You have to love a movie that, instead of beginning "Once upon a time . . . ," hits you with "A while back, some wanker told me . . . ." Within the first few minutes I found myself laughing out loud watching "Rudo y Cursi," a film in Spanish that quickly makes you forget you're reading subtitles.
That's no surprise, considering it comes from the same writer who gave us "Y tu mamá también" ("And your mother, too"), a 2001 sleeper about two Mexican teens who embark on a road trip with an older married woman they met at a wedding. That movie was a frank exposé of the way people relate to sex--a mostly serious story with comic moments. "Rudo y Cursi" is the flipside. It's a mostly comic story with serious moments and underlying issues that reunites writer (and now director) Carlos Cuarón with his two stars, Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal.
Beto (Luna) and Tato (Bernal) are brothers who work at the same banana plantation, hang out with the same friends, and play on a hard dirt field for the same soccer local soccer team. But one day, a talent scout/agent named Batuta (Guillermo Fancella) has to wait for his car to be repaired and takes in the action. Impressed by the two of them, he tells them he has too many clients to be able to take both of them. But if they can decide somehow, he'll take one of them to Mexico City to try out for a professional team. "Penalty kick," Beto suggests, and takes his brother aside to tell him the plan is to shoot right. What he doesn't tell his brother is that he plans on making the save and getting the same chance to leave town that he thinks Tato has with his accordion and musical ambitions. Unfortunately, Tato shoots the other way and the plan goes down the toilet. Was it a misunderstanding, or a calculated shot? We never know, because "Rudo y Cursi" does a fine job of capturing the ambivalence of sibling relationships. "They say the first wars were between brothers," the narrator says. "Then came the first games, to prevent them by intervention."
This wise little film is also impressive because of the way it deals so matter-of-factly with such serious topics as Latino machismo and absentee fathers, drug dealers, gambling, and the sometimes tawdry world of professional sports in Mexico. What's especially interesting is that the voiceover narration comes from Batuta. Rather than a strict point-of-view narration that's limited to scenes that he witnesses, Batuta functions as an omniscient narrator whose observations are a blend of gritty pragmatism and more philosophical musings. As he talks about the brothers, we see intimate scenes that Batuta wasn't privy to, and yet his running commentary feels as authentic as the rest of this film. Even the ending--which feels a bit like an Aesop moral--still has that feeling of organic inevitability. In retrospect, though sudden you could see it coming. "Rise and fall" stories are a genre unto themselves, and the minute that Tato's dream girl Maya (Jessica Mas) is introduced and you come to understand that the married Beto has a gambling addition, you begin to brace yourself for the fall. In the meantime, you enjoy their success as much as the brothers, with Beto earning the nickname "Rudo" because of his hot-tempered goalkeeping style and Tato called "Cursi" for his after-goal celebration.
As good as the writing is and as accomplished the acting, what makes this film memorable are the myriad details of everyday life that Cuarón includes, whether it's a glimpse behind-the-scenes at the banana plantation, frank family gatherings, or soccer locker rooms. You come away from the film feeling that you've learned something about another culture, and about human nature. There's nothing flashy about the cinematography, though--no odd angles, no jittery cuts, no camera tricks period. Cuarón went with an unobtrusive photographic style that doesn't detract from or add to the story. He trusts the material, and in truth it is strong enough to stand alone without gimmicks or enhancements. And details do make the difference. The plot itself is no astonishment. Both brothers eventually get to the big time, and both brothers grapple with fame and the money that success brings. And as in every rise-and-fall story since the time of Shakespeare, tragic flaws play a prominent role.
Luna and Bernal make a good team, whether playing friends or brothers, and I suspect this won't be the last we see of them together. There's a naive energy that they provide, just as Fancella brings his wise cynicism to the table. It's a nice water and vinegar combination that generates as much humor as it does narrative interest. "Rudo y Cursi" is an entertaining film that's rated R for pervasive language (in two languages, no less), sexual content, and brief drug use.
The video is solid but unspectacular . . . or rather, inconsistent. Some of the scenes have a tremendous level of detail, vivid colors, and a pleasing 3-dimensionality. Others seem a little soft or low on black levels. To be honest, it looks like an indie film on Blu-ray, rather than a gazillion-dollar big-studio production. But there's nothing here that detracts from the viewing experience. It's just not a Blu-ray showpiece title. The AVC/MPEG-4 transfer appears to be a decent one, though, with no noticeable artifacts. "Rudo y Cursi" is presented in 1.78:1 aspect ratio.
The audio has got a little more pop to it, with the Spanish Dolby TrueHD 5.1 delivering a lot of ambient sound and producing a nice wide spread across the front speakers. You hear plenty of rear-speaker effects, and yet they're not overemphasized. It's a nice, subtle, sensitive soundtrack . . . not unlike the movie itself. Subtitles are in English, French, and English SDH.
The extras are mostly average, with the main attraction the commentary by Cuarón and dynamic acting duo, Bernal and Luna. It's probably more fun if you know Spanish, because they lapse into their first language a number of times, but these guys know how to have fun on the set and in the bonus features recording studio. The roughly 27-minute making-of feature is a run-of-the-mill mixture of clips and interviews. The longest feature (aside from the commentary) is an interview with the director and his two stars that's conducted by Jeff Goldsmith (Creative Screenwriting Magazine) and again covers the usual bases. The rest of the bonus features are token: a roughly five-minute smattering of deleted scenes (six, count 'em), a "turn off your cell phone" advertisement, trailers, and a trio of music videos: "I Want You to Want Me" (Bernal), "Rudo y Cursi" (Juan Molina), and "I Want You to Want Me" karaoke version.
"Rudo y Cursi" is a fun yet enlightening film that's part Mexican and all human. It's a wise little film that delivers as many insights as laughs, and features some fine acting and direction.