Monday, June 07, 2010

Hola Mexico ’10: Bitten Bullet

Mexico City cops who want to be issued vests with genuine Kevlar have to pay a seventy-five peso bribe—each morning. Such internal corruption is a fact of life for police in the Mexican capital according to Diego Muñoz’s gritty crime drama Bitten Bullet (trailer here), which screened during the fourth annual Hola Mexico Film Festival in New York.

In many ways, Mexico City resembles pre-Giuliani New York. Sprawling and crime ridden, it is tempting to write it off as ungovernable, yet many resident like Muñoz still would not live anywhere else. Cops like Commander Alatorre are not helping the city’s reputation. As Bitten opens, he has sent a squad to conclude a drug deal with a former officer. Unfortunately, when Officer Hernandez tries to skim a few pesos off the top, the deal goes spectacularly bad. Through a chaotic chain of events, he is stabbed in the chest through his junky vest, becoming a media hero for the day. As a result, he is promoted, but since this entails more face time with Alatorre, it is definitely a mixed blessing.

Bitten is like Training Day on amphetamines and tequila. Just when you think you have seen Mexico City’s finest at their worst, Muñoz pulls a fresh injustice out of his hat. It is clearly a movie fueled by passion and outrage, but it probably has more power speaking to a local audience. Unyieldingly dark and violent, its relentless nihilism quickly becomes exhausting. Still, it is an accomplished feature directorial from Muñoz, who ratchets up the intensity quite impressively.

Miguel Rodarte also contributes a very effective performance as the thoroughly stressed out and morally compromised Hernandez. However, distinguished Mexican actor Damián Alcázar comes across a bit cartoonish as Alatorre (perhaps it is the villainous moustache), until he starts doing truly unspeakable things on-screen.

Clearly, Bitten is not a family film. Graft, drug use, and violence against women (and anyone else) are casual and commonplace in the world of these law enforcement officers. Muñoz shows it all for legitimate dramatic reasons though. If anything, he lets the crooked cops off easy, condemning the environment that produced them more than the corrupt characters themselves. The result is a memorable film, but one likely to leave audiences cold. Given its controversial message decrying corruption in Mexico’s capital, Bitten was a typically bold selection for the always adventurous Hola Mexico, opening the traveling festival in Los Angeles and concluding its six city tour in New York last night, but this year’s highlight was probably Humberto Hinojosa Ozcariz’s Black Sheep.