In this country, and maybe in others, the most famous Mexican filmmakers tend to be the showoffs. That so many of us know the names Alejandro González Iñárritu, Alfonso Cuarón, and Guillermo del Toro (respectively of Birdman, Gravity, and Pacific Rim) means there's a market for spectacle-mongers with grandiose ambitions. But there's also a place, at least at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts this month, for the burgeoning Mexican directors who do beautiful work in a less-is-more mode. The action of The Empty Hours (Las horas muertas), by Aarón Fernández, consists of lingering in a roadside rent-by-hour motel, whose teenage custodian takes up a relationship with one of its regulars. And in a most inviting way, the title is apt. José Luis Valle's spartan micro-budget marvel The Searches (Las búsquedas) reportedly was shot “with five people over seven days and with $1,500,” and accordingly has much to teach us about economy in storytelling. A potent parable about bereavement, Valle's film gets its power precisely from how little is seen or said. There's a similar kind of concentration in The Naked Room (El cuarto desnudo), a documentary by Nuria Ibáñez, which is simply a series of close-ups — of children and young teens, telling therapists about their deeply troubled lives. The stories, so directly expressed, can wrench even the hardest heart. We can only hope some of these kids might find solace or solidarity in ratty punk music like the lanky adorable scamps in We Are Mari Pepa (Somos Mari Pepa), whose more middle-class adolescence, rendered by director Samuel Kishi Leopo with great warmth and infectiously specific detail, mostly involves the struggle to come up with even two songs that they can remember and actually play. Here the main character fills his room with pictures of famous bands whose faces he sometimes cuts out so as to insert his own. More telling, though, are several nearly mute interactions with his grandmother, in whose old-fashioned world he reluctantly but respectfully lives. There's more to life, and art, than merely making noise.
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