Not everyone is going to be ready for the ride through “Los Chidos” that director Omar Rodriguez Lopez offers up. But his willingness to scare off a few of the faint of heart preserves his commitment to a truly bold and unique vision and an aesthetic all his own. This is the fifth feature film from the Mars Volta guitarist and only the second to play at a festival, and it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Could this be the birth of a new auteur?
Meet the Gonzalez family. They run a tire shop in Guadalajara and lead a life of wanton laziness together, hitting the bar as a family, talking shit about everyone and slurping up the delicious tacos Mama makes for them everyday. Meet Rulo, the Gonzalez brother’s friend. He’s newly wed to Alma, not to mention an abusive sociopath and transvestite having an affair with the local bar owner. Alma is so dedicated in her love for Rulo that he easily manipulates her into the emotional, physical and sexual abuse he subjects her to. Meet Kim. He’s a wayward American who stumbles into the Gonzalez family tire shop with a busted car and shakes up the community’s dynamic in a way that will leave them (and him) forever changed.
The Gonzalez children love Kim, and as they begin to fight for his attention, familial secrets and tension begin to surface. Everyone in the family is manipulating someone else — into sex, into turning straight (the gay brother is a standout), or into some kind of emotional or physical violence. Mama is the dark horse who pulls a lot of the strings. She’s the caregiver and boss of this family, and she’s having an affair with the butcher who supplies her with special taco meat. Kim starts to fall for Alma, and his white, upper class American naivete stands in sharp contrast to Rulo’s sadistic machismo. Rulo’s intense jealousy sets off a bloody chain of events that ultimately results in the downfall of their corrupt system.
As the blood starts to splatter (and oh, it splatters alright), it does so in a cheerfully and enthusiastically dark way. But this is not the kind of movie where you are laughing and cheering at the violence, but cringing and quaking and covering your eyes. There are a few truly shocking and disturbing moments in this rollicking dark romp, prompting a few walkouts during the screening. Yes, it might scare off some viewers. But those viewers will be missing out on a distinct, specific and truly creative voice and vision. Each shocking moment has a specific purpose and symbolic meaning within the film; it’s not just Divine eating dog shit in “Pink Flamingos” for the sake of celebrating trash, it’s a specific icon within the story that furthers its meaning. Yes, some of the symbols may be a little on the nose, but that’s not what you are going to be complaining about while it’s unfolding on screen.
Rodriguez Lopez’s film both looks and sounds bright and cheerful while depicting the darkest of human behaviors. The colors are saturated and sun blasted, and the soundtrack is a collage of traditional Mexican music, ballads, and bits of cinematic score that often exist in direct contrast to the images onscreen. For having been shot on a Canon 5D in 17 days with a skeleton crew (by Rodriguez Lopez’s filmmaking collective Los Arquitectos De La Histeria) it looks fantastic. He also replaced all of the dialogue with ADR, creating an overly artificial, over the top sound. Kim’s lines are especially funny, delivered in an exaggerated American accent. The artificiality of the sound and the image keeps the viewer at an arm’s length; something you may be grateful for in some of the more harrowing moments. The film utilizes stereotypes and recognizable cinematic traditions and elements, but it’s almost as if Rodriguez Lopez broke them apart and put it back together again in a new, fascinating little Frankenstein’s monster of a satire.
It’s not just that he thrusts his audience into unknown cinematic stylistic waters, it’s that everything he puts onscreen has a purpose toward serving his message. He is vocal about stating that the film is about misogynistic Latino culture, and it is a true satire of those pervasive social ills that is both disturbing and gleeful in its violence. Regardless of whether this is a film you can handle, it’s a perfect example of the kinds of bold new visions that festivals like SXSW should be championing. [B+]