Easily one of the best of the year, Alonso Ruizpalacios’ Gueros is so fresh and freewheeling. It’s a quintessential road movie that veers in unexpected directions yet still manages to feel really tight.
Gueros is shot 1.37:1 and it’s in black and white, so it reminds of another recent arthouse triumph – Ida. Pawlikowski’s film used that square-like format to stress negative space, loneliness, and height, but Ruizpalacios and DP Damian Garcia do nothing of the sort. Yeah, there’s emptiness in the film, but it’s a crowded, fast movie.
Ruizpalacios gets a whole lot out of the same blocking strategy: start people on the same plane, and gradually move one to the background, where the interaction is continued. It never gets tired and gives the opportunity for beautiful framing, like here:
Gueros feels fresh because of how young it is. That’s in part thanks to the young protagonists-
-but also the camera that continuously surprises (and, for example, the focus, as in the above image). I’d be shocked if comparisons to various New Wave cinemas haven’t already been made – there are, after all, several moments of self-reflexivity, the go-to comparable for the Nouvelle Vague – but for all of the freedom of Gueros its equal strength is how rigorous and formalist it is.
This early sequence is a good example of that (and of other things). We follow a woman as she hurriedly exits an apartment building with her crying baby:
Suddenly the handheld camera tilts up revealing a kid on the roof who drops a water balloon onto the lens (foreshadowing a similar event later in the film):
A few things about this sequence. First, the fast, handheld camera belies the beautiful, and careful orchestration of the shot. There’s a lot of timing here and, like so much of Gueros, the formalist aspect comes to the fore via the emphasis on style over, or at least as the equal of, content.
Second, this is also representative of the way Ruizpalacios treats the narrative. How often do you get introduced to a woman with a black eye at the beginning of a film (with a crying baby no less) and then veer totally away from her and any associated domestic abuse plotline? Never. That character is asking for a story, and Ruizpalacios merely uses her as a way to get to the water balloon and to introduce his co-lead, Tomas (Sebastian Aguirre).
So many shots of Gueros are worth noting…really, any frame. A lot of the film takes place in a car, and the filmmakers get a nice, thick, contrasty image on the streets of Mexico City, as the hazy lights roll lazily by:
There are old, smoky bars (with a character who feels like he might be a reincarnation of Luis Bunuel – that’s him in the foreground, a mysterious musician and the impetus for the narrative):
I’ve mentioned in the past that I love shots like this one – shallow depth of field, over a character’s shoulder (often 3/4 profile), really tight, and with the foreground in focus:
And the rack focus is a nice example of how Gueros‘s framing contrasts with that of Ida in crowding it all in:
Gueros is funny and dramatic. There’s something to be said about Ruizpalacios’ decision to never play us the critical song that other characters always hear and love (it’s a fairly obvious decision: it can’t be as good as we imagine it), but even that contributes a sort of enigmatic mystery to the movie.