'I Promise You Anarchy' ('Te prometo anarquia'): TIFF Review

Promise Anarchy Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Interior 13
Skaters battle haters in this muddled, misfiring Mexican melodrama.

Mexican skateboarders get dangerously out of their depth in director Julio Hernandez Cordon's arty mash-up of crime thriller and full-frontal bromance.

The Guatemalan-Mexican writer-director Julio Hernandez Cordon has previously shown a flair for deadpan comedy, most notably with his 2010 award-winner Marimbas From Hell. But his fourth feature strays more into Gus Van Sant territory with its fuzzy indie-cool aesthetic and young, sexually ambivalent, streetwise skater-boy protagonists. Flip-flopping unevenly from gay love story to noir-ish crime thriller to social-comment drama, I Promise You Anarchy has strong ingredients but never makes them gel into a compelling and convincing whole. Screening in Toronto this week, this Mexican-German co-production should interest further festivals, especially those with dedicated LGBT and Latin American strands, but commercial prospects will be slender.

Miguel (Diego Calva) is a pretty young skateboarder from a middle-class family in Mexico City who is having a torrid love affair with the son of his family's maid, fellow skater Johnny (Eduardo Eliseo Martinez). Besides the barriers of class and social status between them, tensions are also heightened by the bisexual Johnny's ongoing relationship with a young woman, Adri (Shvasti Calderón), a dysfunctional love triangle constantly shaken by angry accusations and jealous tantrums.

See more The Scene at TIFF 2015 (Photos)

When they are not getting high, having sex or skateboarding naked, Miguel and Johnny earn money with a petty criminal scheme which involves illegally donating blood to drug gangsters, sometimes rounding up extra donors when demand is high. One day they accept a huge paycheck in return for supplying 50 "cows" to be "milked". But the deal takes a sinister turn when armed thugs herd the prospective donors into a truck and drive them away. Their fate is never explained, but mass abductions and killings are commonplace in both Mexican and Guatemala, a tactic attributed not only to drug cartels but crooked police and government forces too.

The aftermath of this traumatic event involves a vengeful murder and a personal betrayal, highlighting long-hidden resentments between Miguel and Johnny. But even with such emotionally rich, gothically grim subject matter, Cordon somehow fails to muster much tension with his final act, which is dramatically unfocused and eccentrically paced. What would your first reaction be to finding yourself implicated in a mass kidnapping and possible massacre? Glue sniffing, pillow fighting and smoking hot sex. Obviously.

I Promise You Anarchy is a hot mess at best, but sporadically stylish with it. Cordon and his cinematographer María Secco deliver some pleasing visual flourishes, drenching erotic scenes in blood-red light and lingering dreamily on slow-motion long shots of skateboarders weaving through the city streets. The soundtrack is also dense with exotic musical gems, from vintage alt-rockers Galaxie 500 to a terrific Spanish-language version of the pop standard "Sunny" by Mexican guitar-twangers Los Iracundos.  Nice details, but not enough to salvage a confused and confusing movie. We were promised anarchy, but this feels more like apathy.

Production Companies: Interior 13 Cine, Rohfilm GmbH, Foprocine
Cast: Diego Calva, Eduardo Eliseo Martínez, Shvasti Calderón, Martha Claudia Moreno, Gabriel Casanova, Sarah Minter
Director, screenwriter: Julio Hernández Cordón
Cinematographer: María Secco
Editor: Mauricio Lenz Claure
Music: Jazz Bandana, Baby Nelson, Baxter Dury, Alberto Torres
Sales company: Latido Films
Rated 14A, 89 minutes