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We Are Mari Pepa | Review

Adolescent Grunge: Kishi Takes Musical Trip Into Adulthood

Undoubtedly making it difficult to find solemnity with a film that opens with a posse of teenagers repeatedly mumbling the lyrics ‘Natasha I wanna cum in your face,” for all the explicit attempts at creating meaningful poetic imagery with their music- or not- Mexican helmer Samuel Kishi’s quad teenage boy portrait We Are Mari Pepa (Somos Mari Pepa), a name that comes from Marijuana and a Spanish slang word for vagina, has a certain kind of street-smart charm that is at once despicably dirty-minded, as is expected of boys of that age, and also rather endearing.

The premise is simple. Four boys, Alex (Alejandro Gallardo), Moy (Moises Galindo), Bolter (Arnold Ramirez) and Rafa (Rafael Andrade Munoz) are part of an extremely underground, almost non-existent, garage “punk” band that clearly only has one original song, but which needs another great hit single to participate in a “Battle of the Bands” contest happening soon in their city. Taking place in the outskirts of one of Mexico’s most urbanized areas, Guadalajara, the story delves into their struggles to achieve their musical goals and finding themselves, all while meeting their respective families’ expectations as soon-to-be adults. In summary this is a Mexican-Rock-Infused-Dirty-Talk-Coming-of-Age Story, which, as if that concept wasn’t already a tad convoluted, is shot in a quasi-documentary style to lend realism to the Youtube-friendly world it depicts. Despite all these elements being pursued at equal rates by the filmmaker, there is a great deal of honesty that permeates the piece, so much that the final sequence induces one to think these four young men are friends behind the camera as well. Since they are not, they certainly deserve some praise for making the scripted parts unnoticeable thanks to the great chemistry between them.

Among the four dysfunctional pimple-ridden musketeers it can be said that the protagonist is Alex. He lives with his elderly grandmother who every morning cooks him a strange concoction of pineapple and meat, and never says a word but enjoys classic songs on her record player. Alex, as are his friends, is trying to figure what to do with his life. Unlike the others he seems to be economically stable because of his absent father who supports him from afar. Bolter, the singer, is conflicted between his own aspirations and his cousin’s attractive lifestyle, which seems to be part of the drug-dealing-regional-music-loving crowd. Rafa, on the drums, needs to find a job fast before his parents throw him out. Lastly, Moy, on the bass, just got a girlfriend, who like a watered-down Yoko Ono, requires all his attention and creates conflict within the tight group.

Given that the performers here are non-professional actors, their takes shine for their naturalism and uncompromising colloquialism, bordering on the outright vulgar, but still fitting. Evidently this is a passion project for the Mexican new auteur, and even if at times if feels like its running time drags and like it could end way before its actual conclusion, it is a nice attempt at capturing a very complex age with a particular cultural point of view. There are sex jokes galore, funny rehearsing sessions, and even a few tender moments that validate the bond between these oddballs. Entertaining, inventive and even moving at times, this might not exactly be an unforgettable piece of filmmaking, but it’s worth a chance, at the very least to sing a long the band’s porn-inspired catchy tune. Why not? “Natasha….”

Reviewed at the 2013 AFI Film Festival – New Auteurs Section. 95 Mins.
★★ 1/2 stars

Originally from Mexico City, Carlos Aguilar is a Los Angeles based filmmaker/film journalist who has covered AFI Fest, COLCOA, and the Los Angeles International Film Festival. Top Films From Contemporary Film Auteurs: Almodóvar (Talk To Her), Coen Bros. (Blood Simple), Dardenne Bros. (Rosetta), Haneke (The White Ribbon), Hsiao-Hsien (Three Times), Kar-wai (In the Mood for Love), Kiarostami (Close-up), Lynch (Blue Velvet), Tarantino (Kill Bill vol.1), Van Sant (Elephant), von Trier (Dogville)

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