda (Diana Garcia) home, scaling the walls when she won’t let him in through the door and forcing her down on the bed in an extremely well-played and disturbingly real scene. What starts as a rape however turns into a mutual pairing when Fernanda becomes a willing participant; she’s still got a thing for the guy even though he shows no signs he can be trusted.
When her current beau Gonzalo (Juan Pablo Castaneda) gets wind of Chano’s return, he goes ballistic, at first trying to win Fernanda back through a nighttime serenade but then his jealousy, fueled by alcohol, intensifies, and a struggle ensues as Fernanda flip-flops between the two.
Third thread functions more as an independent second story, bearing little connection to the parallel drama. Tired, middle-aged suit Jaime (Fernando Becerril), fed-up with his numbed existence, steals the company payroll and rents a place on the beach to do himself in. Fifteen-year-old runaway Tigrillo (Miriana Moro) thinks he’s an easy target for a little scam, but soon realizes he’s suicidal and becomes his unexpected protector.
Latter grouping is unquestionably the more interesting, raising issues far more multi-dimensional than jealousy and indecision. While acting by a largely nonprofessional cast is strong, it’s the puckish Moro who steals the show, taking enormous pleasure in soliciting passing tourists with her newly-learned phrase “massage with relaxation” and yet revealing a warmth and depth below the teen swagger that’s as understated as it is surprising. With his ashen face of despair, Becerril, the sole thesper with a solid resume behind him, is a well modulated contrast.
All this is lensed with a breezy, jiggly hand-held style that occasionally bobs up and down a bit too often but keeps a sense of youth and naturalism without pushing the envelope. Of special note is Naranjo’s beautiful framing, in collaboration with d.p. Tobias Datum (“How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer”). Blow-up from Super 16 retains a not unpleasant graininess in the indoor scenes, giving the whole a realist texture. Post-prod dubbing can be problematic, sounding as if some phrases were recorded in an adjacent room.