Genius Products // 2006 // 93 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Daryl Loomis // January 30th, 2008
Sex and controversy converge during a long, hot day in Acapulco.
I don't understand this title. It's like calling The Life of Brian "Comedy/Brit." I guess it states what the film is on a very rudimentary level, but it doesn't do a very good job of enticing audiences to see the picture. While I don't have a suggestion for what it should have been called, almost anything would have been clearer. Now that this is off my chest, the title really doesn't matter. Drama/Mex, the second feature from Gerardo Naranjo (Malachance), is a hard-edged look at one lonely day in the life of youth south of the border.
On the patio of a beach resort in Acapulco, Fernanda (Diana Garcia) tries to convince Chano (Emilio Valdes), her thieving, egotistical ex, that he is scum and she left him for a reason. Unconvinced, Chano follows her home pleading for an explanation. The obvious reasons -- that he stole from her father and she found Gonzalo (Juan Pablo Castaneda), a man who treats her with respect -- ring hollow in his ears. To convince her that she belongs to him, he forces himself on her. In spite of her initial resistance, Fernanda consents to his advances and, after a torrid couple of minutes, the newly reformed couple makes plans to run away together (on her father's dime, of course).
Across the same patio sits old man Jaime (Fernando Becerril, In the Time of the Butterflies) laughing boyishly with a scantily dressed young girl who is clearly not his daughter (though it might not make much difference if she was). Her name is Tigrillo (Miriana Moro, also the film's producer), a newly recruited beach hustler whose offers of "massage" and "relaxation" are not to be confused with actual massage therapy. While Jaime is not outwardly receptive to Tigrillo's advances, he sticks with her to delay the inevitable. In their chance meeting, Tigrillo has given Jaime a brief respite; Jaime's intention in coming to the resort was to shoot himself in the head to escape unspoken transgressions and Tigrillo essentially caught him in the act, though not to his knowledge.
Taking place over one day, these two plotlines vaguely intermingle to create an insular world of troubling behavior. Naranajo gives us the sense that Acapulco has diminished to the point of a shantytown, where people come to die. His characters reflect this life, or lack thereof, in their actions and relationships. They are pretty as the Acapulco beach but decayed as the rundown resort where they drink. Naranjo offers no solution to the problems presented, but makes no judgment on the people involved, either.
It's in the performances that Drama/Mex really stands out, though, and the mostly nonprofessional actors lend a palpable sense of realism to the performances. The female leads, in particular, are very effective. The radiant beauty of Diana Garcia as Fernanda belies her character's lost soul. She is a woman of privilege; her hotel-owning father has given her everything. All this luxury has left her without direction, seemingly content to lay about the beach and use lover after lover with impunity. All the while, her actions disgust her, and the company she keeps doesn't help her self-esteem. Sadly, even when given the opportunity to escape, she is so mired in this life that she can't leave, no matter how terrible she finds herself. Miriana Moro's Tigrillo is Fernanda's direct opposite. Tigrillo has run away from home to Acapulco for undisclosed reasons to live with her aunt. She has nothing here but a cousin who invites her to try out for their exclusive club of hustlers. It is on her first day that she meets Jaime and, try as she might to hustle him, her heart cannot bear to deceive him for long. While many in her position may be callous enough to let Jaime go through with his sad intentions, she does everything she can to prevent it, giving him all the love in her heart to keep him alive for one more night. The next morning, Tigrillo knows that she can't live this life and must leave Acapulco, to where she doesn't know, but she must get away from the dismal fate that she clearly sees coming.
Genius Products' release of Drama/Mex, through the IFC brand, is a mixed bag. The gritty, realistic style gives the film an immediacy that few bigger budget films can. While this makes for an engrossing experience, the intentional dirt and grain in the picture does not make for a particularly clean transfer. The color levels are all deep, but all the dirt can be distracting and brings the presentation down a little. The 5.1 surround mix is solid in every way. Dialogue is clear, and the surround channels fill the room with the sounds of sunny Acapulco and its drunken, sad citizens. The only extras, unfortunately, are a series of trailers, but since they come before the film and aren't selectable from the menu, it's hard to call them "special features."
The fact that the characters have no moral epiphany and that Naranjo ends the movie with no kind of satisfying conclusion will rub some viewers the wrong way. This is part of the film's realism, but it can come off as nihilistic. I wish Naranjo had added a little more humor to lighten the mood, but in the end, that would have dampened the impact.
I wouldn't call Drama/Mex entertaining in any traditional sense, but it is a worthy import that Independent Film Channel was wise to bring to American audiences. Some extras like a commentary or a look at what has happened to Acapulco since its heyday would have been nice, but the film stands well for itself. For a gritty, hard-edged look at the dark side of a tourist haven decayed and the youth that tries to live there, you can't do a lot better than this, though I still don't understand the title.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated