A well-acted and engaging trip into Mexican culture.
With Rudo Y Cursi, the three titans of the Mexican New Wave – Alfonso Cuarón, Alejandro González Iñárritu and Guillermo del Toro – have turned their hand to producing. But while this film doesn’t quite hit the heights of Amores Perros, Y Tu Mamá También and the like, Carlos Cuarón’s Mexican box-office smash has its nationality written through it like a stick of rock.
Cuarón penned Y Tu Mamá for his big bro’, and as writer-director turns again to a double-handed plot starring Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna. They play rustic half-brothers Beto (Luna) and Tato (Bernal), whose life consists of manual work on a banana plantation, sharing a home with their extended family and bouts of football for kicks. In short, they are emblematic working-class Mexicans.
Theirs is a banter-fuelled but amicable relationship – until a talent scout (who also serves as the film’s deeply ironic narrator) enters the scene with the promise of professional football representation. But only for one of them. Fiery goalie Beto insists on a penalty shootout for a decider and, since his football ambitions outweigh would-be singer Tato’s, engineers things to go his way. Of course, they don’t.
So Tato goes to the big smoke to play football and hopefully make it as a singer too, although his voice leaves something to be desired (he’s like a Mexican John Barnes). A furious Beto is left behind with his wife and child, but soon steels away to join his brother, turning pro for an opposing team. It’s here they earn their nicknames – Beto as 'Rudo' ('rough') for his aggressive style, and Tato as 'Cursi' ('prissy') for his elegant footwork – and embark on a lifestyle that befits moneyed football stars.
Rudo Y Cursi is a fairly predictable cautionary tale about the perils of instant fame, but the talent and presence of the lead duo gives the film a raw energy. Bernal and Luna recreate their on-screen chemistry from Y Tu Mamá También, creating a pair of compelling characters who endure both highs and humiliations as they scramble for a better life.
Despite their sudden riches, Beto and Tato can’t escape the trappings of their modest roots. Beto can’t control his greed, while Tato goes straight for a trophy girlfriend who has him wrapped around her finger in no time. It’s with no sense of irony that Tato calls an old friend a ‘hick’ at his sister’s wedding, even as he pursues a pop career in all its gaudy glory. Money can’t buy them class.
Despite being mega football stars, we never see Rudo or Cursi in action – the film cuts instead to a wry commentary from the stands. And it’s not without its darker moments, like the boys’ initiation into their respective teams (think dropping the soap in the shower) or the trouble Beto’s gambling addiction gets him into. As well as showing brotherly comradeship, Rude Y Cursi also touches on the savage ways boys sometimes treat each other.
Whether the moral of the film is not to stretch beyond one’s limits is debatable; the tone is far from preachy. It’s a tale of two humble Mexican boys filmed with rough-around-the-edges production values and lots of energy, whose appeal will stretch to footie fans who wouldn’t normally park themselves in front of a subtitled film.
The credits read like a Who’s Who of Mexican cinema – should be great.
Surprisingly quite pedestrian in its storytelling. Without Bernal and Luna it would drag.
Enjoy it for what it is – a well-acted and engaging trip into Mexican culture.