Show Hide image

I’m Gonna Explode (15)

Ryan Gilbey hears echoes of the French new wave in a teenage love story

The distributor of I'm Gonna Explode (Voy a explotar) may have secured a release date near to Christmas as a joke on those of us who are now wearing our belt a notch lower, or not wearing one at all. But the promised combustion of the title is not gastronomic; it's the eruption of teen angst and hormones, and in Gerardo Naranjo's sparky film it spills off the diary pages of its young heroes and on to the streets and rooftops of the Mexican city of Guanajuato.

Maru (Maria Deschamps) and Román (Juan Pablo de Santiago) meet at a school talent show. She is applauding from the wings as he performs a piece entitled "See You In Hell", in which he appears to hang himself, to the general annoyance of the principal. Anyone who has sat through one of these shows will appreciate what a breath of fresh air a fake suicide would be in a genre usually restricted to amateur moonwalking and Grade 2 guitarists stumbling through "Cavatina".

Maru and Román are kindred spirits. Maru has been living with her mother since her father fled to the US. Román (it's short for "Romancito", which Maru tweaks cheekily to "Romantico") lost his mother in a car crash, and is no more than an inconvenience to his congressman father. The teenagers scribble excitably in their diaries: Román fantasises about shooting priests, while Maru suggests that her new friend (whose
abbreviated name is close to the French for "novel") may be partly fictional. "His name is Román and he exists," she declares, "but I also made him up." There's a touch of If . . . about the early scenes, with the masked, pistol-toting Román busting Maru out of school, and, like that film, I'm Gonna Explode doesn't waste time differentiating between hard fact and adolescent embellishment.

You would say that the pair go on the run, but what their parents don't realise is that they haven't run anywhere. They're hiding out in a tent on the roof of Román's apartment building, like children whose camping expeditions never get further than the end of the garden. They certainly aren't roughing it: while the adults are sleeping, Román tiptoes around the flat, assembling a generous breakfast tray that the couple then savour in the sun with the city stretching out beneath them. It's surprising that most of this lovers-on-the-lam adventure doesn't go anywhere geographically, but then the script is full of these narrative cul-de-sacs, such as the aphrodisiac effect on Román's stepmother when she spots the young runaways having sex on the roof. In her excitement, she forgets to tell anyone what she's seen, which in any other film might be grounds for the script editor's dismissal. Here it adds to the eccentric charm.

The picture inevitably courts comparison with Badlands, especially in handing voice-over duties to a teenage girl, and with Pierrot le fou. But until the obligatory bloodstained ending, the gentle tone, reminiscent of the coming-of-age genre, is more suggestive of a Naughtylands or a Pierrot l'effronté. Naranjo indulges the chic, Godardian aspects of his would-be bandits, who enjoy dressing up and striking poses to camera as though rehearsing for their own mugshots. Román struts around wearing a holster, scowling moodily beneath a lycanthropic monobrow, and Maru looks every inch the late-Eighties Face magazine model in Belmondo shades and one of Román's mother's old dresses.

Naranjo knows how to undercut this bra­vado in a way that also extends our insight into the characters. There's a choice shot of Román posing with his gun tucked in the band of his boxer shorts. What he doesn't seem to have noticed, as we have, is the poster on the wall behind him, which shows not Bogart or Delon, but Buster Keaton. Proximity to that doleful and put-upon face seems to cast the boy in a tentative new light.

What prevents I'm Gonna Explode from being an exercise in style is the dignity it brings to its young characters. It doesn't patronise or aggrandise Maru or Román, choosing instead to take their woes seriously, however floridly expressed they may be. In an ephemeral and unreliable world, Maru is searching for "something to fight for, something to live for. Anything. A mouth, a look, a deal, a pact." She finds it in Román, who knows the way to her affections: he writes a pledge in Biro on her leg.

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

This article first appeared in the 04 January 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Gaza: one year on

Show Hide image

The Bloody Mary is dead: all hail the Bloody Caesar

This Canadian version of an old standard is a good substitute for dinner.

It is not anti-Catholic bias that makes me dislike the Bloody Mary, that lumpish combination of tomato juice and vodka named after a 16th-century English queen who, despite the immense reach of her royal powers, found burning Protestants alive the most effective display of majesty.

My prejudice is against its contents: the pulverised tomatoes that look like run-off from a Tudor torture chamber. A whole tomato is a source of joy and, occasionally, wonder (I remember learning that the Farsi for tomato is gojeh farangi, which translates literally as “foreign plum”) – and I am as fond of pizza as anyone. Most accessories to the Bloody Mary are fine with me: Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, celery, black pepper, even sherry or oysters. But generally I share the curmudgeon Bernard DeVoto’s mistrust of fruit juice in my spirits: “all pestilential, all gangrenous, all vile” was the great man’s verdict. His main objection was sweetness but I will include the admittedly savoury tomato in my ban. At the cocktail hour, I have been known to crave all kinds of odd concoctions but none has included pulp.

To many, the whole point of a Bloody Mary is that you don’t wait until the cocktail hour. This seems to entail a certain shying away from unpleasant realities. I know perfectly well the reaction I would get if I were to ask for a grilled tomato and a chilled Martini at brunch: my friends would start likening me to F Scott Fitzgerald and they wouldn’t be referring to my writing talent. Despite its remarkably similar contents, a Bloody Mary is a perfectly acceptable midday, middle-class beverage. If the original Mary were here to witness such hypocrisy, she would surely tut and reach for her firelighters.

Yet, like the good Catholic I certainly am not, I must confess, for I have seen the error of my ways. In July, on Vancouver Island, I tried a Bloody Caesar – Canada’s spirited response to England’s favourite breakfast tipple (“I’ll see your Tudor queen, you bunch of retrograde royalists, and raise you a Roman emperor”). The main difference is a weird yet oddly palatable concoction called Clamato: tomato juice thinned and refined by clam juice. Replace your standard slop with this stuff, which has all the tang of tomato yet flows like a veritable Niagara, and you will have a drink far stranger yet more delicious than the traditional version.

Apparently, the Caesar was invented by an Italian restaurateur in Calgary, Alberta, who wanted a liquid version of his favourite dish from the old country: spaghetti alle vongole in rosso (clam and tomato spaghetti). He got it – and, more importantly, the rest of us got something we can drink not at breakfast but instead of dinner. Find a really interesting garnish – pickled bull kelp or spicy pickled celery, say – and you can even claim to have eaten your greens.

I’m sure that dedicated fans of the Bloody Mary will consider this entire column heretical, which seems appropriate: that’s the side I was born on, being Jewish, and I like to hope I wouldn’t switch even under extreme forms of persuasion. But this cocktail is in any case a broad church: few cocktails come in so many different incarnations.

The original was invented, according to him, by Fernand Petiot, who was a French barman in New York during Prohibition (and so must have known a thing or two about hypocrisy). It includes lemon juice and a “layer” of Worcestershire sauce and the tomato juice is strained; it may also actually have been named after a barmaid.

All of which proves only that dogma has no place at the bar. Variety is the spice of life, which makes it ironic that the world’s spiciest cocktail bestows a frivolous immortality on a woman who believed all choice to be the work of the devil.

Next week John Burnside on nature

Nina Caplan is the 2014 Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year and 2014 Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year for her columns on drink in the New Statesman. She tweets as @NinaCaplan.

This article first appeared in the 08 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin vs Isis