Excellent film that shows how people live complex, rich, and tragic lives in a poor neighborhood of Mexico
WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD:
I'm writing my first review ever so please understand.
This film deservedly won many awards. It is not a Hollywood glamour film by any means, but on the contrary, it is a deep film that shows how people live complex, rich, and tragic lives in a poor neighborhood of Mexico. The acting also is superb. Every character is believable and Salma Hayek stands out as the only known star. This is the best I've ever seen her and her acting in the final scene is very impressive.
The movie begins in the bar of Rutilio. A few middle age men are playing dominos and jokingly playfully yet also talking about their lives. Rutilio's son Chava, his friend Abel, and the bartender are in the background. The movie first focuses on the story of Rutilio, who allows his homosexual feelings to surface. Of course, he must face the consequences when his family finds out. One of the first great scenes of the movie is when, after abusing his wife a few days earlier, he's crying on her lap and looking for comfort and she's reluctant to console him. The movie also subtly introduces other characters during this first chapter.
After this scene, the movie returns to the same beginning scene and yet focuses on other characters: the men around the table, Abel, Rutilio, and the bartender. Through these characters' relationships with others, it introduces us to new characters, namely Alma, and Susana. The movie paints all of these characters very richly in many different colors. They all (except perhaps the two thieves and Jose Luis) live complex lives, are faced with difficult dilemmas, and are in many, complicated relationships. For example:
--Abel lives solely for the love of Alma and would enjoy just to be around her forever. Yet he realizes that without money, he cannot please her mother nor live happily with her. Additionally his best friend Chava asks him to leave to America with him. He decides to leave and work for the long term, using his picture of Alma as his motivation.
--Alma, on the other hand, is a young, naive girl. Her mother and her are poor and they live in a small apartment. She wants to escapes to a better world, just as anybody would. Thus when Jose Luis comes and offers her a world of mansions, money, and sex, she abandons her world and her wait for Abel; for she wants her immediate desires to be fulfilled. How would she know that she would become trapped in Jose Luis' vicious circle and become addicted to cocaine?
Yet this movie does not stop with these people. It reveals the inner lives of even more people in the neighborhood. At first, one only sees these people on the outside and only learn a little bit about them. They are playing dominos, walking around, or looking at tarot cards. Yet as the movie progresses, it goes inside their lives and shows how complex and human these people are. Even the shop owner, who at first just seems a one-dimensional lecher, actually wants to get remarried, and please Alma by taking her to the opera and the theater. Guicho, the bartender, who at first appears only as a thief and somebody who takes advantages of others, struggles to stop his impulse to steal and truly loves Susana.
Additionally, the film is full of excellent dialogue and has a well-written script. This film is not dark at all even with all the tragedy in these peoples' lives. It is fully of witty jokes, poetry (from the bookstore owner), and even a few comic characters. Manu, for example, always jokes and says, `Well, seriously. . .' Moreover, it is full of a few excellent, intense scenes that fully depict the emotion of the characters. I've already mentioned the one with Rutilio, but others include the ones in which Guicho kisses Susana's feet while she sobs, Alma crumples Abel's letter and holds it near to her face, and of course Alma's despair in the final scene.
In the end, the movie does not resolve any of the problems nor give us a fairy tale ending. But this movie shows real lives. The characters' problems and their relationships cannot be changed with the flick of a wand. Instead, it beautifully shows a certain time period in these characters' lives. They will continue to live and struggle to solve their problems. Alma might never escape Jose Luis's dominion and Chava will continue to be a womanizer and ignore his wife.
Perhaps this movie has no dominating themes. But it does depict how real people have faced real situations, and how they responded to them. It shows this though in a way only movies can do it with charming dialogue, intense actions, and actors that light up the screen by illustrating many different emotions. Not only does this movie shows how difficult life is in modern Mexico, but also how people respond to their own dilemmas in their lives. It is an excellent movie, one of the best I've seen recently, and perhaps of the 90s.
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Based on the Nobel Prize Winner's novel, the Egyptian Naguib Mahfouz. The story, translated from El Cairo to Mexico City's downtown, narrates the life of the members of the neighbourhood and the connection between them Don Ru, the owner of the local pub; Eusebia, his wife; Chava, his son and Abel his friend, who emigrate to USA in search of fortune; Susanita, the single landtender always dreaming to marry a good man; Guicho, the pub's employee, who extracts the money when Don Ru is not there and finally marries Susanita; Alma, the very good looking girl, the Abel's dream, who becomes a luxury prostitute while he's away; Jimmy, the handsome young man Don Ru becomes infatuated with, etc. This movie won the Ariel (the Mexican Oscar) as best movie in 1995.
The lives of the inhabitants of El Callejon de los Milagros, in downtown Mexico City, are closely knitted as the threads of a rug. Fifty-something Don Ru (Gomez Cruz) owns a small "cantina" where all the men spend afternoons playing domino. He's tired of his longtime marriage with Eusebia (Casanova) and has recently discovered new feelings inside his heart. It doesn't matter if these feelings are not aimed to a young lady but to a young clerk (Soberanes): after all, as one of the characters says, "it's platonic love". Don Ru's son Chava (Bernal) doesn't like what he sees and almost kills his father's lover. Running away from Don Ru's anger, Chava escapes to the USA with his friend Abel (Bichir) who's deeply in love with beautiful Alma (Hayek), the daughter of Dona Cata (Rojo), a tarot reader with bad luck in love. Susanita (Sanz), the ugly landlady looking for love; Guicho (Tovar), Don Ru's cinic employee, Maru (Scanda), Don Fidel (Obregon), Dona Flor (Morett), Zacarias (Woolrich) and mean Jose Luis (Gimenez Cacho) complete the cast of characters of this complex portrait of lives.