Thursday, September 12, 2019

Bob's Cinema Diary: 9/13/'19 -- Two views of youth in Mexico

Tigers Are Not Afraid

Director Issa Lopez takes a semi-surreal plunge into the world of Mexico city street kids in Tigers Are Not Afraid. Juxtaposing hard-core realism with revealing fantasies, Lopez gives her film its own special flavor. Lopez sets her story against a drug-riddled backdrop. Early on we're told that 160,000 people have been murdered in Mexico's drug wars and 53,000 are missing. The dangers of rampant lawlessness rule the life of 10-year-old Estrella (Paola Lara), who lives in a world of gunshots and fatalities and must try to survive after her mother goes missing. Much of Lopez's story takes place among kids in similar straits as Estrella. El Shine (Juan Ramon Lopez) commands a gang of boys who are striving to kill Caco, one of the villains who helped turn their neighborhood into a war zone. El Chino (Tenoch Huerta), an even bigger thug than Caco, sets out to eliminate these pesky kids. Lopez offers imagery -- the dead congregated in a sewer, for example -- that reflect and magnify the frightful world in which these kids are forced to live. Ambitious to the point of folly, Tigers Are Not Afraid nonetheless stands as a powerful scream of a movie, a harrowing look at the dangers, bonding, and horror that kids face when thrust into environments so violent that no one is safe.

This Is Not Berlin

Director Hari Sama immerses his movie in the life of Carlos (Xabiani Ponce de Leon), a 17-year-old who, in 1986, discovers a world of drugs, sex and artistic ambition in Mexico City. The characters in This is Not Berlin eagerly explore a world that sometimes proves too unstable for them to manage, particularly when it comes to sex, drugs and artistic expression. Skilled in electronics, Carlos wangles his way into an artistic subculture that's inhabited by the sister (Ximena Romo) of his best friend (Jose Antonio Toledano). Carlos also discovers the excitement that awaits him at The Aztec, a club where gays, straights and those who wish to experiment find one another. Major partying takes place against the backdrop of AIDS proliferation and failed government policies. Adults do turn up: Carlos's mother (Marina de Tavira) can't seem to get out of bed. She's too depressed. Carlos makes his main connection with the adult world through an uncle (played by Sama), an aging hippie who feels a sense of responsibility for his nephew. A young gay man (Mauro Sanchez Navarro) becomes Carlos's guide in this new world. Throbbing dance scenes can be wearing and the basic story -- libidinous liberation leads to near tragedy -- hardly feels groundbreaking. The movie's instructive title tells us that we're looking at an attempt by young people to invent their own culture in ways that are uniquely Mexican. That's an interesting enough reason to make a movie, but This Is Not Berlin didn't quite convince me that it had captured a pivotal moment. The movie may be more meaningful for Mexican audiences who are familiar with the scene that Sama depicts or for those who came of age in the 1980s elsewhere. Me? I was at work.

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