Alonso Ruizpalacios has a sharp eye and a Godardian wit. His debut feature, Güeros, which won the Best Cinematography award at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival for its arresting, lively black-and-white imagery, is consistently droll and thought-provoking. It's the kind of debut that grabs your attention.
It starts with a bored, lonely boy's transgression. Tomás (Sebastián Aguirre) gets into mischief, and his single mother no longer feels able to look after him, so she sends him to stay with his ne'er-do-well brother, Sombra (Tenoch Huerta of Sleep Dealer), who spends his days getting wasted with his equally indolent buddy, Santos (Leonardo Ortizgris), and pining for his ex-girlfriend Ana (Ilse Salas), a politically active college student. There's a student strike going on, but Somra and Santos are too cynical to join the protesters at their university. "We are on strike from the strike," they tell Tomás. When Tomás suggests going out for a bite, the seemingly agoraphobic Sombra responds,"Why go? We're just gonna end up here again." But when Sombra is caught stealing power from the neighbors, a sudden road trip is in order.
The trio decide to visit Tomás and Sombra's unsung folk musician hero, Epigmenio Cruz, whose claim to fame is, "Once he made Bob Dylan cry," and who has recently been hospitalized and is apparently at death's door. Their journey takes them through every corner of Mexico City, across boundaries of class and education. Along the way, Sombra reconnects with Ana, and she joins their spiritual excursion.
Ruizpalacios films his hyper-stylized, reflexive bare-bones narrative with such inventiveness, energy, and sly wit that never flags. Güeros never takes itself too seriously, but Ruiz Palacios sneakily works his serious points about ethnicity, class, hero worship, the efficacy of protest, and so much more. The title, a slang term essentially meaning "soft and white" is turned into a recurring joke, with the privileged protagonists unconvincingly defending themselves against the being defined that way through various encounters. Their brouhaha with a snooty filmmaker who throws them out of a party is particularly amusing in its self-criticism.
The first half of the film, as the trio hangs out in Sombra's apartment, has a classic formal rigor that loosens up when they are forced out onto the road. Throughout, it's a work that is amiably fuzzy at the center, but sharp around the edges, and Alonso Ruizpalacios' inventiveness never flags.