A loose, choral drama that plays out over one hot night in Acapulco, Drama/Mex traces its line of influence back through Amores Perros and Gus Van Sant to early Truffaut.
Shot in just three weeks, featuring mostly non-professional actors, this Cannes Critics' Week entry is fresh, likeable and bursting with a spontaneous energy that makes up for its often-slight storyline. This could see some theatrical action beyond its obvious festival and Spanish-language markets.
Three main characters uphold the three story currents that gradually converge on Acapulco beach in the course of the film. Fernanda (Diana Garcia), known to her friends as Fer, is a pretty, self-contained young thing in her late teens whose relationship with regular guy Gonzalo (Juan Pablo Castaneda) is upset by the return of her handsome but unreliable former boyfriend Chano (Emilio Valdes). Chano stole money from Fer's rich hotelier father some time previously and has been working as a gigolo on a cruise ship ever since.
Tigrillo (Miriana Moro), a plump but feisty teenage girl, has chosen this evening to join her girlfriends who offer "massage and relaxation" to sad old male gringos on the beach. Into this teen hormonal blender steps Jaime (Fernando Becceril), a tired and desperate businessman who has stolen money from his company and driven down from Mexico City determined to kill himself.
Structurally, and visually, the film feels like one long dance, as the handheld camera, almost always in movement, follows these characters at arm's length as they move around restlessly from room to room or beach to bar. Occasionally (as in Elephant or Last Days) the other characters impinge on the current storyline, sometimes in time-slip, so that we see incidents we've already watched from a different angle, with new information. The recurring soundtrack theme is a guitar version of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, which could have been schmaltzy but, in this emotionally generous film, actually works.
At first it's the complex beats of the Fer-Chano rapport that grab our attention, especially when he breaks into her empty luxury villa (parents are mostly absent in this film) and apparently rapes her; it's difficult to work out whether Fer's passionate acquiescence after the tooth and nail resistance is born of resignation or is part of some sexual game we know nothing about. Similarly, Jaimeâ's desire to commit suicide is never explained: we just take it on board as part of the carpe diem immediacy of the exercise.
The strongest plot strand, though, kicks in when Jaime agrees, after initial reluctance, to treat a persistent Tigrillo to dinner. Neither has any investment in the other: she just sees him as a rich guy to milk, while he is intrigued by her raw life-force, and sees her as a useful distraction while he gets drunk enough to pull the trigger. The script's unshowy development of the unspoken bond between this odd couple, each one a loner in their way, is a more satisfying trip than the sweet but hardly innovative teen love story nestling in the Fer-Chano-Gonzalez triangle.
Shooting a film this convincing in twenty days, and coaxing such authentic performances out of first-time actors, is no mean task. Naranjo is clearly a director to watch.
Juan Pablo Castaneda