The Sundance Film Festival took a shine to Carlos Cuarón's feature directorial debut, and it's little wonder. 'Rudo y Cursi' is the first offering from new production company Cha Cha Chá, run by Carlos' brother Alfonso ('Children of Men') and fellow director/producers Alejandro González Iñárritu ('Babel') and Guillermo del Toro ('Pan's Labyrinth'). That's a lot of talent to have around one table. Add the film's stars, 'Y tu mamá también's' Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna, and expectations run high. Thankfully, they do not disappoint.
'Rudo y Cursi' ('Tough and Corny') tells the rags-to-riches story of two brothers, Beto/'Rudo' (Luna) and Tato/'Cursi' (García Bernal). Shot on location in Mexico, the film follows the brothers as they struggle to escape their humble surroundings, into what they believe will be a better life. Fate intervenes when a hot-shot football talent scout, Batuta (Francella), stumbles across the pair, offering them a fast-pass to the good times.
Beto soon earns the nickname 'Tough' due to his aggressive behaviour in goal and Tato is labelled 'Corny' thanks to his sentimentality on the pitch - the only people who love them more than their fans are the media. Despite the fact that neither ever dreamt of becoming a famous footballer - Beto preferring to gamble his way to the top and Tato hoping to sing his way there - they grab each opportunity with both hands. However, en route they lose sight of the riches they set out with.
Cuarón's message is clear: there's no wealth greater than family love and sibling love in particular. His protagonists take the scenic route to this discovery but they get there and the film accompanies them on the dramatic and insightful journey. The film lives up to its title, 'Tough' during the intense, harsh look at life in the first and second acts and 'Corny' and deservedly emotional in the final one. While Cuarón manages to avoid all the obvious rags-to-riches pitfalls in this well-written and executed drama, there are a number of sports movie clichés that he hasn't side-stepped.
Despite taking a long, hard look at modern Mexico, complete with extreme poverty and powerful drug lords, Cuarón adds a healthy dose of comedy. He also tips his hat to one of his idols, Sergio Leone, with a penalty shoot-out brilliantly styled as a Spaghetti Western duel.
Francella is wonderful as the catalyst for change who, despite his love of money, is a warm-hearted, likeable character. Following their performances in 'Y tu Mamá también', it's clear why Cuarón wanted to reteam García Bernal and Luna, who are perfectly cast as the Verdusco brothers.
One of the film's most memorable lines is: "The poorest places are where you find the roughest diamonds." And following such great films as 'Y tu mama tambien, 'Pan's Labyrinth' and now 'Rudo Y Cursi', its unsurprising that film fans are keeping a keen eye on Mexican cinema.