Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

With star turns in arthouse hits such as Amores Perros (2000), Y Tu Mamá También (2001), The Motorcycle Diaries (2004), Bad Education (2004) and Babel (2006), Gael García Bernal has become one of Mexico's most successful exports - but his latest film, Déficit, made by the film company Canana that he formed with Diego Luna, shows that besides his skills as an actor, Bernal has a real talent for directing and producing.

Déficit follows one day of crisis in the life of Cristobal (Bernal), a spoilt, rich kid throwing a party for his friends at his parents' luxurious villa. A big fence and a live-in staff of servants are there to shield Cristobal from the harsher realities of life, while his younger sister Elisa (Camila Sodi), there with her own crowd, uses drugs as her chosen means of escape. There are, however, some realities that cannot be kept at bay forever, like the reason behind their parents' prolonged absence, the gradual breakdown in the villa's amenities, and Cristobal's dwindling university prospects.

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As Cristobal shows off his affluent lifestyle to his friends, cracks start to appear in the smiling façade, and the presence of two unexpected guests, Dolores (Luz Cipriota) and Adan (Tenoch Huerta), serves only to amplify the existing tensions. Brought along by Cristobal's friends, Dolores is an Argentinean exile whose family circumstances are not so very far from Cristobal's, and whom Cristobal immediately begins to pursue, despite already having a girlfriend (Ana Serradilla) – but strong competition for Dolores' attentions is offered by Adan, which is all the more galling for Cristobal given that the young local happens to be the villa's gardener. As day turns to night, Cristobal finds it increasingly difficult to maintain the condescending pretense that he and his employee, who grew up together, are somehow equals or even friends.

Bernal and writer Kyzza Terrazas first collaborated on Ruta 32, an ambitious television series which was to devote an episode to each of Mexico's 32 states. When the show failed to get a greenlight from the networks, Bernal and Terrazas decided instead to transfer their Morelos-set story to the big screen, and the result is Déficit. These origins have certainly left their trace on the film, whose slice-of-life observational style, confining events to a unified time and place and fencing off anything like a conventional narrative, feels less like a feature than an episode in a teledrama - an impression that is only enhanced by the film's brief running time.

Still, if Déficit does not quite seem complete as a cinematic experience, then the film is only living up to its title – and there is something rather refreshing about the elliptical manner in which Bernal has chosen to anatomise divisions of class and race in contemporary Mexico. Sometimes a sketch can be just as revealing as a sweeping story arc, and in this snapshot of a single day in the decline of the bourgeoisie, viewers can easily supplement what is missing for themselves.

Best of all, Bernal proves to be a vibrant director, his swooping steadicam and queasy close-ups placing the viewer right in the middle of the party, while the film's sound design offers subtleties all of its own, including a near silence in the closing scenes that echoes the emptiness exposed by the film in the protagonist's life, values and dreams. That Bernal should himself take on the unflattering role of Cristobal is a sign of his mature self-assurance as both performer and filmmaker.

This impressive debut is, after all, a film very much to Bernal's credit.

Reviewed on: 06 Mar 2008
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After a spoiled, rich kid hosts a party, unexpected guests bring tensions to boiling point.

Director: Gael García Bernal

Writer: Kyzza Terrazas

Starring: Gael García Bernal, Tenoch Huerta, Luz Cipriota, Camila Sodi, Ana Serrdilla, Jorge Luis Moreno, Pamela Reiter

Year: 2007

Runtime: 79 minutes

Country: Mexico


Viva 2008
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