by Ben Diamond


Who are you calling a Güero? (Ruizpalacios 2014, 106m)

Young lad Tomás has been a bit naughty – dropped a water bomb from the roof of his block of flats onto an unsuspecting mother and child below – and so has been packed off by his mum to stay with his brother, Federico, who is living with his flatmate Santos in a state of semi-squalor. Federico and Santos are straddling the line between being diligent students who should be working on their respective theses and being conscientious student-protestors, occupying their university campus.  They end up being neither.  As Federico says, they are on strike from the strike.  Their efforts are more fruitfully employed in stealing electricity from the flat below them, utilising a complex system of tin-can-on-a-string communication with the little girl whose bedroom window they use to ferry the power cable up in a bucket.  Problem sorted.

I loved the stark black and white photography of Güeros.  I loved the concept of a road trip that isn’t a road trip.  The protagonists never seem to cover much ground.  I loved the ‘fuck it, let’s give it a try’ attitude towards innovation and invention in the film.  A particular highlight being when Federico & co. create their own traffic jam simply by coming to a stop, a riposte to the statement ‘No one would care if we died’ – well, they would, but only because you’re blocking their way.  Certainly, getting stuck in traffic isn’t a common feature of the empty open stretches which dominate the genre.  This is road trip, Mexico City style. Federico’s panic attack in the back of the car, feathers flying and tinnitus ringing, was especially well done.  Mentions of Veracruz and the 90s feel of the film situated it firmly in my own head in the same shared space occupied by Roberto Bolaño’s epic work of fiction 2666.

Güeros is a film of two halves, though.  Although in part the gang are on the trail of the legendary musician Epigmenio Cruz (once supposedly made Bob Dylan cry), who they learn through a newspaper is ill and in hospital, a large part of the film is dedicated to the ins-and-outs of student politics during the university occupation, which I must admit I found a little tiresome, especially the hackneyed discussions about revolution, whether it should come Now or Later, what kind of an active role people should play in it, etc etc.  The political points were perhaps unsubtle, but maybe important in terms of Mexican history – my own fault for being ignorant of any form of university-based activism beyond clocking students selling copies of the Socialist Worker on the Strand during my own tenure at university.

I liked Güeros most when it was at its most aimless – Tomás, Federico and Santos sat on a car bonnet in the sun listening to Epigmenio on a tape walkman. One pair of headphones between three.  No sound for the cinema audience – just a look of bliss.