A Bollywood-length comic satire, “¡Que viva México!” is not a film for those wholly unfamiliar with Mexico and its political schisms and their history, or for the faint of bladder.
Director and co-writer Luis Estrada gives us an immersion in the internal fissures in Mexican society wrapped in a sloppy, insanely-slow film that leans into almost every Mexican stereotype in the book.
Machete-wielding banditos who rob anybody foolish enough to get off the paved road and whose only excuse for not muttering “Badges, we ain’t got to show you no es-stinkin’ badges!” is the fact that they don’t hablo ingles.
A cop waiting for that next bribe, a judgementally unsavory Catholic priest, a rural province relative who “made it” by becoming a corrupt elected official, the callous and contemptous big city rich, the leeching, clinging, begging poor — they’re all here.
And always, the local mariachis, ready to enliven and render “authentic” every celebration or solemn ceremony with the second biggest musical cliche in Mexico — the song that comes AFTER a norteamericano thinks of “La Cucurcha.”
I gave serious consideration to just posting this much-repeated (in the film) brassy cliche of a video as my review of “¡Que viva México!” It gets the point of the movie across — repeatedly.
I mean, I watched it to brush up on my espanol. What’s your excuse, if you don’t live “South of the Border” and north of Nicaragua?
The story concerns a ruthlessly ambitious Mexico City factory manager (Alfonso Herrera) who is badgered by his aged father (Damián Alcázar) to come “home” to the mid-desert village of Prosperidad because his miner-grandfather (Joaquín Cosio) has died.
Pancho Francisco won’t go…until he’s shamed and shamed again…until he learns of an inheritance.
So, in the middle of eagerly carrying out layoffs at work, he begs for time off from his sexist, fat cat boss (José Sefami), packs the kids and upper class spendthrift wife Mari (Ana de la Reguera) into the Mercedes and sets off cross country, to a simpler place and simpler people.
And once there, as Pancho is welcomed and criticized for not visiting for 20 years and tapped for this or that funeral expense, as his father continues with the guilting and his salty grandmother (Angelina Peláez, the funniest character and performance) insults him and his “fifi” (old leftist slang for bourgeois conservative shill) lifestyle and politics, and curses her late husband — along with the rest of the family — at the reading of the dead miner’s will, maybe Pancho gets a clue.
After delays, as legal problems, vandalism and shootings add up and his hot sister-in-law Gloria (Mayra Hermosillo) takes shot after shot at getting her some of that and the financial stakes rise and competing agendas clash, Pancho and we get the idea that maybe this is all a peasant trap.
Fine. All well and good. But did we need almost 200 minutes of movie to get to that point? No. Estrada (“The Perfect Dictatorship” was his) is muy desdeñoso of the viewer’s time.
Is this some sort of leftist or rightest revenge on us for plunging into his latest “comedy?”
“¡Que viva México!” is a movie mired in controversy and burdened by wildly differing “takes” passing for “reviews.”
The director and Netflix had a falling out. That’s a fact. The film is an indulgent assault on the viewer’s patience. That’s my opinion of it.
The online troll-wars for the film have each extreme staking out turf.
The film is a parody of the shift in the battle lines of class warfare, finding “the poor” a rapacious, indolent lot who are holding the rest of the country back. Or is Estrada condemning the intolerant rich elite who have forgotten the poor majority, whom they have preyed upon for generations?
He’s skewering Eternal Mexico and its ever-insoluable class differences with a suggestion the country grapple with that which it seems to never come to grips with. Or is our intrepid filmmaker seeing his homeland as a basket case that cannot be saved?
He’s ridiculing “progressive” government and its naivete about the “lazy” rural poor! He’s eviscerating the corruption that has dogged the place since Montezuma tried to buy off the carnivorous Spanish!
“Luckily, in this country, there’s no problem that can’t be solved with a lot of money.”
It seems like such a simple story, but as actors play multiple characters and the number of characters continues to grow with the complications of this “trap” Pancho & familia are in, Estrada seems hellbent on ensuring it isn’t as simple as it seems.
But what he’s really doing is cluttering his narrative, watering down his message and billing Netflix by the minute, the best possible explanation for the wretched excess of it all.
Estrada is sticking it to “El hombre,” and in this case, “The Man” is Netflix. After sitting through “¡Que viva México!” the viewer is entitled to think she or he is “The Man” he’s sticking it to as well.
Rating: R, violence, sex, nudity, profanity
Cast: Alfonso Herrera, Damián Alcázar, Ana de la Reguera, Angelina Peláez, Mayra Hermosillo, Joaquín Cosio and Zaide Silvia Gutiérrez and many others
Credits: Directed by Luis Estrada, scripted by Luis Estrada and Jaime Sampietro. A Netflix release.
Running time: 3:12