Rudo y Cursi

Sony Classics, May 8 2009


By Michael T. Dennis


A modern Mexican fable, “Rudo y Cursi” (“Tough and Corny”), the outstanding feature debut of Carlos Cuarón, is a classic tale of brothers, in front and behind the camera, from the variation on the rags-to-riches format to the real-life story of the picture's production. 


“Rudo y Cursi” will have its U.S. premiere at New York's 2009 Tribeca Film Festival before opening in limited release on May 8 by Sony Classics.


Brothers have always made fine cinematic subjects.  Since the Book of Genesis conflict among siblings, with its built-in mix of rivalry and devotion, has lent itself to all sorts of high and low drama.  Stories of competition, jealousy, identity, love, the screenplays practically write themselves.


Before acquiring the nicknames that serve as the film's title, Beto and Tato are twenty-something brothers (half brothers, actually) living in rural Mexico and working long, hot hours on a banana farm.  They dream about greater things, like building a house for their mother.  For Tato, being discovered as a singer is the pathway to fame.  Beto is embittered after being failed repeatedly by his own gambling system, a bad habit that has pushed his relationship with his wife to the brink.


One day the devil rolls into town driving a hellfire red Corvette.  He introduces himself as Batuta, a talent scout from the Big City.  Tato tries to win him over with an impromptu musical number but Beto hauls his brother off to their weekly soccer match, an isolated source of joy in their otherwise dead-end lives.  After the game Batuta is waiting with his first of many temptations: revealing himself as (conveniently) a soccer scout, he sees natural talent in both brothers but can only represent one of them to the big leagues.  In a moment of confusion (or maybe backstabbing – we're never really sure), Tato snatches the prize and makes plans to accompany Batuta to Mexico City for a tryout.


Left behind, Beto channels his resentment into reviving his childhood dream of soccer stardom, determined to get even by getting ahead.  This resentment only lasts as long as it takes for Tato to settle in and convince Batuta to send for Beto.  Before long the brothers are reunited signing autographs, hobnobbing with the rich and famous, and sharing a beautiful house.  But with Batuta pulling the strings it doesn't take long for this idyll to collapse as Beto's gambling leads him deep into debt, Tato's star power and love life start to lose their shine, and the bond between brothers is worn perilously thin.


Ultimately the war between brothers is reduced to a one-on-one confrontation on the soccer field.  Leading their teams in what is purportedly the biggest game ever, and with so much on the line, they find a way to assert their brotherhood and defeat the devil, even with the knowledge of the price they will have to pay.  The notion of what it means to be brothers is taken to some strikingly complex emotional ground, but Cuarón's proclamation about family ties is hard to refute.


Despite ending with a climactic shootout, there is no overuse of sports metaphors in “Rudo y Cursi”.  The game of soccer has a simplicity that is harnessed to support a story that is all archetype but cast against a gritty, realistic environment.  In emphasizing this contract, Cuarón asserts the place of timeless stories in our confused, imperfect world.


An important part of creating this world is properly realizing its inhabitants, and strong characters supported by excellent performances do just that.  Batuta (Guillermo Francella) steals the show, intense in his villainy without ever losing his charm.  Offering voice-over that ties ideas and moments throughout the film together, he is a necessary kind of devil, the kind whose machinations put virtue to the test.  By offering to satisfy every desire of Tato and Beto, he could as well be tempting Faust.  In a scene where he inserts Tato into his one room apartment (more of a holding cell for young men), he recalls Dickens's Fagin, this time taking advantage of naïve boys to systematically pick the pockets of team owners.  Appropriately the last moment of the film is his, as he arrives in a new town (reduced to driving a red Volkswagen) ready to once again offer his services.


As played by Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal, Beto and Tato are entirely credible as brothers; they share something intangible and profound, but when it comes to personality they are two different sides of the same coin.  So much of this is a continuation of their perfect pairing in “Y tu mamá también”, directed by Cuarón's brother, Alfonso (who co-produced “Rudo y Cursi” besides undoubtedly serving as part of its inspiration).


For Carlos, emerging from the ranks of short films with “Rudo y Cursi” is a huge step out of the shadow of his older brother.  As an announcement of a new talent it shows maturity and a refined storytelling artistry.  Alfonso's shift to English language productions with superb direction for “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” and “Children of Men” is but one of many imaginable roads for Carlos.  Whatever the future holds, moviegoers now have two Cuarón brothers to watch for.




Beto – Diego Luna

Tato – Gael Garcia Bernal

Batuta – Guillermo Francella

Maya – Jessica Mas




A Sony Pictures Classics release

Written and directed by Carlos Cuarón

Producers, Alfonso Cuarón, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Tita Lombardo, Guillermo del Toro, Frida Torresblanco

Original Music, Leoncio Lara     

Cinematography, Adam Kimmel

Film Editing, Alex Rodríguez

Casting, Kimberly Mullen, Mark Mullen

Production Design, Eugenio Caballero