Friday, December 07, 2007


Manana te cuento posterIf you come to Eduardo Mendoza's Mañana te cuento expecting a Peruvian version of American Pie or some other bad-taste Hollywood cocktail of sex, comedy, and adolescence (and all the film's publicity encourages such expectation), then you'll find yourself disappointed, or of course pleasantly surprised depending on your taste.

The film does indeed start as a teen romp. The opening sequence switches rapidly between three upper-class young boys with their girlfriends, making out or having sex. At the center of the montage is a fourth boy, Manuel, whose only sexual pleasures are vicarious. It is clear that the film will be about his initiation into the club of the kids who have "gone all the way."

Later we see the four friends meet up and head out to have some fun: they banter and joke, mess around with other people (competing to hit golfballs at car windscreens; interrupting couples at some lovers' lane), and boast, exaggerating wildly, about their sexual exploits. Fairly standard comic effect is gained by cutting from the boys' conversation to the parallel and contrasting exchange of confidences on the part of the three girlfriends. But the funniest and edgiest scene comes as the guys are pulled over by a cop, only for one of them to take advantage of his class status and superior education by pretending to be the Canadian ambassador's son, who knows no Spanish. The police catch on, however, and extort a bribe from the now rather more subdued gang of would-be hellraisers. Their evening seems to be at an end.

This is when they concoct a plan to take advantage of the fact that one of their houses is empty, the parents away for the night, and hire some high-class call-girls so as to put their braggart discourse into action, as well as to introduce young Manuel into the adult world of sin and sex.

Manana te cuento still
The comedy continues for a while, not least in the way in which the boys constantly reveal their awkwardness and uncertainty when the girls finally arrive, and in the mixture of disdain and curiosity with which the prostitutes view their excitable high-school clients. Moreover, the boys have only been able to afford the services of three women, which leaves the one who draws the short straw ("el Gordo" or "fatty"; he has no other name) to spend the rest of the movie playing video games and generally mooching around the house while his three friends entertain or are entertained by the sex workers.

But slowly and undramatically the tone of the movie starts to shift. It becomes darker and much subtler as over the course of the night the boys do come to learn something about adulthood, Manuel above all, if not in the ways that they quite expected. It's as though they, too, had thought they were in a Farelly Brothers movie only to realize too late that in fact the film they star in is closer to some poignant Swedish art-house flick. Well, I exaggerate somewhat, but undoubtedly there are aspects of the final half hour that are both touching and powerful, and like the characters themselves you are never quite sure what will happen next. The girls start to unsettle the boys' objectifying gaze and their sense of who they are or what they really want. The plot is forever balanced precariously on a knife edge, perhaps above all when a handgun without warning appears in the mise en scène. Will it be used? If when, how and by whom?

And the film leaves these questions, and others, open. Not merely because it will shortly be the first Peruvian movie to merit a sequel. More importantly, because the boys come to see that life is difficult and messy, and fun and oblivion can't simply be bought with your rich parents' pocket money. Moreover (and pace the film's title: "I'll tell you tomorrow"), it's not exactly obvious what exactly they'll have to say for themselves the morning after. Their conversations now are less likely to be the same scatter-gun braggadoccio that we saw at the outset. The film has humanized them, just as it humanizes the working girls, but without forgiving them for who they are or for who they think they are. And they're left unsure as to whether they can ever forgive themselves.

YouTube Link: the boys out and about.

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