Undoubtedly, it is very difficult to find solemnity in a film that opens with a posse of teenagers repeatedly mumbling the lyrics ‘Natasha I wanna cum in your face,” as part of their explicit attempts at creating meaningful poetic imagery with their music- or not. Mexican helmer Samuel Kishi's teenage portrait "We Are Mari Pepa" (Somos Mari Pepa) - a band name that comes from a short term for Marijuana and a Spanish slang word referring to the female genitalia - has a certain kind of street-smart charm that is at once despicably dirty-minded, as is expected of boys of that age, and also rather endearing.
The premise is simple. Four boys, Alex (Alejandro Gallardo ), Moy (Moisés Galindo), Bolter (Arnold Ramírez) and Rafa (Rafael Andrade) are part of an extremely underground, almost non-existent, garage “punk” band that clearly only has one original song. Their current dilemma is to create another great hit single to participate in a “Battle of the Bands” contest happening soon in their city. Taking place in the outskirts of one of Mexico’s most urbanized areas, Guadalajara, the story delves into their struggles to achieve their musical goals against the particular idiosyncrasies of their hometown, all while meeting their respective families’ expectations as soon-to-be adults.
In summary, this is a Mexican-Rock-Infused-Dirty-Talk-Coming-of-Age Story, which, as if that concept wasn’t already a tad convoluted, is shot in a quasi-documentary style to lend realism to the Youtube-friendly world it depicts. Despite all these elements being pursued at equal rates by the filmmaker, there is a great deal of honesty that permeates the piece, so much that the final sequence induces one to think these four young men are friends behind the camera as well. Since they are not, they certainly deserve some praise for making the scripted parts unnoticeable thanks to the great rapport between them.
Among the four dysfunctional pimple-ridden musketeers Alex is the quiet protagonist. He lives with his elderly grandmother who every morning
cooks him a strange concoction of pineapple and meat. She never says a word but enjoys classic songs on her record player. While mostly inexpressive, she cares profoundly about her grandson and wants to protect him, even if this means vandalizing his room - which is essentially a musical shrine - in order to save his soul. Alex, just like his friends, is
trying to figure what to do with his life.
Unlike the others he seems to be economically stable because of his absent father who supports him from afar. Bolter, the singer, is conflicted between his own aspirations and his cousin’s attractive lifestyle as part of a drug dealing, regional music loving crowd. Rafa, on the drums, needs to find a job fast before his parents throw him out. Lastly, Moy, on the bass, just got a girlfriend, who like a watered-down Yoko Ono, requires all his attention and creates conflict within the tight-knit group.
Given that the performers here are non-professional actors, their takes shine for their naturalism and uncompromising colloquialism, which often borders on the outright vulgar but is still fitting. Evidently this is a passion project for the Mexican new auteur, and even if at times if feels like its running time could end before its actual conclusion, it is a nice attempt at capturing a very complex age with a particular cultural point of view. There are sex jokes galore, funny rehearsing sessions, and even a few tender moments that validate the bond between these oddballs. Highly entertaining, inventive, and unexpectedly touching, this might not exactly be a revolutionary piece of filmmaking but it’s definitely worth a chance for all its hilarious rarities. At the very least it offers us a chance to sing a long the band’s porn-inspired catchy tune. Why not? “Natasha!….”
"We Are Mari Pepa" is now playing in New York at the Anthology Film Archives