Güeros means in slang “paleface” or “whitey”, and, indeed, one of the many running jokes of Alonso Ruizpalacios’s film is that its central brothers Tomás (Sebastián Aguirre) and Sombra (Tenoch Huerta) have different skin colours.
It is 1999, and Tomás is a teenage delinquent whose reckless pranks cause his single mother to send him to Mexico City to live with his student brother. There, the boy’s interjection adds some motion to the lives of Sombra and his roommate, who have been idling about their high-rise flat, classes cancelled due to a mass strike. An impromptu road trip leads them to the embattled campus, where students are bitterly protesting the introduction of an enrolment fee for their university.
In a similar way to the great Y Tu Mamá También, Güeros uses a tale of youthful alienation to reveal greater insights about Mexican society as a whole. The set pieces of student protest are visceral and energetic, and give the film an extra dimension beyond being just a tale of disillusioned teen angst. The young men have an easy chemistry, and their personalities are likeable and genuine. The film is less of a developmental journey than an exploration into how an energetic youth can fit into and be heard by an apathetic society. It is a pent-up energy that has nowhere to go. This sentiment is verbalised by the older brother who asks “why go if we’re gonna end up back here again?”.
Dynamic black-and-white cinematography and Academy ratio set the film apart from others of the genre, and it is one of the best uses of monochrome this year. It does seem tonally unsure, however, with Ruizpalacios still finding his voice amid a mishmash of production designs with apparent inspiration from the disparate likes of Wes Anderson and Ozu.
Preferring to sacrifice pacing in favour of arbitrary aesthetic sequences, the plot loses focus occasionally. However, Güeros is a worthy addition to Mexico’s already fantastic repertoire of national cinema, and displays a huge amount of inventiveness and expression for a modest, micro-budget feature.
Güeros is released in selected cinemas on 20th November 2015.
Watch the trailer for Güeros here: