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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 and is Film Critic in Residence at Falmouth University.

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