The Director's Cut
First-time director wages her own assault on the movie establishment at LatinWave
The title The Cinema Hold Up has a cheekier edge than its original Spanish name: Asalto al Cine, which suggests that cinema itself is under assault. So I wrongly expected a more playful film, perhaps a Goddardian meta-film, than the one first-time director Iria Gomez Concheiro has made.
Her Asalto is a straightforward, if subtle, examination of the plight of Mexican youth in a country that seems to need reminding that they even exist.
The film, which is also written by Gomez Concheiro is part of the Latin Wave film festival at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and it plays at 9 p.m. Saturday at the Audrey Jones Beck Building. Gomez Concheiro's movie is inspired by the true story of four teenage friends from the Guerrero neighborhood in Mexico City. Bored and without prospects, the kids decide to knock off a movie theater on reforma which is presumably attended by people with more disposable income than their neighbors in their barrio.
The kids are not straight-up criminals — far from it. But they’re not soft either. They’re surrounded by crime and drugs, and indulge heavily in the latter throughout the first half of the film, as their scheme to do something with their lives slowly takes shape.
First, however Gomez Concheiro, patiently (perhaps too patiently) introduces the viewer to the problems the kids face. The one book-smart kid hasn’t been accepted into the university. The group leader (Gavino Rodriguez) has no place to be alone with his girlfriend. (The film points to Mexico City’s lack of peaceful, semi-private space for kids to gather in.) A third friend is more limited intellectually and psychologically; he likes to play the macho.
The group leader’s girlfriend makes up the gang’s fourth wheel. She comes from a more middle-class background than the others, but her mother’s determination to keep her away from her boyfriend finally amounts to hard-heartedness.
As I’ve said, the set up takes its sweet time, and becomes a bit tedious. But once they hatch the scheme to rob the theater, things pick up, and the film takes off in unexpected directions. Gomez Concheiro uses the planning stage of the heist to show that her characters are not lacking in talent or imagination. They simply have no legitimate venue in which to display their gifts.
The robbery’s aftermath is quite surprising, and is the film’s strongest section. A lifetime of watching American crime films had conditioned me to expect a tragic bloodbath. But Gomez Concheiro allows their adventure to fizzle out in a more realistic, but also dramatically satisfying way.
During an interview, Gomez Concheiro described her film as being “un grito,” a cry from the heart. At 31, she says, she’s not mature enough to offer a solution to the problems of Mexican youth; her goal was to get her countrymen’s attention and make them realize the problem exists.
The lack of opportunity for Mexican youth represents a crisis for the entire, fear-ravaged country, she says. “If kids don’t have anything to do, then they’re going to commit crimes.”
The crimes these kids might commit on their own are not the same terrifying crimes that the narcos are inflicting on Mexico. “But these are the kids that the narcos can easily recruit,” Gomez Concheiro says. "They [the narcos] have something to offer, but society doesn’t.”
About her title: it turns out that Gomez Concheiro does see Asalto as Cine somewhat metaphorically. “Everyone told me I couldn’t make this film. I was a woman. I was too young, etc. I couldn’t get funding, so I had to become producer myself (to raise money).”
She smiles tightly as she says, “So, yes, this is my own Asalto al Cine.”