Museo (2018)

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Direction: Alonso Ruizpalacios
Country: Mexico

Museo, the sophomore feature from Mexican writer/director Alonso Ruizpalacios, is a gorgeously shot, character-driven heist film inspired by the 1985 Christmas Eve robbery of the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. It is only occasionally that its mild tones go beyond the expected, yet even so, it stands as a low-key fun overall with some refreshing takes on the genre.

Gael Garcia Bernal stars as thirty-something Juan Nunez, a college dropout with a sharp taste for and massive knowledge of anthropology. Moreover, Juan is subversive, selfish, and manipulative, a man capable of driving crazy not just the members of his family, but also Benjamin Wilson (Leonardo Ortizgris), his submissive college mate, follower, and best friend. Ambition is another important feat of his personality and that’s why he decided to steal invaluable Inca pieces from the National Museum of Anthropology, where he used to work part-time to pay his leisure time. His idea consists of escaping from the boring suburbs and the control of his vehement father, Dr. Nunez (Alfredo Castro). He and his friend just dreamt of building their own paradise. Sounds great, right?

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Christmas Eve means celebration and, consequently, implies critical breaches in the museum’s security. Juan and Benjamin knew exactly what they wanted to pick. Among the stolen pieces is the funerary mask of King Pakal, which, by itself, makes them multimillionaires. Nonetheless, what seemed obvious to them becomes shrouded in uncertainty, and what should be the simplest part of the plan - selling the art - becomes a nightmare. Juan had the courage to do it. Does he have the courage to fix it?

Ruizpalacios, who did a more consistent job in his 2014 debut drama Gueros, combines adventurous theft, archeology lessons, family aloofness, and a vitiated friendship all in one. The lens of cinematographer Damián García attractively captures all of this, but part of the energy accumulated during the journey wasn’t always canalized in the right direction. It wouldn’t hurt if the relationship between the two leads were further explored or if Juan’s night of excesses was depicted with a bit more creativity.

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Neruda (2016)

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Directed by Pablo Larraín
Country: Chile / Argentina / other

Undoubtedly, Pablo Larraín is the most exciting Chilean filmmaker working today. He has been carving his mark in the contemporary world cinema through beautiful artistic works such as “Tony Manero”, “Post Mortem”, “No”, and “The Club”.
Last year, he filmed a couple of interesting biopics, which regardless the bold approach and peculiar vision, had different impacts on me. If “Jackie” impressed me most through the stylish visuals, “Neruda” strongly hit me with its poetic narrative and passionate conception.

Written by Guillermo Calderón and starring Gael García Bernal and Luis Gnecco in the main roles, the film adopts the qualities of a detective story painted with lyrical hues and bolstered by a cat-and-mouse game taken to philosophical extremes.

In the late 40s, Pablo Neruda (Gnecco), an earthy and provocative poet, throws out passionate words that are food for the poor and strength for the oppressed. In addition to being the voice of the Chilean people, he’s also a proud militant of the communist party and senator, projecting his strong voice against the brutal anti-communist repression led by the president Gabriel Gonzalez Videla (Alfredo Castro).

Forced to abandon his splendid house, a stage for many wild nocturnal parties in the company of intellectuals, aristocrats, and often criminals, Neruda hides in remote rural areas in Argentina, where he tries to escape the astute and relentless inspector Oscar Peluchonneau (Bernal), who tries to hunt him down as he ardently narrates this story. At the same time that Peluchonneau eagerly dreams with the glory of the capture, he often vacillates in his true inner self by showing great admiration and curiosity for the poet’s work and personality. Nonetheless, he focuses on his mission with obstinate determination without exteriorizing what he feels or thinks.

In turn, the incorrigible Neruda is not afraid to expose himself to dangers. He regularly visits bars where he drinks and interacts with women and artists. The ones he can really trust are longtime lover Delia del Carril (Mercedes Morán) and the famous Pablo Picasso (Emilio Gutiérrez Caba) who clandestinely takes his words outside.

Obsession remains one of Larrain’s favorite topics and here, he had the chance to explore it with a mix of dark and wry tones, interesting dialogues, and attractively composed settings framed by the lens of his habitual cinematographer Sergio Armstrong.
Neruda” is a fascinating piece of cinema, an elegiac and exhilarating chant of refined artistry that reaches the sky not only through the faultless performances by Gnecco and Bernal, but also through an engrossing direction.