'Rudo y Cursi' does something many other sports movies can't seem to handle, it tells a sports-themed story devoid of the inevitable triumph of the underdog. (Not that there's anything wrong with that, mind you.) Although those ideas do take part in moving the story forward, they're not the central focus. In fact, there's very little about this absurd dramedy that's inevitable or predictable, despite the film's concerns with issues of fate, fame, and the ironies of life in a media-drenched consumer culture. Marking the directorial debut of Alfonso Cuarón's younger brother, Carlos, this humorous and observant film tells the tale of two very competitive rural siblings and their sudden trajectory into wealth and fortune, surrounded by the obsessive love of soccer.
Beto (Diego Luna) and Tato (Gael García Bernal) are two brothers from a small Mexican village, who spend their time arguing, working at a banana plantation, and playing soccer on the weekends for a local team. During one match, they are spotted by the sleazy talent scout "Batuta" (Guillermo Francella) and forced to choose who will join him at the capital for a shot at turning pro. With big dreams of one day signing a record contract, Tato is offered the opportunity first and becomes a goal-scoring sensation, earning the sobriquet "Cursi" for his fancy and flamboyant footwork. Later, Batuta returns for the ambitious Beto with a goalkeeper spot on a rival team and given the nickname "Rudo" for his vulgar and tough personality on the field.
As the film unfolds, we see the brothers faced with greater responsibilities than the rustic existence they once lived, turning the film into a subtle but sharp satire on contemporary life and the caprices of modern society. Each is surrounded not only by the deranged expectations of their newfound notoriety, as seen by two raving fans threatening Cursi with murder if he loses a game in the same instant they request an autograph. But they're also consumed by their individual appetites and vices, living up to their monikers with enough to spare and squandering their talents on more fruitless ventures. While Rudo develops a dangerous gambling habit, thinking it to be his way out of poverty, Cursi pursues a hapless passion for being the next music phenomenon with a Norteño version of Cheap Trick's "I Want You to Want Me", which is one of the film's best comedic moments.
'Rudo y Cursi' also reunites much of the same team which brought us 'Y tu mamá también' a few years back. Only this road movie travels in the opposite direction of Mexico's disadvantaged to the city life of the economically affluent. Cuarón drives his film with great enthusiasm and rapid-fire dialogue of the tragically funny, summing up the fate of his protagonists with a simple penalty shot and the misunderstanding of "to the right" and stage right. With Luna and Bernal sharing the screen once again, the narrative is brought to life with genuine exuberance and ill-fated humor, playing off each other as any brilliant comedy duo should. And with Francella's performance of a sly talent agent and his voice-narration philosophizing the techniques of the game, this sports flick, which is not really a sports flick, is amusing and enjoyable, where knowing when to block and when to kick a goal can make or break a play.
This is the first from the new production company Cha Cha Cha Films, which unites Mexico's three celebrated directors: Alfonso Cuarón, Alejandro González Iñárritu, and Guillermo del Toro. Their second feature, 'Biutiful' starring Javier Bardem, is scheduled for release later this year. But 'Rudo y Cursi' makes for terrific and delightful debut about brotherhood and the self-discovery that a great game of soccer is as difficult and complex as the grand game of life. They each require a clear understanding of the sport and a talent for knowing how to control the ball. And technically speaking, it's called football, but that's an argument for another day and you'll have to take it up with Rudo: penalty-shot determines the winner.
'Rudo y Cursi' make their Blu-ray debut with a slightly underwhelming AVC-encoded transfer (1.78:1). While it isn't all that bad, the picture is not quite what we'd expect for such a recent film. But despite not being very detailed for a freshly-minted release, the encode is clean and likely faithful to its original photography.
The picture tends to soften in long-range shots, but close-ups can be pretty revealing with some clear textural details. A few times, it actually looks great, as in the banana fields, but in many scenes, like Cursi's initial arrival to Mexico City, the photography loses sharpness. Contrast isn't very sharp and about average, but it feels adequate, as there is plenty of visibility in the movie. Blacks are fairly deep and even provide many moments of depth in the image, occasionally reminding viewers they're watching hi-def video. Unfortunately, low-lit interiors leave much to be desired in the shadows and black levels appear noticeably weaker. Daylight sequences are actually pretty good with nice color saturation in the primaries and skin tones are accurate. By and large, the film looks good and fans will not be completely disappointed.
The Dolby TrueHD soundtrack accompanying the video is bit more impressive, but still lacks the finesse of finer hi-rez audio. Although the majority of the track is centered in the front, it also has its moments, particularly during sports events.
The dialogue-driven mix delivers a clean rendering of character interactions, with clean dynamics and pleasant acoustics. The lack of rear activity throughout is what really hinders the sound design, which is surprising for a film which takes place in Mexico City. Those few moments of atmospheric effects are mostly front-forward with minor bleeds in the back, creating some decent imaging. Only, there's never really a sense of space or presence throughout. The film's musical tracks, on the other hand, are quite impressive, enhancing the soundfield with a bass response that adds palpable depth. The final football match in the third act also provides another appreciably immersive experience, as the cheers and screams of fans surround the listener. Taken as a whole, the lossless track is a good listen to be sure, but nothing wholly remarkable or stimulating.
'Rudo y Cursi' debuts with a nice set of special features, a couple of which are exclusive to the Blu-ray, and mostly presented in standard definition. Although not anything truly worthwhile, the supplements offer some light amusement nonetheless.
With a narration on the philosophies of football (or soccer, for all you Yanks), 'Rudo y Cursi' is a terrific comedy on the ironies of life through the eyes of two rural brothers. The A/V presentation adds to the entertainment value, and the supplemental package arrives also with a few good laughs. This is a sure bet for fans and recommended for anyone in search of some great Mexican cinema.
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