April 26, 2012

Días de Gracia (2011)

Clash of wills, passions and dreams that are left in the field, football soccer has such a very special charm that has turned it into the most popular sport in the world. And within football, there's nothing like the fascination that's lived during a Wolrd Cup. As traditionally occur in events of this magnitude, crime tends to decrease during the days the World Cup takes place, in some kind of "days of grace" of sorts in which everyone's attention is focused on following the progress of the national team in the World Cup. This phenomenon sets the background for the feature length debut of Mexican director Everardo Valerio Gout, whom after more than a decade of producing commercials and musical videos (not to mention several short films), takes over the big screen with "Días de Gracia", an ambitious project in which two of the most representative elements of life in modern Mexico are brought together: crime and football soccer.

"Días de Gracia" (literally "Days of Grace") consists of three stories that take place during the last 3 World Cups: Korea-Japan 2002, Germany 2006 and South Africa 2010. In 2002, Lupe (Tenoch Huerta) is a young police officer trying to do his best despite the rampant corruption and indifference of society. After winning an award for his performance stopping a gang of criminals, Lupe is invited to belong to the team of Commander José (José Sefami), which will take him to the darkest side of his job. In 2006, a man (Carlos Bardem) is kidnapped outside his home, ending up tied and locked in a basement. Tortured both physically and mentally by his captors, he decides to win the trust of Iguana (Kristian Ferrer), the young kid in charge of watching him. Finally, in 2010 ,Susana is a housewife who one day awakes to the news that her husband has been kidnapped. Susana now will have to face the situation and try to keep her family together.

Written by Everardo Gout himself (along David Rutsala), "Días de Gracia" moves between time frames as it weaves the three stories, which are pretty different from each other. By the nature of the situation it depicts, the story of the kidnapped man is of a more intimate and personal drama, to the point of having the thoughts of the character as a narration on the experience. The opposite is the story of Lupe, which is one of greater action as it narrates how the young cop enters the world of corruption and hopelessness that is life of a policeman in Mexico city. In middle ground between these two extremes is the story of Susana, which carries a tone of family drama, charged of heated discussions between her, her brother-in-law and the agent working on the case. With such different elements, Gout builds up a plot that explores three different sides of a kidnapping, as he cleverly plays with time frames to enhance the narrative's rhythm.

As it tends to happen in filmmakers with a background in commercial and musical videos, Gout reveals himself as a director with a big preference for a defined visual style in the film. In "Días de Gracia", Gout and his cinematographer Luis David Sansans develop a distinctive look for each of the subplots. From the arid desolation of 2002, to the cold and claustrophobic confinement of 2006, while going through the neutral balance found in the 2010 plot. However, and while this truly gives the movie an identity of its own, there is a certain excess in the stylization in Gout's visual narrative. As if the director was decided to use any possible camera angle, as long as it looks cool and interesting, without caring if they truly add something relevant to his film. Anyways, it's worth to point out that in the midst of this excess, Gout and Sansans achieve some well done scenes, particularly in long sequences, where Sansans' talent shines.

But the strongest element in "Días de Gloria" is not the cinematography, but its cast, which is one of the most solid ones that a Mexican film has shown in 2011. As Lupe, Tenoch Huerta makes a remarkable performance worthy of recognition; natural and effective as the idealist policeman facing the enormous monster that is crime in Mexico city. Huerta is a revelation of talent, managing to transmit the difficult transformation that his character lives with frightening verisimilitude. Dolores Heredia, playing Susana, is another of the highlights of the cast, as even when her story (2010) is the least developed of the three, Heredia achieves a naturalness and an incredible strength in her performance as a truly desperate housewife. Spanish actor Carlos Bardem once again delivers a notable performance as the kidnapped man of 2006, as without using his face (his character is hooded 95% of his screen time), he truly transmits the fear and pain of his horrifying experience.

In this his feature length debut, Everardo Gout manages to give a fresh vision to a theme that has almost become a common place in modern Mexican cinema (kidnappings). However, he can't stop falling in certain problems that, while not exactly an obstacle to enjoy his film, they do diminish what could had been a greater work. For starters, Gout doesn't manage to escape the shadow of González Iñarritu's "Amores Perros", which is the most obvious reference, in both style and theme, as Gout employs a narrative a bit too similar to the one of the Iñarritu-Arriaga team. Another thing is the fact that Gout falls in a common problem in this style of narratives: one story is considerably weaker than the others. In this case, Susana's tale (2010), which is almost left aside in front of the more interesting (and better executed) ones from 2002 and 2006. The difference between those and the one from 2010 is notorious, and it's sad since not only it was the only story with a strong female character, but it was also a remarkable performance by Dolores Heredia.

Without counting those details, and the afore mentioned stylistic excess that Gout commits, this Mexican-French co-production is a highly engrossing movie that, while not entirely original in terms of them, this is compensated by an interesting visual design and a firm technical knowledge that reveal Gout as a filmmaker with w well-defined cinematographic vision, an explosive sense of rhythm, and a great skill to gather a talented team to back him up. Despite its problems, "Días de Gracia" is a dignified debut for the Mexican director Everardo Gout.

This review was originally published in Spanish for Habitación 101 in April the 14th of 2012. Habitación 101 is a great site to check for news and reviews on cinema and theatre in Spanish.

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