When I first saw Alfonso Cuaron’s wonderful “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” it seemed like a fairly radical decision for him to step out of the Hollywood system where he’d already made “A Little Princess” and “Great Expectations” to go back to low-budget Spanish-language Mexican filmmaking. I know many people who saw it then as a sign of surrender, like the system had beaten him, run him out of town. Nonsense, of course, and “Y Tu Mama Tambien” turned out to be an early harbinger, along with “Amores Perros,” of a revitalized Mexican film industry. That “nueva ola” obviously encompasses the work of Guillermo Del Toro and Alejandro Innaritu as well, and as we’ve heard more about the remarkable sense of community that exists between these talented artists, it makes sense that a joint production company would eventually exist.
The first production by Cha Cha Cha is already in theaters in Mexico, where it’s been a huge hit. Little wonder. “Rudo y Cursi,” which marks the directorial debut of Carlos Cuaron, is a deeply felt and frequently hilarious look at the dynamics of brotherood and the wicked gallows humor of fate. Reuniting Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal for the first time since “Y Tu Mama Tambien” is a commercial masterstroke, but it pays off in huge creative dividends as well. The two play brothers living in a tiny (fictional) Mexican town, where Rudo (Luna ) is the foreman at a banana plantation while Tato (Bernal) works under his brother, dreaming of a career as a singing star.
And, of course, the one real respite for the two of them is football. Or soccer, if you only speak American. Rudo’s the goaltender, and Tato’s a shooter. Both of them are fairly great players. One afternoon, a dude in a sports car who introduces himself as “Baton” (Guillermo Francella) breaks down on the road, and as they’re walking to a soccer game, Rudo and Tato walk by. He asks for some help, and they take him and his ruined tire into town with them. As the mechanic works on the tire, Baton watches them play. He reveals to them that he’s a scout for football talent, and he’s got room for one of them to go with him to Mexico City for a chance at a spot on a professional team. They agree to decide it in the most logical way possible: a shoot-off.
Everything that unfolds afterwards comes down to Tato’s interpretation of which way is right, both literally and figuratively. And it’s a great, funny, occasionally painful ride for both of them. The title doesn’t really speak to American audiences, but I think it’s pretty great. Spanish slang fascinates me, since I live in a primarily Spanish-speaking household, although I sort of remain a bit of a pelotudo. One word can have so many interpretations, so many degrees of emotion and intensity. My favorite word in heavy rotation in the house is beludo, and I love how it can be harsh or affectionate or silly or furious. “Rudo” means rude or rough, and that’s exactly what Diego Luna’s problem is in the film. He’s a combination of bad luck and no self control, chasing a high at the expense of his own family. Since gambling is his drug, the potential for damage is enormous, and all that can stop Rudo from burning down his whole family for his habit is Rudo, and he may not be capable of it. “Cursi,” on the other hand, is a more elastic word, meaning cute or sweet, but with an emphasis on the feminine. It’s a nickname Tato hates as soon as it’s given to him by the media. As his fame grows as a football player, his childlike charm is what earns him the name, as well as his singing and dancing. Tato’s a very pure soul, and he breezes through life in a way that Rudo just can’t. When he ends up dating Maya (Jessica Mas), a preposterously sexy model from TV, Tato is convinced he’s got everything he could ever want.
The way the fortunes of the brothers constantly reverse and switch and the way they’re interconnected… that’s the heart of the film, and it’s fiendishly clever the way the entire film revolves around these legendary skills they both have as footballers, but you never really see either of them play. It’s not a sports film, so Cuaron simply hints at the sports, mentions things in passing. This is a relationship comedy, and as such, it really delivers. I think there’s a chance this film could play to a larger crossover audience, and I hope SPC makes full use of the stars and the producers in promoting the movie in the US and abroad. It’s a charmer, and Carlos Cuaron’s obvious talent shines through here. I’m willing to bet this is the start of a much larger career for him, finally out from under the shadow of his own brother, giving “Rudo y Cursi” a very happy ending indeed.