I've been hemming and hawing for the past couple of months to write about Güeros, since I was blindsided by it in the IndieLisboa Festival's 2015 official selection, and every time I put pen to paper I find I don't really know how to, or where to, begin. This is probably because the debut feature of Mexican director Alonso Ruizpalacios seems to mash-up a series of classic and modern tales of young men and women being young, restless and carefree: a Slacker-ish sort of Mexican Graffiti shot by a devoted and contrary follower of Godard.
Really, though, it's a film about a teenage generation that may not be looking for anything in particular and isn't particularly bothered either about how to get anywhere, and that, in truth, may only be so scared of finding out what real life and adulthood hold in store for them that they try to delay that moment as much as they can. In point of fact, and if this isn't enough to get your head spinning, it's also a road movie where a couple of slackers and a surly kid brother basically drive around in circles around a Mexico City in the throes of a seemingly never-ending college student strike, in search of a surrogate father figure that has been bequeathed by their father.
And did I mention it's shot in the square-boxed, 1:33 Academy format, in gritty, often handheld black & white, and punctuated by pouty Nouvelle-Vague slogans such as "to be young and to not be a revolutionary is contradictory"? Yes, on paper it's a recipe for disaster, or at least derivativeness, especially since the film bears all the hallmarks of something borne out of a film school project. But Mr. Ruizpalacios is so aware of the swamp he's swimming in that all possible traps are pretty much avoided through sheer insolence, smarts and bloody-mindedness.
Güeros starts with a perverse, misdirecting pre-credit sequence of a prank gone bad, played on a character that will not reappear at all in the film. But the prank itself will, or at least will be echoed later on in the film, serving as a "deus ex machina" that first leads the surly Tomas (Sebastián Aguirre) to Mexico City to shack up with his college brother Fede aka "Shadow" (Tenoch Huerta), and later leads them to the precise surrogate father they chase throughout the film. This is Epigmenio Cruz, "the Mexican Dylan", a legendary troubadour that is also the only trace the siblings have from their dad, who left and left behind a tape of his greatest songs.
The tape is also an important element in the film's constantly moving, relay structure: it's passed ear to ear throughout but, in keeping with the film's sly mischief, we never actually hear it on the soundtrack, as everyone who listens to it does so in Tomas' Walkman headphones. That it all goes around in circles, though, is part and parcel of Güeros's hand-crafted, urgent charm: it may look eccentric, random, but as the pieces slowly fall into place you realise Mr. Ruizpalacios has always known very well where he was heading, the film's laidback teenage rebelliousness becoming a perfect portrait of how we behave at that "difficult age".
In an ideal world, Güeros would be hailed as a brash entry in the coming-of-age category, a film whose playfulness envelops you slowly until you have no choice but to surrender, enough to carry it over into Ferris Bueller territory. Instead, it'll probably be recognised only by audiences attentive to the arthouse circuits and Latin oddities - and yet this resonates so much more than as a mere one-off, as it's a film both aware of all that's behind it and willing to pick it up and carry it further, logic and rules be damned. It's the most fun I've had watching a debut film in a very long time.
Cast Tenoch Huerta, Sebastián Aguirre, Ilse Salas, Leonardo Ortizgris
Director Alonso Ruizpalacios; screenwriters Mr. Ruizpalacios and Gibrán Portela; cinematographer Damián García (b&w); composer Tomás Barreiro; designer Sandra Cabriada; costumes Ingrid Sac; editors Yibrán Asuad and Ana García; producer Ramiro Ruiz; production companies Catatonia Cine, Postal Producciones, Mexican Film Institute and CONACULTA in co-production with the Mexican National Autonomous University and the University Centre of Film Studies
Screened April 14th 2015, IndieLisboa competition screener