The Richter Scale

Help Me Make Thought the Night 

Dir. José Ramón Chávez

Official Selection Mexico

The Richter Scale says: “Something bad’s going to happen”. I’m sure everyone has said this when watching a certain film, especially one that’s a family breaking apart and a plot that has to find a way to bring each member back together. We spend time with each character, see their conflicts and the mistakes each of them has made and as we see what goes on unfold, the viewer can’t help but think that eventually, something bad is going to happen. But what? There are viewers who hate predictability in cinema, but when the characters are interesting, the world they inhabit entertaining and the story leads to a moving moment or two, being predictable is not a hindrance toward enjoying a movie. For starters, it’s a relief to see an independent Mexican film with a smoother sense of pace. The story is not “light” per se, but the pacing isn’t dense and that’s rare nowadays in independent Mexican cinema, which is why one must thank director José Ramón Chávez for creating a world where, even though the characters on the screen are not the most likable, the audience can have a good time interacting with them.

Rodrigo (Hernán Mendoza) is a family man who has had it with his wife Patricia (Elena de Haro), a compulsive gambler who has spent too much time around slot machines and has caused several problems for her family, including having gambled away his younger son Carlos’ (Luis Amaya) tuition money. Throughout the course of a weekend, Rodrigo changes the locks in his house and decides to turn his world into one that his wife would not want to be a part of, with the help of a young employee of a hamburger chain (Armando Espitia) that he befriends. Patricia uses his older son Luis (Diego Calva) to break into the house, while Luis has to deal with his fiancée who doesn’t seem to want to marry him anymore. Carlos spends most of the weekend trying to buy something from an Amazon-like website. The film jumps from character to character and screenwriter Claudia Saint-Luce (writer/director of Los Insólitos Peces Gato, one of my favorite Mexican films of the past few years) handles character details with care, making sure each of them makes sense as a person and that their actions fit the tone of the piece.

Speaking of tone, despite being a film that intends to move people in a way, the tone is darkly humorous. The screenwriter and the director work well together to create these moments in which an audience is not sure whether to laugh or cry (or both at once), including a gag at the end of the film that has so much build-up that once it arrives, no one will know how to react. A film like this begs the formal elements not to call too much attention, and yet everything from art direction, to costuming, to editing, it’s all meticulously constructed to create a rhythm for the film (editing in comedy is key, here that’s Pedro Gómez in charge) and to dress up this contemporary world that feels unique, as if only these characters could exist in it. Of course, we must mention the excellent cast that relishes the opportunity to give more stylized performances, as if from a classic farce, mixing that up with genuine emotions that manage to be moving (Hernán Mendoza and Elena de Haro navigate these tones like the pros they are). It’s a recent tradition that many filmmakers try to portray some form of heartbreaking reality, and yet one must not forget those elements necessary that make a meticulous piece of melodrama that reminds us why we love cinema.

Ayúdame a pasar la noche will screen today at 14:00 hrs at the Juárez Theater in Guanajuato City.

Stormmaker

Dir. Rubén Imaz

Offical Selection Mexico

The Richter Scale says: Many years ago, Don Rome (Juan Carlos Ruiz) found oil and that lead to jobs for many people, but ruined the economy of the small fishing town he lives in. Now he lives his days, which may be his last, isolated from the rest of his town. He only interacts with Yolanda (Mónica Jimenez), Chacho (Gabino Rodríguez) and Ariel (Gabino Rodríguez, the film never makes it clear whether the last two are the same person or twins, they never appear together), who may or may not be his children and may or may not be alive. One thing one must know about this film off the bat… it has little to no interest in plot. IT simply portrays a few days in the life (or is it life?) of this old man who was once a hero for the oil industry, but now the only ones who remember him (because he never left his town, apparently) are those fishermen he ruined with his findings.

Rubén Imaz broght Epitafio to GIFF last year. That film, like this one, explored atmosphere and feeling more than it did plot and character, which might be annoying for those who go to the movies to have a story told to them, but presents a fascinating challenged to those who are willing to see something different. The film shines in its visual language, working with cinematographer Gerardo Barroso (who did Extraño pero Verdadero, which was co-written by Rubén Imaz by the way, I hadn’t mentioned that in its review), in the images that find Don Rome in his natural habitat, drinking on his front porch (which is made of wood), in bars in town, walking by the sea, all of this coupled with an exceptional soundscape that puts the audience into that environment without many distractions and creating a captivating experience. It’s less satisfying when the plot has to intervene in some way (showing the lack of interest Imaz has for narrative).

Imaz shoots mysticism, the idea that there’s something beyond the story he’s telling, a story that could well be the hallucinations of an isolated old man, or something more sinister coming into town (the final images tell a story we can only understand if we analyze them and it’s the most memorable sequence in a film that is often monotonous). This final sequence is presented without much context or idea if what we’re seeing is real (and starring a character we have enough questions about to begin with). The only sequence that offers anything concrete is when Don Rome is visited by a census taker and it makes it clear that we’re dealing with a man who lost at least some of his mind a long time ago, making the images something suggestive, something that could possibly just be the workings of a mind in search of some form of dignity.

Tormentero will be screened today at 16:00 hrs at the Juárez Theater in Guanajuato City.

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