June 03, 2007

Acapulco Golden (2005)

The resurgence that Mexican cinema experienced in the mid to late 90s not only represented the successful return of Mexican movies to the theaters and the rise of Mexican talent to the international film industry, but also generated a renewed interest in Mexican cinema that without a doubt has benefited enormously the Mexican independent scene, which during the previous years had survived stoically in the obscurity of low-budget films mostly shot on video (traditionally known as "Videohomes"). Shortly after the success of the "New Mexican Cinema", many young Mexican artists who in the past wouldn't have chosen cinema as the medium to express their art, began to rediscover it, and soon started to work in their own independent short films that found success in local festivals and the indie scene. "Acapulco Golden", the debut of director Joaquín Segura, is definitely one of the most famous of those movies, but sadly, it's not one of the best.

Loosely based on a famous crime that gained notoriety on the Mexican newspapers, "Acapulco Golden" is the story of Jonathan (Ignacio Riva Palacio), a young high school student whose biggest desire in life is to leave his mother Rosalinda (Alejandra Bogue) and go to Acapulco with his gay lover Sergio (Gustavo Villatoro) in order to live freely. When the couple discovers that Jonathan's mother recently got a life insurance plan for an enormous amount of money, they begin to conceive a plan to murder her and escape to the Acapulco of their dreams. However, it won't be that easy for Jonathan to kill her "dear mommy", and his doubts won't bring any good to their original plan. Not to mention that Jonathan's mother will prove an extraordinarily difficult woman to kill, which will complicate even more their desired trip to Acapulco.

Written by Eduardo Smeke (who is also assistant director) and Joaquin Segura himself, "Acapulco Golden" is a short horror movie that gives a dark comedic twist to the bloody crime that inspired its story. Making fun of the common gay stereotypes that are overtly present on Mexican TV (bad musical taste and flamboyant clothing for example), the writers show a big influence from this and other examples of Mexican pop culture in their style as they base a lot of their humor in this kind of referential jokes. While the idea behind the film is certainly a good one and the nods to John Waters' comedy are a welcome addition, the whole construction of the story is definitely lacking in character development and the way the plot moves from cliché to cliché makes some of its jokes predictable, tired and sadly unfunny.

Shot on 16 mm, the film looks surprisingly good, and its clear that director Joaquin Segura has a good eye for the camera. While his use of Diego García's cinematography is not exactly the best one (there are some poorly illuminated scenes), the pacing of the film and overall visual conception of the movie are pretty good for a débutant. As written above, the script makes extensive use of pop culture references and as expected, Segura's directing moves in that direction too. While his care for details is praiseworthy, his excessive use of clichés to make fun and a notorious tendency to go over the top make his movie feel too much like a typical Mexican TV series (no doubt a big influence on him). Segura's work with the actors is another of the short film's high points, as he manages to get appropriate performances from his cast.

The cast is very good considering the average quality of the script they had to work with. Alejandra Bogue, a trans-gendered actress who has gained cult status in Mexican TV, delivers a good, albeit over the top performance as Rosalinda. Her portrait of a bothersome mother is very spot on despite being a caricature, and makes one wonder if she based her character on any personal experience. The young actors Gustavo Villatoro and Ignacio Riva Palacio are both good on their roles, specially Riva Palacio who arguably has the most complex role in the film. Villatoro is subtler, although at times seems to be a bit too serious for the outrageous nature of this comedy. While the script isn't exactly very good, the trio of actors manage to make the best of it and are certainly responsible of making the movie an entertaining experience.

Soon after its first victory in the Kineko Festival of short films in 2004, "Acapulco Golden" earned a cult status among the audiences of universities' film festivals, who certainly were fascinated by the film's freshness and joyful use of stereotypes as comic reliefs. However, it's hard to think of "Acapulco Golden" as a worthy representative of the Mexican independent scene, as not only its many flaws bring down what otherwise is a good debut, but its self-awareness makes the movie lose that honesty and heart that good "Videohomes" possess. The film's high pretensions combined with its excessive reliance on pop culture references for comedic effect ultimately make the movie feel less like a homage to John Waters and more like a cheap mockery of his style. While good on the technical side, Joaquin Segura needs to polish his screen writing skills in order to be taken seriously in cinema.


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