by Michael Koresky
I’m Gonna Explode
Dir. Gerardo Naranjo, Mexico, playing at Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater, August 12-18
Godardian teenage angst paean or super-sized Keystone Cops episode? Or perhaps Gerardo Naranjo’s I’m Gonna Explode is just an unholy mix of both. In the film, two teenagers from Guanajuato, Mexico, their anger indirectly targeted at an apparently cruel, uncaring world that just doesn’t understand them, run away together. Roman (Juan Pablo de Santiago) has been caught plotting a shooting spree against the priests at his Catholic school; Maru (Maria Deschamps), delighted by this romantic loner, joins up with him. The two escape, but in an attempt at charming irony, Naranjo has them flee all the way to Roman’s roof, where they plan out their next move from a red camping tent and subsist on food snatched from his parents’ kitchen, located just several feet below. Alarmed at the kids’ disappearance, Roman’s dad (a right-wing politician, of course, played with one-note, glaring self-righteousness by Bad Education’s bad priest, Daniel Giménez Cacho), stepmother Eva (Rebecca Jones), and Maru’s fragile single mother, Helena (Martha Claudia Moreno), group together downstairs with the police, fretting and musing over their disappearance.
Meanwhile, every time Roman sends out a phony call to his father, misleading them as to his whereabouts, the entire group hurries out together en masse and speeds away in their cars, leaving the house unguarded, so that the kids can sneak in and out. This, of course, allows for many close-call encounters with returning parents and one Tom Sawyer-at-his-own-funeral moment when one of the kids watches a report about their delinquency on the evening news while hiding behind the couch. It’s hard to know if the cops—who never scour the roof, never leave anyone to guard the premises, and more than twice allow the 13-year-olds to elude their grasp—are meant to be as bumbling as they appear (I half expected Leslie Nielsen to show up at some point), but considering that the film has a generally sour, childish attitude toward all types of authority figures, who might as well squawk offscreen like Peanuts parents, my guess is that their incredible incompetence is meant to reflect some very generalized, child’s-eye view of social unease.
The top-down ineptness of everyone in the film, from the kids to the parents to the police, might have made for a purely farcical setup, but Naranjo means to use it as the launching point for an interior portrait of teenage rebellion. I’m Gonna Explode seems meant to soar with that unbridled, nihilistic romanticism that defined Pierrot le fou or Arturo Ripstein’s Deep Crimson. Yet despite its 35mm, cinemascope delusions of grandeur, Naranjo’s film is a thoroughly enervating experience; it's overwrought, unpleasant, depressingly single-minded. Told from the point of view of emotionally hobbled, inexpressive kids when not focused on their equally confused adult counterparts, the film, like its pubescent protagonists, has an untargeted anger, a gaping void it gussies up in the kinds of cinematic techniques that many critics perfunctorily label as “kinetic.”
Deschamps and Santiago have a freshness and vitality that other filmmakers could have harnessed into something special—she especially, with her almost elderly features (she has a puffy, worn, Stockard Channing look about her) conveys a poignant seen-it-all wisdom; she’s charming when initially seen doing a dispassionate little talent-show dance in a sailor suit (shades of Pierrot’s Anna Karina). But these appealing youngsters are hobbled by Naranjo’s constricting, by-the-numbers delivery. Even during the film’s less sedentary second act—when Roman and Maru hit the road, first drunkenly stumbling into a rural birthday party for the 15-year-old daughter of one of Roman’s father’s poorer underlings, and then caught in a final rooftop encounter with those same clumsy cops they mostly managed to elude—Naranjo engages in the requisite barrage of New Wave–inspired techniques we’ve come to expect from this sort of fatalistic merrymaking: close-ups of cursive journal passages, snatches of swoony love themes and Mahler music abruptly coming on and off the soundtrack, impressionistic flashes of clouds, tall grasses, and skipping record-player needles. It all leads to an entirely unearned, unconvincingly staged climax that slavishly follows the doomed romance template without much variation, save the young age of those involved. And as a portrait of the thrill of sexually charged and wayward puppy love, the film can’t touch the eroticism of Julian Hernandez’s Broken Sky, which conveyed recklessness and alienation without resorting to lovers-on-the-lam clichés.
Despite starring in a mock hanging of himself in front of his peers and parents at his talent show (a piece of performance art amusingly titled “See You in Hell”) and his plaintive tear-stained cries of “fucking sons of bitches,” captured in dramatic close-up, Roman never convinces as a kid disturbed enough to take part in the elaborate violence that follows. Maru’s gravitation towards him is somewhat more understandable (“He exists, but also I made him up,” she remarks in voice-over, stunned at the appearance of such a supposed soul mate), but she’s an even more vague character. Furthermore, a late-film visit with a family friend and aging Sixties political activist, who ends up turning them in, may be meant to underline the general aimlessness of this generation, but it mostly emphasizes the film’s politically noncommittal attitudes. Giving the pipsqueaks something specific to bitch about would have elevated the film at least to a dialogue about today’s youth culture. Instead they’re just barely stenciled in, and for wealthy boarding school kids, surprisingly disconnected from technology—another clue to the film’s bullshit, anachronistic Godard-aping. And while I’m Gonna Explode is refreshing in its portrayal of a Mexican milieu not wracked with poverty, the film has nothing to say about their privilege other than that private school and having a conservative dad kinda sucks. It’s an adolescent film disguised as a film about adolescence, and there’s a big difference between the two.