Wednesday, October 15, 2014

González











GONZÁLEZ        B                      
Mexico  (100 mi)  2014  d:  Christian Díaz Pardo

This first time feature was made for less than $100,000, a minimalist portrait of anonymity in Mexico City, as the camera follows a lone solitary figure leading a shadowy existence throughout the entire film who may as well be Kafka’s K, but here his name is González González.  Harold Torres is a real matinee idol lead as González, incredibly handsome with a pencil moustache, always dressed in sharp suits, where he looks like he would play the part of a gigolo in conventional movies, which this is not, showing a propensity for changing moods and shifting storylines, continually veering into unpredictable territory, with a remarkable jazzy, bass-heavy musical score from Galon Durán that supplements the tense, moody atmosphere.  Like many young single men living alone in a giant, sprawling city, his most precious possession is purchasing a flatscreen TV that he protects with his life, covering it in plastic when it’s not in use, but it plays constantly when he’s at home, taking on a strange, lifelike force which is like his alter ego, offering clues into his thought process.  With no back story whatsoever, González is without a job, but does have a tiny room in a dingy apartment complex.  Desperate for work, he applies for a job at a Christian Evangelical Church that he sees raising money on TV, where he is assigned to the call center’s outreach program, receiving incoming calls from customers in dire circumstances, where the answer to everyone’s problems is to have faith in the Lord by giving money to the Church.  Once God receives the message, he will answer their call, always providing a standard affirmative response to even the most heartbreaking problems, where it’s immediately clear that none of these phone solicitors are qualified in anything except raising money.  In no time, González is very proficient in the art of making the sales pitch, dispensing this same kind of pat advice, exploiting people’s real troubles to raise money for the church’s coffers.    

The mood of the entire film shifts when González follows the sounds of religious chants, walking through a myriad of hallways and stairways as he finally enters a gigantic auditorium that serves as the church itself, which is given such a build-up of suspense, it may as well have been a space ship, as the anticipation feels ominous.  Leading the service is a charismatic Brazilian televangelist Pastor Elías, Carlos Bardem, Javier’s brother, in front of an enthralled audience that is enraptured by his religious message of salvation.  González is especially impressed with the way he works the crowd, where they’re in a near hypnotic trance following the rhythm of his every word.  More importantly, he spots a shy but beautiful woman that he instantly concludes will be the love of his life, Betsabe (Olga Segura), a devout follower of Elías, who also works at the call center.  González introduces himself and begins taking an interest, though initially he’s little more than a casual acquaintance, much like Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle and his infatuation with Cybill Shepherd in Taxi Driver (1976), building her up to be his white and innocent angel that he could possess and protect, where Bickle is another lone outcast that lives nearly entirely in his own head, rarely being sociable with others.  González displays the same demeanor, with pretensions on becoming a pastor once he sees the influence it holds over Betsabe.  So in his own mind, he becomes a priest by just thinking it, having recurring dreams where Elías introduces him before his flock as Pastor González, as he begins to incorporate this name and new identity into other casual acquaintances.  The satiric tone of the film takes note of the exaggerations and sudden shifts in tone, where there are moments of absurdity in the constantly changing character of González that are simply hilarious.  Coupled with this is the discovery that he has mounted a massive debt on his credit card, so his paychecks, in their entirety, are sent to the bank to pay off the debt, leaving him with nothing.  With visions of being destitute, unable to pay his rent or send money to his mother, lying to conceal his real dilemma, González turns into a desperate man. 

With much difficulty, impassively turned away by his employer and his bank despite his pleas for help, González insists upon seeing Pastor Elías, as he has become obsessed with watching him on TV during every waking hour, where he believes he can mimic exactly what he does and that he’s ready to be an evangelist.  Pastor Elías obviously sees things differently, especially when his repeated unauthorized attempts to see the Pastor result in him being thrown out of the building by security and losing his job.  Losing his apartment as well, things look bad indeed, where the bluesy music on the soundtrack only accentuates his solitude, where he seems boxed into a corner with no way out, where the bleak images of Mexico City, accentuated by bright yellow hues of an oppressive sun, become a surreal film noir reminder of how the film emulates the streets of New York in Scorsese’s Taxi Driver.   More and more, González breaks the boundaries of acceptable conduct, where his ever more unstable state of mind defies belief, creating a bizarre storyline that becomes totally unpredictable, where the viewer goes on a roller coaster ride with a sociopath attempting to reclaim his life, hiding in the dark alleyways awaiting the right moment before he makes his move.  Inevitably, González needs to go mano a mano with Pastor Elías, cutting the bull and getting right to the point, where Elías amusingly admits he’s not even Brazilian, as apparently they are the expert televangelists in South and Central America, the supposed top of the line, so when he admits to being a fraud, González knocks him down to size, where he’s just another swindler stealing from the poor.  González also has pretensions to fame, reminiscent of another Scorsese film, THE KING OF COMEDY (1982), where the delusional ambitions and weird plotline of the two films actually coincide, as González makes an unannounced appearance as Pastor González, wooing his girlfriend in the church audience, holding the audience spellbound with his hypnotic delivery before making his quick getaway, all made possible by the kidnapping of the real Pastor Elías, who has a few unholy phrases directed towards González afterwards.  Yes, it’s an unholy alliance, where Harold Torres is terrific as a near silent actor, reminiscent of Lee Kang-sheng, the lead actor in all of Tsai Ming-liang’s feature movies, where the film exposes an ongoing televangelist scam that is huge business in predominately Catholic countries, where the Brazilians are supposedly big business in Canada as well.  The film challenges phony religious practices while brandishing its own weirdness and bizarre humor, while also illuminating how fraud and finance mix in the global recession.       

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