Feb 18, 2008

Un Mundo Maravilloso

I almost resent giving space to this failed Mexican movie, but I saw it yesterday at Lincoln Center as part of the Film Comment Selects series. I had really liked director's Luis Estrada dark political satire La Ley de Herodes and I was looking forward to this one, what with the recommendation of such august film buffs as the Film Comment guys. But A Wonderful World disappoints. It is a political satire/fable, and the premise is interesting. In a not too distant future, the Mexican Minister of Economy declares there is no more poverty in Mexico and plans to run for the leadership of the World Bank. However, a homeless drunk gets in his way. On paper, the movie should work like a charm. It's a very dark satire of the Mexican elite's indifference to the poor. But the execution is very flawed, even if the film boasts a veritable roster of some of the best Mexican acting talent around.
This is what really bugged me:
The rhythm is glacial. The plot meanders. And every scene is way too long. Every scene could have been cut in half and it would have still expressed its point, but Estrada loves the sound of characters cursing colorfully yet endlessly. He and his co-screenwriter, and the editor haven't apparently gotten yet William Shakespeare's memo that brevity is the soul of wit, and so it is with this film -- long and increasingly witless. Satire requires precise, surgical timing, economy of words and feelings and a coldish heart. None of this is in evidence here.
There is a virulent strain of sentimentality coursing through this film's veins that really is unbearable.
It's so bad that in scenes where the bum cries you can actually hear they added sniffles in postproduction. So cheesy! There is a ridiculous, rather offensive love story, between the bum, played with great panache, and quite some hambone by Damián Alcázar, and a poor woman called Rosita, played by the unfathomably ubiquitous Cecilia Suárez. Now why is this offensive?
1. Because Cecilia Suarez is not believable as an impoverished inhabitant of a slum. She is tall and pretty and white as snow and and her attempts at sounding low class are absurd. I wonder if there are no other Mexican actresses available that don't look like they were born with a silver spoon in their mouths. She seems like she's trying to channel a silent film actress and the comic character of La Chilindrina, and she is not only insufferable but silly. Why could a poor woman not be anything other than a blathering, innocent imbecile? It is a disgraceful performance and no friend of anybody who is poor.
2. Because the Mexican rich and or middle class (and this includes the filmmakers) still think that the poor speak and behave like comic characters out of a 1940's movie. This may have been the intention, but it backfires, because instead of portraying them with some modicum of dignity, they are just corny stereotypes. Good hearted and innocent, to boot. This is patronizing. And patronizing is what the Mexican elites are and have always been to the poor. This is actually one of the points of the movie so it is rather maddening that this awareness didn't seep through to the way the poor are portrayed.
The bum has a collection of bum friends (all great Mexican actors: Jose Carlos Ruiz, the great Jesús Ochoa and the great Silverio Palacios) and they are cool, but the direction as usual is as if they were playing to the rafters in Azteca Stadium.
3. There is a sequence in a hospital which is a completely unnecessary, cheap, pathetic dig at Mexican Jews (which by the way, are like less than 1% of the general population). It's supposed to be a very fancy private hospital, called Sinai, and it seems like all the patients wear yarmulkes just so you don't miss the point, that Jews are the only people in Mexico who can afford fancy hospitals, which of course is not true. An attempt at wit is to see signs for the spa and the golf course and the pool in the hospital's lush grounds. My heart froze when I saw this. It is amazing to me that screenwriters Estrada and Sampietro would write something so objectionable, so stereotypical, so inane and so uncalled for.
4. I can imagine what they were trying to achieve with the production design, which oscillates between the shiny modern Mexico and the slums, which are given a sepia, Fellinesque treatment, but even this seems pretentious and half baked.
In short, a good idea terribly executed. Lazy and mediocre, written with more stupidity than wit.

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