Wednesday, January 6, 2016
I've been a fan of Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal since I helped to judge the entries for CineFestival in the late 1990's and Amores Perros was one of the films entered into the competition. In the middle of screening the film I asked the festival director, Ray Santisteban, to please excuse me from the jury because of the dog fighting in the film. It was so realistic, as was the entire film, that I was sure it was real and could not finish watching the film. Santisteban assured me he had seen the film's documents insuring no animals had been hurt in the making of the film and I finished the film. I'm glad that I did. The movie is unforgettable in structure, pacing, story-telling and in the spot-on portrayals of Mexicans from disparate social levels intersecting in each others lives.
For my whole life I've complained there's no one on television that looks like anyone I grew up with in South Texas. I can't say that anymore.
The real reason that a DVD of the film remains in my library is that Garcia Bernal looks so much like my childhood cousin, Luis Osuna, who was a supportive, loving pal during those awkward years. We'd sit and visit in my living room talking about the Beatles or movies, usually ignoring anyone else in the room.
On the back of Luis' bike I perched above him, standing on foot supports and hugging his shoulders. We sailed through two miles of heavy downtown Nuevo Laredo traffic to buy firecrackers at the mercado, the city-block wide market. Avenida Guerrero is Nuevo Laredo's main street leading from the original bridge through miles of storefronts, garages, curio shops and residential neighborhoods onto the Monterrey highway that shoots through the desert to the mountains of the Sierra Madre.
My cousin Luis was a lover of music, fireworks, bicycles, cars, girlfriends and all such important things in life to a teenager. Unfortunately, Luis drank alcohol in excess and he died of cirrhosis of the liver in his forties.
This week while enjoying his second season on Amazon Prime's Mozart in the Jungle, I was again reminded by Garcia Bernal of my cousin in his youth. They not only look alike but their personalities seem to be similar.
I watched the episodes of the second season and appreciated the deeper portrayals and addition of cameos of famous and, even more special, retired symphony performers to the improved storyline. A performance of "Come to my House" by Bernadette Peters reminded me of her still-awesome singing talent.
But what shook me up even more than that was a moment in episode four when Garcia Bernal, in a typical conversation scene, responds to what someone says by taking his breath in sharply and subtly jumping back a fraction of an inch. This quick pause of one breathy syllable,"aaeehhh?!" seems the quintessential Mexican expression of surprise and disbelief. It is felt both viscerally and cerebrally. There's something in it that is feminine, too. I don't think I've ever heard this inward breath that reveals both disbelief and eagerness quite in the same way from any other actor before, male or female, in English or in Spanish. The intake of breath is cast aside as quickly as it comes, because there's more and the eagerness is part of what the sharp breath says, ' What? Really? Let's hear it! C'mon!'
With that one sharp inward syllable and all it includes, in my memory I was returned to the edge of adventure on the back of my cousin's bike, catapulting over a roadway bump or a train track, we both catch our breath, regain our balance and speed up again, eager to keep going.