Zany, hectic, fast-talking, hilarious, Rudo y Cursi has scored at the Mexican box office. Except for two gratuitous “hazing” scenes in the shower room, this magical comedy about the rivalry and love between two half-brothers, footballers on competing teams, is also visually spectacular and elegant, conjuring a vision of underlit gorgeousness, generally in long-shots, that helps support the film’s fantastic element. (Adam Kimmel also color cinematographed Capote, 2005, and Lars and the Real Girl, 2007.) Its first-time feature director is Carlos Cuarón, who co-wrote older brother Alfonso’s dreadful, despicable Y Tu Mamá También (2002), a thing so heartless that it prolongs the non-disclosure of a major character’s dying of cancer and relegates this human tragedy to a point of plot. With this new film, the more gifted younger Cuarón is unencumbered by his brother—and even helped by him, for Alfonso’s fledgling company (in which Alejandro González Iñárritu and Guillermo del Toro also participate), Cha Cha Chá, has produced it.
Tato and Beto begin as impoverished laborers on a banana plantation—peons in the global village, where different levels of care are demanded for fruit headed for export and fruit destined for home consumption. Enter Batuta, an elder gentleman, nappy rather than raggedy, city rather than rural; at first this stranger seems half-interested in helping Tato realize his dreams of becoming a professional singer, but when the talk turns to football—what U.S. Americans call soccer—suddenly Batuta turns into a professional football scout. Plainly, he is a fantasy figure who pops up to help both boys realize their dreams because reality cannot accommodate these dreams. I am therefore appalled by the carping in which some “critics” have indulged. Oh, at thirty the boys are too old to become pro footballers—a point in fact repeated in the script; their musculature is miniature; things just don’t happen like this. Well, all this is true but not to the detriment of the film, where such elements underscore the impossible fantasy involved for two boys without futures in the current real world. Other nonsensical “critics” bemoan the fact that so little football is shown in a “sports film,” but this only points up the error of their original categorization of the film, which as Cuarón himself has pointed out is about fraternity, not football. Moreover, Cuarón’s minimal game time helps give the final confrontation between goal scorer and goalie—where across-team collusion might save Beto from the gangsters out for blood because of his gambling debts—enormous and convincing power. One brother tries to help the other but fails, having misunderstood the cue: a perfect encapsulation of how fantasy resolves itself into reality when it comes to these boys and the kezillions like them. May I make one last charge against the film’s “critics”? They even ignore the fact that Beto’s gambling addiction goes way beyond being an individual flaw or failing; it is an index of how reality won’t accommodate people’s socioeconomic dreams and of the recklessness this provokes. The film is a comedy, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t serious about things. These brothers—with the same mother, who is currently a victim of abuse, and different fathers—have each other, and this may not be enough.
One of the principal sources of the film’s hilarity is Batuta’s voiceover narration. (Scenarist-director Billy Wilder has inspired the film’s construction, but the film’s improvisational air helps conceal the Wilder influence.) This mischievous wit is a misogynist; almost everything he says, which draws references from the sport of football, exposes the idiocy of machismo. For example, when Tato, seduced by celebrity, is screwing his girlfriend, a TV hostess, Batuta intones, “Loving a woman is like loving a ball; she requires guidance and control.” Even his history lesson on the origin of football, where ancient Aztecs kicked around their enemies’ heads, reflects this machismo.
But there’s a wealth of comedy, too, from the endless fraternal spats between the boys—an encapsulation of how those at the bottom charge against each other for every bit of advantage. And Tato’s delusion of being a singer, memorialized in a deliriously funny music video, is likewise also poignant. This is a comedy that pours out on the surface, in meticulous patterns of visual slapstick, but which provides as well considerable depth.
Tato and Beto are played by the stars of Y Tu Mamá También, brilliant Gael García Bernal and better-than-usual Diego Luna. Beto is dubbed Rudo, meaning, tough and rough; Tato, the romantic idealist, Cursi, meaning, corny. Hence the title refers not to reality but to the dream.
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