Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Alonso Ruizpalacios
Screenwriters: Manuel Alcalá, Alonso Ruizpalacios
Cast: Gael Garcia Bernal, Leonardo Ortizgris, Alfredo Castro, Simon Russell Beale, Lisa Owen, Bernardo Velasco, Ilse Salas, Leticia Brédice
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/6/18
Opens: September 14, 2018
People obsessed with materialism often find that their booty makes them into virtual slaves. You want a Beemer or a Mercedes? Struggle with the payments, and then try to find an honest repair garage which makes you realize the plight faced by Diogenes, looking for an honest person. You like Brooks Brothers clothes? You fill up your closets until you have to use your living room as a coat rack. You have a yen for Aztec treasures? You may not need much closet space for the masks and other images of the gods, but if you want the real thing, you’ll have to break into a museum, worry about fencing the goods, and set yourself on the run from the police. The last example brings us to the two strange people in “Museo,” put together by Alonso Ruizpalacios, known principally for TV shorts and docs and whose freshman film “Güeros” finds a mom so exhausted by her son that she sends the boy to live with his older brother.
A similar theme is on display in “Museo” (“Museum”) as Juan ( Gael Garcia Bernal), the son of doctor Nuñez (Alfredo Castro), is studying to become a veterinarian, but who lives with his parents–who are able to give him all the money he should need. For reasons that we in the audience have to guess, he aims to steal lots of pre-Hispanic treasures during Christmas Eve when the security staff of Mexico’s famous National Museum of Anthropology are busy partying in a remote section of the building. Together with his not always trusty friend Benjamin Wilson (Leonardo Ortizgris),aka his Sancho-Panza-like follower, he enters the building quietly and just as silently lifts the casings from a roomful of priceless treasures. Without car crashes, explosions and super-human distractions, director Ruizpalacios, working from a script he co-wrote with first-timer Manuel Alcalá, has the movie audience breathless. Will the guards make the rounds and catch these two losers in the act? Will the thieves become frustrated with the task of removing the goods from their glass cases? Is there even one alarm system that would tip off the authorities?
By the time we catch our breath, the two are off to Palenque, Chiapas, to fence the materials, but the hoped-for buyer is away in the Caribbean, leaving them to negotiate with Frank Graves (Simon Russell Beale), a British collector in Acapulco, who reads them the riot act, summarized as “Who would want to buy stolen goods that are so easy to identify as hot?”
As a clue to Juan’s emotional terrain, look no further than his turning off the headlights of his father’s car and speeding down a highway as bereft of lighting as the young man’s own brain. The story is filled with humor, acted with authenticity by Bernal—who is forty years old as is the director but who comes across as a fellow barely out of adolescence. For variety, the film hones in on Sherezada Rios (Leticia Brédice), where Juan becomes the victim of a nightclub brawl. When Juan admits to his stupid act, not the sort of caper indulged by veterinary students anywhere else, he faces a climactic scene with his dad and mom, who become as exhausted by the young man’s exploits as is the father of Tomás in “Güeros.” The movie won Best Screenplay at the 68th Berlin International Festival.
129 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B-
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B