'Leaf Blower' ('Sopladora de hojas'): Morelia Review

Courtesy of Morelia Film Fest
Breezy and enjoyable.

Mexican director Alejandro Iglesias Mendizabal's breezy mix of light comedy and airy drama stars promising acting talents Fabrizio Santini, Alejandro Guerrero and Paco Rueda.

Some films need more elaborate set-ups than others. The breezy and enjoyable dramedy Leaf Blower (Sopladora de hojas), from Mexican rookie director Alejandro Iglesias Mendizabal, spins a whole story out of a tiny everyday incident: the loss of a teenager’s keys in a pile of leaves. Exploring issues of contemporary teenhood, friendship and slackerism with a light touch, yet grounded by a solid understanding of the protagonists’ emotional lives, this is an often pleasant divertissement. Even though it can’t quite match similarly youngster-focused Mexican films that have crossed borders — Y tu mama tambien had more poignant moments of social contextualization; black-and-white Berlinale hit Güeros had more style — Leaf should nonetheless appeal to local multiplex crowds, at least for as far as they are still willing to pay for movies. It's also solid counter-programming material for festivals and broadcasters looking for Mexican films that show a side of the country that isn’t all gloom and doom.

Curly haired cutie Lucas (Fabrizio Santini) is the only one of his small clique of friends who has a steady girlfriend, the deliciously nicknamed Raisin. Early on, Lucas tries to dissuade her over the phone to not come to the funeral of one of the boys’ soccer friends, telling her: "Girlfriends don’t usually do those kinds of things," he says, though it's unclear why he doesn't want her there. Corpulent Mili (short for Emilio and played by a jovial yet touching Paco Rueda) and Ruben (Alejandro Guerrero, admirable), who always has pot but never any money, like to frequently point out that Raisin seems to be the one wearing the pants in the relationship.

Leaf Blower consists of short chapters, with each introduced by a drawing and the chapter title. The first, Big Boys, immediately features the requisite squiggly representation of a penis, though here one with an almost cactus-like scrotum (call it the Mexican touch). They are artificial but at times humorous breaks in what’s essentially a continuous narrative. Indeed, the film unfolds almost in real time over the course of a single afternoon, as the three buddies are on the way to their homes from soccer practice so they can get changed for the funeral. Naturally jokey and not all that hurried, they run into trouble when Lucas realizes that he must have lost his house keys — and a key ring offered to him by Raisin! ­— when jumping into one of the numerous piles of raked-together leaves in a public park with wild abandon.

Several characters make it home for a brief moment before reconvening amidst the despairingly similar-looking piles of leaves to help Lucas look for his keys. Around this very simple narrative motor, Mendizabal and co-screenwriter (and cinematographer) Luis Montalvo draw convincing portraits of their characters, who struggle with typical teenage issues such as girls and, well, women. Their banter is never very serious, but the film nonetheless manages to suggest something about the complexity of these boys nascent relationships and emotions; Lucas, for example, might brag about having a girlfriend but seems unsure what to think about the fact Raisin seems to be in control of their relationship. A small price to pay for having her? A dynamic that might suffocate his ability to be himself around her? Or is her dominance something that’s simply unacceptable in Mexico’s macho culture? With a couple of brush strokes, almost like an impressionist, Mendizabal puts the question out there without providing any ready response, at least not until the closing chapter.

Its interest in grappling with these issues restrains Leaf from being a straightforward comedy; it's more of a laugh-packed drama with well-developed characters whose sense of humor might be childish but whose characterizations are anything but. It's a tricky tonal balance that Mendizabal impressively pulls it off. Indeed, there’s a lot of humor here, some of it puerile — a priceless if facile bit centers around a "facial" cream — but pretty much all of it is enjoyable. Some of the laughs come from the rapid-fire, slangy dialogues; there’s some situational humor and the film also experiments with editing jokes. Leaf Blower does go overboard in its use of dream and "what if?" sequences that often suggest bolder or more tragicomic roads not traveled before jumping back to reality with a "gotcha!"-type cut. That said, one of these sequences efficiently helps to make a crude but funny point about police corruption.

Santini, Guerrero and Rueda are likeable and charismatic. Thanks to their convincingly inhabited characters and playful rapport, audiences will become attached to these three slacker musketeers, even if they don’t do much more than hang out, dream about girls and/or pot and complain about their pretty comfortable lives.

Montalvo’s fluid camera follows the boys around town with a flair for movement, putting the audience right in the middle of this small but loveable clique of friends.

Production companies: Cacerola Films, Viento del Norte Cine

Cast: Alejandro Guerrero, Paco Rueda, Fabrizio Santini, José Carlos Rodriguez, Arcelia Ramirez, Paulette Hernandez, Fabiana Perzabal

Director: Alejandro Iglesias Mendizabal

Screenplay: Alejandro Iglesias Mendizabal, Luis Montalvo

Producers: Laura Imperiale, Samuel Sosa, Carlos Sosa

Director of photography: Luis Montalvo

Production designer: Marcos Demian Vargas

Costume designer: Fernanda Garcia

Editor: Gilberto Gonzalez Penilla

Music: Aldo Marroquin

Sales: Cacerola Films

No rating, 96 minutes