Sunday, November 25, 2012

Paco Cabezas' Neon Flesh - Quirky Misadventures of Low Lives

Ricky (Mario Casas) lives in the seedy streets of a rough neighborhood among pimps and prostitutes, thieves and junkies, and merciless gangsters. He has learned to thrive in this environment. In fact, he has saved enough dough to purchase a rundown tenement. Abandoned at 12 years old on the streets by his mother Pura (Angela Molina), Ricky nevertheless yearns for his mother’s affection. When Pura, who has been  incarcerated for several years, is finally released from jail, Ricky gets the privilege to fetch her.

Days before Pura’s release, Ricky enlists the help of his friends: Angelito (Vicente Romero), a pimp; Angelito's junkie girlfriend and his tough bodyguard, and a transvestite who desperately believes she deserves to be immortalized in films. Ricky’s mission: to start a club-cum-brothel in honor of Pura. Trouble is, Ricky doesn't have a single girl working for him yet. When he finally meets Pura, he finds her eternally disagreeable. Worse, she seems to have forgotten him altogether, saying she’s been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. Moreover, he didn’t realize he was encroaching on the dominion of portentous gangster boss Chino (Dario Grandinetti).

Angelito, who’s hilariously conflicted about his sexuality, takes him to a white slavery ring to “buy” girls. When they were able to get their stripper/hookers, they find a pregnant North African girl who just braved the oceans and escaped the Spanish authorities; a Slovakian girl named Irina, et. al. Business flies until its success reaches Chino who succeeds to abduct Ricky. What becomes of Ricky and his dreams? Will he ever attain the maternal acceptance that he has long dreamed of?

Director Paco Cabezas sets his tale in the metropolis’ underbelly of morally impoverished characters. These characters seem perfectly conceptualized, as though natural pawns in a cantankerous game of survival. But these colorful characters weren't born overnight from Cabezas' fertile imagination. In fact, it took him 5 years to develop and expound the script which first came out as a short film. Cabezas further paints his cinematic palette with opprobrious characters yet, like many popular Spanish movies, Cabezas imbues them with quirky charm and a considerable backstory. Think "Trainspotting" with oodles of hilarity.

Angelito, for example, is a pimp who acts tough, yet is bothered by issues involving his sexuality. When he was supposed to get rid of his junkie girlfriend, he couldn't even pull the trigger. When his friend needed help, he staked his life. Though he realized what they were getting into, he helped Ricky build his dubious empire. Despite the constant sleaze surrounding his persona, you find yourself rooting for dorky Angelito; that's no easy feat, considering what he does for a living. I also liked the character of Antonio dela Torre, a submissive half-wit bodyguard named Santos and how he got so attached to their pregnant "captive" Mobila. He's supposed to be easily swayed and impressionable. Rightfully, you could see the "emptiness" in his eyes. 

Every character in "Neon Flesh" is as colorful as the next, and the story is coherently buoyed by Mario Casas who plays our protagonist Ricky. Casas is a persuasive presence. He captures Ricky intuitively. He is also consistent in depicting a conflicted hustler, and it helps that he's easy on the eyes. He imparts empathy from the opening sequence of the film right down to the high adrenaline conclusion when bullets fly through the walls of his Club Hiroshima. The scenarios in "Neon Flesh" isn't pretty. They filmed this Spanish flick in the seedy district of Distrito Federal in Buenos Aires (Argentina) yet the sparkling cinematography and unorthodox characters give off a vibrant atmosphere which refutes the pervading subjects of apathy, alienation and squandered morality.

The film reminds you of Almodovar and his crazy characters. While some scenes made me laugh so hard, specific moments also made me weep, i.e. Ricky coming home beaten and blue so he retires beside his sleeping mother like a child seeking solace. Watching "Neon Flesh" takes you in several levels of elucidation. One of the most palpable is how we perceive what is "normal" and what isn't. We aren't so different from the inscrutable populace that habitate Ricky's world. Everyone needs a slice of affirmation from someone we care. And it isn't such a bad thing trying to attain it. Who knows, we might succeed.   

Ricky, the hustler, and Angelito, the pimp.

Macarena Gomez plays Angelito's junkie girlfriend

A police chief's daughter gets abducted in the name of vengeance.

Mario Casas smolders. He reminds me of Kyle Chandler ("Early Edition" TV series) and  Ryan Reynold's boyish charms.

Mario Casas is a relative newbie. He started in 2010. The year after, he won an award in Spain for being the "most searched personality in the Spanish internet."

Mario Casas personifies the word "sexy".

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