Last time we gave you a heads up about Somos Mari Pepa, it was playing at the Berlin Film Festival — not too shabby considering it’s a first at bat feature for rookie Mexican director Samuel Kishi Leopo. Now we are pumped to report it’s stateside and you can check it out for yourself starting Friday, August 15 at the Anthology Film Archives in Manhattan.
If you haven’t heard the buzz already, Somos Mari Pepa focuses on a group of four teenaged guys — Alex, Boltor, Rafa, and Moy — whose lives revolve around bands, skating, and generally avoiding the hassles and dead-end lives of the adults around them. Though it might sound like familiar territory: Larry Clark’s Wassup Rockers transplanted to Mexico, here’s a top of the pops list of how Somos Mari Pepa kicks out its own unique jams and nails the beats, finding harmony in dissonance and beauty in contradiction.
1. CBGB’S may now be the site of high-rise condos, but this movie proves that PUNK will never die.
Strewn with memorabilia, rockero Alex’s room is a testament to the lasting power of punk: posters of the Ramones with a photo of Alex’s head taped over one of the band mates, a classicly crass Cramps bottoms-up image, a CBGB’s logo in its signature gothic font stencilled onto his wall. Beyond iconography, the film also acknowledges its messages communicated through the power of language. It runs the gamut from serious anti-establishment, anti-corporate musical manifestoes to inane posturing and ridiculous lyrics. The youngsters in the titular Mari Pepa band try out a unique flavor of Latino Catholic posturing with this not so intimidating threat of a chorus, “I’m not going to Mass with you if you don’t give me some of that!”
2. It’s called METAL for a reason; everyday objects turn into musical instruments.
When the guys show up at their bandmate’s house, one raps repeatedly at the front metal gate while the other bangs the wheels of his skateboard over and over again to “knock” at the front door. They are, of course, bothering the hell out of the adults but also showing that the sound of metal, whether in steel guitar strings, cymbals, or everyday building materials, is an excellent attention-getter and irritant all in one. Add to this anxious Rafa’s OCD habit of carrying around a metal jar lid that he pops and clicks in and out whenever he gets antsy, whether cracking an SAT guide or waiting around for something, anything, to transpire. And of course, the sound of Alex’s unamplified guitar being strummed, with its hard metallic sounds tamped down, waiting for that come to unholy Jesus moment at the flick of an amp switch, provides a restless soundtrack perfectly matched to the waiting and hoping of adolescence. With all that nervous teenage energy making noise — which of course involves lots of moving, shaking, banging and shoving to create sound waves — seems as essential as breathing in any healthy (i.e. messed up) teenaged life.
3. It reminds us of the beauty of vinyl.
Alex’s Abue (Abuelita) likes to drop the needle on her own record when his guitar playing starts to grate on her nerves, thereby instigating the great war of the lyrical and the dissonant, the generational gap between Luis Miguel and Metallica. But, director Kishi Leopo finds a great, pregnant beauty in those first breath-holding moments as the needle lowers onto vinyl. Abue seems to be sliding into the silent decline of old age. The only things that speak to her are her lyrical ballads on vinyl or the crackling voice of the Evangelical announcer on her kitchen transistor radio. She listens even as he explains that “Hotel California” as sung by “los Eeyg-les” is a Satanic anthem.
4. It’s a timeless story of generations colliding over music: digital vs. analog, Luis Miguel vs. Metallica.
While his grandma tries to drown him out with her records, the only thing that meshes and makes Alex’s teenaged angst bearable is its counterpart in his own punk and metal anthems, whether hammered out by him and his friends in the garage or blared in his room from recordings. The battered pink digital camera the boys carry along captures their quirky viewpoint on a world which makes no sense, and they smartly subvert the surveillance cameras in the local bodega to their advantage, but their world, their communications, their making art and making sense fortunately exists in multiple worlds, and its to Kishi Leopo’s credit that he shows the beauty, banality, possibilities, and limitations of both sides of the digital and generational divide in the timeless Somos Mari Pepa.