mosquita y mari
Film, 2012, 4 stars
Written and Directed: Aurora Guerrero
There's nothing big or monumental about this film. It doesn't try to make any grand statements. In fact, it feels rather like one long flashback with the wisdom of an adult behind it, but with that glorious emotional naivety of childhood kept intact. There's something so intimate about the storytelling, like somehow as an audience we're intruding upon a long-cherished memory.
This is a classic coming of age story of a young girl, who is having what one could consider a fairly unremarkable crush on her best friend. If the film were just that, it wouldn't be anything special, but it really is so much more. It is an intimate exploration of young love yes, but it's also a snapshot of a time and place, of an experience, a view into the realities of generational poverty, and a study into two very different ways of surviving and getting out.
Yolanda (Fenessa Pineda) is a sophomore in high school, scoring straight A's and on the best possible track to college. She doesn't do much - she hangs out with her shallow friends, generally through a kind of disdain avoiding their efforts to peer pressure her into boys, booze and drugs. She spends her time studying and being otherwise bored out of her brain. Her parents are immigrants, working days and nights to give her the future they so desperately want for her.
Mari (Venecia Troncoso) is the new girl at school - rebellious, oblivious, and focused more on helping her mother make next week's rent rather than school and thinking about her future. Her mother is also an immigrant, stuck in a low-paid factory job and unable to make ends meet.
Initially Mari rejects Yolanda's tentative but insistent attempts at friendship. Yolanda seems determined to make Mari care about school, because she truly believes its worth doing for its own sake. Grades to Yolanda are a big fuck you to the school, the teachers, the world, even her parents. It's a remarkable attitude for such a young girl, and Mari can't help but begin to respond to it. The "Mosquita" from the tile comes from what is at first a disparaging nickname Mari gives Yolanda, the annoying mosquito that never goes away. It becomes a term of endearment, a testimony to both Yolanda's love and persistence.
And it is love, at least on Yolanda's side. Their friendship is volatile, very one-sided at first. Finally, we realise that Mari might not give her friendship easily, but once she has opened her heart she gives her affection fully, fiercely. Yolanda pushes herself all the way in, and Mari can't help but feel safer, better, more hopeful.
However, like it or not, Mari and Yolanda's lives are so different. Yolanda has been given a chance by her parents, a safety net. Mari must still work to help pay the rent, and when her life and need for money becomes desperate, she's forced to make desperate choices. Yolanda can only stand by and watch, and grieve, as the girl she's fallen deeply in love with is forced away from her, not because of anything she's done, but through the forces of their different lives.
In retaliation for this injustice, Yolanda has her own attempt at acting out, but it is forced, a bad fit, she finds that she's too much her own person to run with the crowd. Mari, and to some degree her parents, have made her that way.
It's never really made clear if Mari feels more than friendship for Yolanda, other than a single moving scene where she seems to enjoy the touch of Yolanda's hand upon her skin. While for Yolanda it is a budding sexuality emerging, for Mari it seems to be more the unexpected touch and love of another person that is so desperately intoxicating.
There's hope in this film, and loss, and grief. There's real friendship and love, but also betrayal and sadness. All this wound up in a simple story of two young latina girls just trying to make their way through an emotional minefield. There's nothing here for people who like their films fast, funny and sexy. This is true indie drama - slow, intense, filled with an entirely different kind of passion. For many it will come across as boring. For me, it was just beautiful.