It seems that Mexico has surprised international cinema with two unforgettable films this past year – ROMA and now MUSEO.
What happens when two slackers who know nada about artifacts decide to steal and sell them? MUSEO tells the amazing entertaining and credible possibility of a ‘true’ story. The titles say at the film’s start: “This is a replica of an original (story).”
Two students and best friends plan on robbing the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City and steal precious Mayan, Mixtec and Zapotec artefacts. There is hesitance at the start as one of them Ben (Leonardo Ortizgris) is looking after his frail grandfather and he does not wish to abandon him as it might be their last Christmas together. On the other hand, the more insistant and confident one, Juan (Gael Bernal Garcia) uses the Christmas gathering he is at as an excuse to to do the robbery as he has the perfect alibi of being at the Christmas dinner thus sneaking off soon after. The funniest thing about all this is that Juan has to borrow his dad’s car as the getaway vehicle.
While everyone celebrates Christmas, the two thieves manage to break inside the museum and steal hundred of pieces. They return home to see on the news how their deed is described as an attack on the entire nation and realize that there is no turning back.
There are many pleasures to be derived from director Alonso Ruizpalacios’ film. First and foremost besides his excellent camerawork, visuals and cinematography Damian Garcia, Ruizpalacios is able to surprise his audience with a host of other things. One of the film’s most ecstatic moments is when Juan and Ben have just gotten away with the stolen artifacts, driving off in the car. There is the look of elation on Juan’s face, as he cries “We did it.” Ben’s response is “I need to pee,” when he suddenly stops the car and takes the pee. The look of relief as he pees is just as gratifying as Juan’s previous look of elation.
The cinematography of the theft at night in the museum and the escape through the dark tunnels are magnificently shot. Ruizpalacios and his d.p. Garcia has a series of still photos flash on the screen really quickly one after the other, that evokes an effect like stop-motion animation. One part involves the light coming on and the pair leaving a hammer on the ground when the guards are making their rounds. This is suspense worthy of Hitchcock. There are also images that astound during the museum theft. For an image, it is usually the background that is still and the foreground (the subject or subjects) that moves. Director Ruizpalacios reverses the effect. As the thieves remain stationary the foreground, the background comprising of dust particle and little moths form the movement in the image.
The film covers several genres including family (dysfunctional) drama and suspense thriller. One common complaint is that films that cover more than one genre never settles on one. This is true for MUSEO as well but Ruizpalacios proves that his film can still work with multiple genres working side-by-side.
The story also plays like a buddy film as the thieves are two childhood friends. Yet the odd thing is that their personalities are as different as night and day.
MUSEU is a total delight for cineastes especially with its constant cinematic surprises around every corner. The best foreign film I have seen this this year. Opens at the Bell Lightbox.