Screenwriters: Carlos Cuarón
Starring: Gael García Bernal, Diego Luna, Guillermo Francella, Dolores Heredia, Adriana Paz, Jessica Mas
Running time: 102 mins
Brothers do battle on and off the football pitch in this pacey Mexican comedy starring Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna. They were last teamed in 2001 in Alfonso Cuarón's sleeper hit Y Tu Mamá También co-written by Carlos Cuarón (Alfonso's own brother). Carlos also writes and directs this much more light-hearted if less sophisticated parable, which scores high on clichés but makes up for it with lots of fizzing energy and lively turns. Indeed it's more screwball than football.
There's also a strong sense of place, with brothers Rudo (Luna) and Cursi (Bernal) kicking up dust in their remote Mexican village when talent scout Batuta (Guillermo Francella) passes through. He's from the big city and, as such, a slippery opportunist, but he also provides words of caution in a wisecracking narration. In contrast to that, Cursi (which translates as Cornball) is childlike in his innocence and doesn't think twice before accepting Batuta's offer of management. That infuriates Rudo, who has long dreamed of becoming a professional goalie. As his nickname suggests, he's a rough character who lashes out when things don't go his way.
For a while Cursi rides the wave of success in Mexico City scoring 'sweet' goals and a trophy girlfriend (Jessica Mas) while Rudo is stuck back in the village harvesting bananas and haranguing his wife (Adriana Paz) for the hand life has dealt him. What comes across, just as much as Rudo's resentment, is how important football is to the people, bridging the gap between two very different parts of the country. Eventually Rudo does get his shot at going pro (thanks to Batuta), albeit for a second-division club. He moves in to Cursi's plush home and quickly builds his own reputation as the safest pair of hands in Mexico. For a while brotherly love is back in fashion, but then Rudo gets into drugs and gambling and Cursi starts buying into his own hype.
Cuarón has great fun, particularly at Cursi's expense, following his evolution (or devolution) from top striker to cheesy pop-singing cowboy. Rudo doesn't have a problem with that until the money runs out and he's unable to pay his gambling debts. It's a sticky situation that leads into a rather messy sub-plot with the tone, just for a short time, becoming a little too melodramatic when balanced against the rest of the film. The brothers inevitably blame each other for their misfortunes and go their separate ways. Rudo is left to fend off gangsters and provide for his family while (again) it's Cursi who provides the comedy relief. The realisation that his fiancée is as fickle as the football crowds isn't surprising to anyone but him.
Of course the real drama is in the bust-up between Rudo and Cursi which, although marked by predictable events, is played by Luna and Bernal with real feeling rather than sentimentality. They bounce off each other like rubber on the crossbar, and even when they're getting on there's a volatility between them which keeps the film on edge. That nervous energy translates to the camerawork which is hand-held with the frame always shifting and tipping slightly off balance. Cuarón also fills the screen with a riot of colour, especially on the football pitch where the brothers are inevitably set against each other in the final stages. Fortunately you don't have to be a football fan to understand the tension between these rival siblings. It's not a story that's anywhere near profound (regardless of Batuta's philosophising voiceover), but like South American footie, it is bold, stylish quick-fire entertainment.
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