I'm Gonna Explode

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Reviewer: James van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ***

If cinema reflects the state of its country of origin, and I believe it always does, then things are not looking up for Mexico, nor have they in all of my lifetime (Bunuel was not imagining things with his darkly imaginative creations). Scratch a Mexican movie and -- unless it's a nitwit romantic comedy or something on the order of the soap-opera slushy, Latin American co-production La Mujer de mi hermano that was released here a few years back -- you're likely to have your nose rubbed in heavy-duty class divisions, with the nasty rich struggling to hold onto everything they have, while the poor and would-be upwardly mobile, hardly much better, are scrambling to pull themselves up by their crap-infested bootstraps. Nothing changes and everything looks grim -- though it's often brought to life with great style. (See Nicotina for a dose of that style.)

With many Latin American films I've seen, particularly those from Mexico, I leave the viewing feeling angry at everyone: rich, poor and in-between. They never seem to learn or to grow up. Preparing to write this review, it began to occur to me why this should be so. If the characters on view are simply reflecting their parental training and what they see around them, how could the result be anything different? Down the generations, what role models -- parental or governmental -- have they been able to learn from? This may sound simplistic, but that doesn't make it untrue.

There are, of course, rare exceptions to the rule, little of which we see in Mexican film. And when we do, it's likely to be situated in the countryside or a small town well out from under the thumb of the system. (The films of Fernando Eimbcke and the recent Alamar come to mind.) In any case, I have come to the conclusion that I have perhaps unfairly been blaming Mexico's artists for not giving me the "good times" I prefer from movies. Instead they continue to produce the kind of films that reflect their country -- warts and little else.

Of late, a young filmmaker named Gerardo Naranjo has been turning heads internationally, and his latest film to be released in the U.S. –I’m Gonna Explode (the sexual connotation is quite apt) -- has now come to DVD.

In this interesting, if not entirely successful movie, two disaffected students, the son of a government official (Juan Pablo de Santiago, above right) and the daughter (Maria Deschamps, above left) of a seemingly kind but ineffective mother, have bonded around their "outsider" status. When they decide to "run away," the parents and media call it a kidnapping (the boy's of the girl), and the usual media circus ensues. (Though in Mexico, the circus seems even goofier, if more fun, than what we usually get here in the USA.) That the kids are hiding practically in plain sight makes the whole thing both sillier and more insightful (the boy is stealing the food that feeds the pair from his own home). The twosome's halting attempts at creating an alternate universe where they can exist and perhaps learn and grow is funny and moving. But again, what kind of role models do they have to learn from?

As the movie proceeds, we visit the countryside. Here life -- and people -- seem freer and healthier (is it this countryside locale that helps make Eimbcke's Lake Tahoe such a sweet film?), and the open spaces provide another opportunity for the director to capture glorious widescreen images. But then, as life closes in on the pair, the writer/director gives over to melodrama of the heightened sort that will either pull you in and shake you up -- or, in my case, frustrate you with its Romeo & Juliet clichés and the interminable length they take to spin out (this movie seems longer than its 106 minutes).

Stylistically, Naranjo likes shooting on a widescreen and his compositions are interesting and often beautiful, even when his subjects are not, and he casts attractive, talented actors and draws good performances from them. In all, you'll get another dose of Mexico today (and yesterday and tomorrow) from I'm Gonna Explode. "Don't do it!" you'll want to plead with the young man, prior to that explosion (one that comes from his complete frustration rather than his sexual needs). But then, where Mexico is concerned, the inevitable is the inevitable.


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