Where did Alonso Ruiz Palacios come from? And when can I see his next film? That's all I kept thinking while watching his astonishingly well-directed debut feature "Güeros", a deserving winner of countless awards throughout the 2014-2015 festival circuit.
"Güeros" tells the story of a boy named Tomas (Sebastián Aguirre) and his adventure with his older brother Federico (Tenoch Huerta), affectionately known as Sombra. A problem child prone to mischief, the film begins with Tomas being sent to live with Sombra in Mexico City, to relieve his single mother of the burden. When he arrives however, he finds a pair of wayward young men slacking off in an apartment (Sombra and roommate Santos). Formerly students at the National University, a student strike has since left them with no structure to their life. Tomas' arrival springs them into action however, as he encourages them to seek out a beloved, dying rock star, in a quest that will take the trio on an unpredictable, unforgettable journey through the far reaches of the city.
Before Tomas even gets to Mexico City, "Güeros" begins with a bang. In one virtuosic opening scene that mere words can't fully express, we see a pair of unidentified hands pick up a water balloon, cut to a harried woman packing up her crying baby to hit the road for the morning, which eventually concludes with that same balloon crashing down on them both. An audacious introduction to our protagonist if I ever saw one. Indeed, this is the inciting incident that compels Tomas' own stressed out mother to send him away to his brother.
And as we follow Tomas, Sombra and eventually Ana (Sombra's love interest), the film thrillingly maintains the visual flair of its opening. With its black and white color palette, square aspect ratio and dynamic camerawork, "Güeros" feels like a throwback to European art cinema of old, while also bristling with contemporary vitality. And that youthful spirit is also exuded by the cast, all of whom give effortlessly genuine performances.
With respect to the screenplay, the plot is also as carefree as its characters. Despite the road trip/coming of age setup, Palacios and his co-writer Portela never feel the need to make the characters "grow" or learn life lessons. As such, the film does miss a basic level of character development. Our protagonist in particular remains primarily a window into this world throughout all the various escapades. But in a way, the film is all the better for it. Sometimes, a big road trip with friends may not turn out to be so life-changing. More often than not, it's simply about enjoying the ride.