The Good Girls | Las Ninas Bien (2018)** Toronto Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Alejandra Marquez Abella; Cast: Ilse Salas, Flavio Medina, Paulina Gaitan; Mexico 2018, 93 min.

Alejandra Marquez Abella structurally flawed sophomore feature is an anthropologist’s dream: based on characters by Guadelupe Loaeza, a group of bitchy, upper-middle class Mexican wives who fight over the best caterer at the crowning of their entire existence: having Julio Iglesias for dinner. Led on by lead Sofia, the rest are mere cyphers and the episodic structure doesn’t help in keeping viewers engaged for the ninety minutes.

Sofia (Salas), loathes her South-American heritage: and sending her three children off to summer camp, she warns them “don’t hang out with Mexicans”. A European background is really all she and her competitors crave for. Sofia’s parties are real productions, and she seems to have married her husband Fernando (Medina) largely  because of his family’s Spanish heritage. Everything is a competition for Sofia, the smallest detail could lead to a loss of face amid her rivals. But we are in the early Eighties and the Mexican Peso suddenly bottoms out. As Sofia and her circle rely on imported goods, this is a major catastrophe. So when credit cards get refused politely and the servants don’t get paid, doom is imminent. To make matters worse, Sofia’s only real competitor, noveau-riche Ana Paula (Gaitan), is still quids in. Her default-position is resigned acceptance, but with the Peso tumbling further, even this seems to be too much.

Salas is always brilliant, cool and contained, she carries the film as much as she is able to. DoP Daniela Ludlow succeeds in conjuring up this lush environment of petty mini-me’s in meltdown, always keeps everything close and personal, despite the widescreen format. As a chickflick study of vanity and self-deceit this would be brilliant – as a feature it lacks emotional depth and an absorbing dramatic arc. AS


Museum (20180 | Berlinale Film Festival 2018

Dir: Alonso Ruizpalacios Cast: Gael Garcia Bernal, Leonardo Ortizgris, Alfredo Castro, Simon Russell Beale, Lisa Owen, Bernardo

 In Alonso Ruizpalacios’ follow-up to his punchy debut Gueros, two wayward young Mexicans from Satellite City are bored with their provincial life so decide to rob the local archeological museum of its Mayan and After treasures in an offbeat but strangely captivating drama that gradually gets more entertaining, although it never quite feels completely satisfying, despite some stunningly inventive sequences and three convincing performances from Gael Garcia Bernal, Simon Russell Beale and Alfredo Castro (The Club).

And it’s largely down to local Mexican incompetence that these two amateurish dudes (Bernal/Ortizgris) get away with their heist in the first place. But what starts as a so-so domestic drama with the same aesthetic as No!, slowly starts to sizzle with suspense as the director deftly manages the film’s tonal shifts to surprise and even delight us – this is a film that deserves a watch for its sheer wakiness and inventive chutzpah. 

It all starts in the early 1970s when Mexico’s rich heritage is being transported from original sites to provide interest in a brand new modernist museum in Satellite. During the Christmas holidays the two sneak away from their families and – in a terrifically tense robbery scene – slowly steal their plunder and make off through ventilation ducts when the alarm finally kick in. One of surreal effects is that Bernal imagines a vision of Pakal, a Mayan king, at the end of the tunnel.

Amazed at how easy it all was, the naive pair then set off to the Mayan site of Palenque to start liquidating funds through their various sources. On the way, they even get through border patrols who are more interested in Bernal’s celebrity (this is all part of Ruizpalacios and his his scripter’s quirky script). But their first hopeful Bosco (Bernardo Velasco), gives them the bum’s rush and they swiftly move on. Acapulco beckons and Simon Russell Beale’s vignette as a wealthy dealer is one of the scenes to savour, adding a certain upmarket whiff to proceedings, and the boys gets their knuckles rapped for wasting his time, retreating to a sleazy  nightclub and more playful fun – thing time involving Sherezada Rios (Leticia Bredice/The Difficult Life of an Easy Woman. 

Bernal plays it all with gusto in a role that sees him flipping from sweet-talking swindler to foolhardy fantasist when he switches off the headlights of their fast-moving car.

Quoting American shaman Carlos Castaneda, he indulges in some very Mexican fantasies about death, invincibility and warriorhood – then stupidly acts them out by switching off his headlights on a pitch-black highway. But reality finally bites in the satisfying denouement when he crashes down to earth with a clip round the ear from his father (a grave Alfredo Castro) forcing him to face his demons, and not only the ones he has stolen. MT


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