Rudo y Cursi - Brothers beyond
Latin America’s cinematic dream team have been reassembled for sibling comedy Rudo Y Cursi. Miles Fielder meets its maker.
Mexican cinema took the world by storm at the turn of the millennium with the glorious hat trick of Amores Perros, The Devil’s Backbone and Y Tu Mamá También. Eight years after that last title – the hilariously raunchy sex comedy And Your Mother Too in translation – seduced cinema-goers from here to Timbuktu, the four key cast and crew members have reunited to make another crowd-pleasing romp, and they’re bringing it to Edinburgh for its highly anticipated UK premiere.
The film, Rudo y Cursi, stars handsome young Mexican hearthrobs Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna as a pair of football crazy brothers from the backwaters who get a shot at fame and fortune when a sleazy talent scout whisks them off to the big city. However, Rudo (whose name translates as tough, which also describes his character) and Cursi (corny – ditto) suffer from a severe case of sibling rivalry, and that, along with drugs, girls and gambling, threatens to sabotage their dream. Given Bernal and Luna have been pals since childhood, they’re naturals for playing bickering bros. And given the film is written and directed by Carlos Cuarón and produced by his long-term creative partner and brother Alfonso (who between them notched up a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Y Tu Mamá También), this knockabout though bittersweet film really gets to the heart of what brotherhood’s all about.
Rudo y Cursi didn’t start out that way, though.
‘I had the idea to make a mockumentary about a football player who came from a humble background and made it big and when he was a big success he mysteriously disappeared,’ says the younger Cuarón, Carlos. ‘I told my idea separately to Diego and Gael during the Yu Tu Mamá También publicity tour and they both said, “I want to be that guy.” I realised I had two actors and one character, and there’s no bench for a substitute as there is in football, but I wanted to work with both of them again, so I made up the brothers and they liked that idea.’
Although Cuarón has drawn on his own experience as a sibling, the film isn’t autobiographical. (The only thing that is, is the title, which originates from a humiliating encounter at the Grand Canyon with a pair of American kids who were arguing about the then 22-year-old Carlos – ‘He looks tough.’ ‘Nah, he’s corny.’) As Cuarón says, brotherhood is a universal theme. ‘It affects every human being,’ he says, ‘because you either have a blood brother or you have someone who’s like a brother to you. So the film is more about my observation of brotherhood rather than my own personal experience with Alfonso. Sibling relationships are power play relationships that shift back and forth. It’s a very specific dynamic and it’s the same all around the world.’
In the film, Luna’s Rudo is a monosyllabic hard-man, while Bernal’s Cursi is a verbose romantic and much of the humour comes from that clash of polar opposite characters. Given the actors’ previous form, you’d expect them to have been cast the other way around. Cuarón, however, was determined not to repeat himself. ‘When I told them about the film, Gael’s first reaction was, “I got to be Rudo.” I told them both I didn’t want to make Y Tu Mama También 2 – that I wanted to create something original and to do that we needed to start from scratch and cast them against their natural types. And they are such good actors, so imaginative and active, they started to throw me ideas immediately. They really got it.’
Cuarón has also switched roles with his older brother by making his directing debut while Alfonso (whose own impressive directing credits include Y Tu Mamá También, the best Harry Potter, The Prisoner of Azkaban, and Children of Men) takes a creative backseat as producer.
‘We are lifetime creative partners,’ Cuarón says, ‘so this was very organic. And I’m not only talking about Alfonso, I’m also talking about my three producers at Cha Cha Cha [the new production company founded by the directors of the three films that launched the renaissance of Mexican cinema, Amores Perros’ Alejandro González Iñárritu, The Devil Backbone’s Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuarón]. It was great to have their feedback, because all the notes were coming from very talented directors. They gave me complete creative freedom, and they were likewise very demanding, which is great for me, because I’m that way too. I was really privileged to have their trust. The main producer was Alfonso, however, and he gave me the space to play the role of director.’
The finished film bears out what Cuarón says. It’s hard to imagine, for example, any producer other than his brother and his fellow filmmakers allowing a first-time director to make a film about football with almost no football scenes in it. ‘I wanted to make it very clear that the main theme was brotherhood,’ Cuarón says, ‘and I felt that the football was getting in the way of the drama. One day I saw Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, probably the most violent film I have ever seen, but all the violence is off camera. I thought, “That’s what I have to do. I have to shoot football off camera.”’
And that’s just what Cuarón did. It’s very clear what is happening on the pitch by the reactions of the fans in the stands that we see and by what we hear the sports commentators saying about the games. But the only real footy scene is the climactic penalty play-off involving Rudo and Cursi. ‘Football is not easy to shoot and it’s not easy to dramatise, either,’ Cuarón says.
‘Baseball or American football have so many pauses during play you can use for dramatic effect, but football never pauses. The only moment it stops within the game is for the penalty kick. That is a moment that you can dramatise, because it becomes a duel, two guys facing each other with their destinies ahead of them. So that’s what I use in the film. Coming from Mexico, obviously I’m a football fan. I love the sport and I believe if you really want to see the game go to the stadium or stay at home and watch it on TV.’
Finally, it’s also difficult to imagine a less happily integrated filmmaker team producing such a multi-layered film. On one level it’s a popcorn movie, on another it’s a social portrait of contemporary Mexico and then there’s the theme of brotherhood. And while it’s very funny, Rudo y Cursi has a Jekyll and Hyde dark side. ‘Many people say it’s a comedy,’ Cuarón says, ‘but I think it’s a drama with a sense of humour. And sense of humour as defined by Dr Johnson in the 18th century and meaning an understanding of human nature. How you can reach that understanding is through painful laughter.
‘As Guillermo del Toro said of the film, “It’s a wolf in sheep’s skin.” He’s right.’
Rudo Y Cursi is on selected release from Fri 26 Jun
Try and try again
Beto and Tato are not the only sporting brothers who have sought stardom elsewhere. Allan Valente follows a Scottish tale that involves Westlife, rugby, golf and, of course, Chris Evans
Thom (24) and Max (25) Evans can do it all. Scottish rugby fans can be thankful, however, that the sport has always been their greatest passion and that the English-born boys have a Scottish grandfather.
Max originally followed in his father Brian’s footsteps by becoming a professional golfer in Portugal after a back injury had limited his appearances in the Harlequins academy set-up. Thom, on the other hand, chose a very different path after leaving school. Not wanting to go straight into a professional career from his studies, he starred in a boy band that supported Westlife on their 2004 tour and released a single in the UK. Tato would be envious. That was the height of Twen2y 4 Se7en’s success and, in a move that Tato would find unthinkable, Thom decided to ditch the music and return to rugby after representing England at U16, U18 and U21 level.
In 2006, winger Thom joined Glasgow Warriors from London Wasps. Max had been playing for Glasgow Hawks after coming back from Portugal but couldn’t resist joining up with his little brother at the Warriors at outside centre.
In November 2008 Max won his first international cap ensuring that the Evans brothers became the 45th set of siblings to play for Scotland after Thom’s earlier call-up. By both appearing against France in the Six Nations earlier this year, they became only the 20th set of brothers to play for Scotland together.
And Chris Evans? Well, he’s Brian Evans’ first cousin. Your move, Tato.