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After the Sundance-selected and decidedly adult-oriented erotic drama The Night Buffalo, which was scripted by Guillermo Arriaga (21 Grams, Babel) and starred Diego Luna, Mexican director Jorge Hernandez Aldana turns his attention to young teenagers in his second feature, The Heirs (Los Herederos). The film chronicles the carefree lifestyle of a small group of bourgeois brats of about 15 years old, who are drawn to sex, brutality and bloodshed as a way to stave off boredom.
Tonally, the film finds itself somewhere halfway between a typical south-of-the-border drama about class differences and the all-pervasiveness of violence in Mexican society and the more stingingly poetic musings of U.S. directors obsessed by ephebic youths, such as Gus Van Sant and Larry Clark. But the screenplay, co-written by Gabriel Nuncio and the director, is awkwardly structured and Aldana’s handle on the material isn’t quite insightful or touching enough to warrant more than limited festival travel abroad. That said, the fact the film was produced by this year’s Cannes Best Screenplay winner, Michel Franco (Chronic), certainly can’t hurt.
Delicately featured, almost elfin-like blond Ricardo (Maximo Holander), nicknamed Ricky or Coyo, seems like a carefree suburban kid in the film’s opening scenes as he uses the family dog, Kennedy, to pull him along his neighborhood’s winding roads on his skateboard. But after Kennedy goes missing and is subsequently found dead, something changes. Ricardo becomes increasingly attracted to gunplay, perhaps inspired by his father (who owns a weapon as a means of defending his home) and as a sort of childish protection/revenge fantasy. What’s shocking is that Coyo’s peers, which include his sort-of girfriend (Regina Soto) and cousin (Sebastian Aguirre), don’t put up much of a fight when he openly starts playing around with a gun. Quite the contrary — and rather like the clique’s attempts to dare its members to make out together in public — these young kids simply egg each other on, the inappropriate and daring behavior serving as entertainment for those watching.
Indeed, teenagers can always be counted on to explore their boundaries, but the film offers little in the way of compelling insight about kids who venture dangerously out of bounds, with Aldana never exploring his protagonist’s psychological makeup in any detail. (A problem that also plagued Buffalo.) The boy’s transformation into a gun-wielding kid who goes out for nights on the town with his friends that include robbing taco stands and gas-station stores is documented in a style that’s aseptic and somewhat distant. The result is an experience that precludes any sense of intimacy with the clearly troubled protagonist but also doesn’t provide the audience with a purely objective look at the group’s out-of-control behavior.
The film grows even colder when it observes (spoilers ahead) the behavior of Ricky’s parents after they have come to understand what their son has been up to. After having followed the young protagonist for the first half, the older generation’s actions and decisions suddenly dominate part two. But if there are any big family fights or discussions, they occur off-screen, with most of the characters silent or sulky for long stretches, with the sometimes-awkward silences providing no further insight. The title suggests there is a kind of generational cross-over but exactly how Coyo’s parents have influenced his behavior isn’t quite clear, though the suggestion that privilege is one of their problems is prominent.
Cinematographer Chuy Chavez (Franco’s Un Certain Regard-winner After Lucia) is a big fan of backlit compositions that flatten the image, which unfortunately further contributes to the sense that the film lacks depth. Sound quality is also occasionally muffled, though other technical credits are fine. In keeping with the idea of awkward silences, there’s not a lot of non-diegetic music in the film except for a couple of instances of Sibelius.
Production company: Lucia Films
Cast: Maximo Holander, Sebastian Aguirre, Ursula Pruneda, Rodrigo Mendoza, German Bracco, Tomas Manterola, Regina Soto, Diego Velazquez, Johanna Murillo, Monica del Carmen
Director: Jorge Hernandez Aldana
Screenplay: Gabriel Nuncio, Jorge Hernandez Aldana
Producers: Michel Franco, Alejandro Garcia, Jorge Hernandez Aldana
Director of photography: Chuy Chavez
Production designer: Geo Martinez
Costume designer: Abril Alamo
Editor: Mariana Rodriguez, Jorge Hernandez Aldana
Music: Jean Sibelius
Casting: Viridiana Olvera
Sales: Lucia Films
No rating, 77 minutes
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