Exploring foreign cinemas can be a delightful insight into cultures we’ve never been able to visit--Except when you realize there’s a reason you only see films from Michael Haneke, Pedro Costa, or Hou Hsiao-Hsien. I remember an episode of Siskel & Ebert back in the day when they were forced to review a dreadful French sex comedy, and Ebert explained that the reason we all think foreign language movies are so much better is because we don’t see the stuff that doesn’t get exported. And boy, is there a lot of dreck out there.
For all of those who think Chile is a land of beautiful landscapes and fascinating culture, guess again! Chile’s youth are just as sex-driven, misogynist, racist, and the scum of the Earth as any other teenage culture existent today, which makes you feel better about American kids if not worse about the world. There’s no better example this than 2004’s Promedio Rojo, a box office hit in Chile from director Nicolas Lopez. Think Superbad and Scott Pilgrim combined, but take out all of the charm and what you’re left with is a film where the best thing I can say about the main character is he’s not a rapist, because standards.
Promedio Rojo is set in a high school where poor, fat, and ugly Roberto Rodriguez (named after the American director!) just wants to escape and make comic books. He and his two friends and the big losers at this private school where they are subject to abuse throughout (I did enjoy the detail of people constantly throwing stuff at him, because I wanted to as well). And it’s too bad, because Roberto and his friends just want to have constant sex with the women they objectify. “Women only exist for us to masturbate to!” exclaims his friend, setting back women’s rights 100 years.
I thought a lot about why a film like Promedio Rojo feels so horrifyingly offensive while I can enjoy the likes of Archer, which is another example where every character and event is completely over-sexualized. But Archer doesn’t ask us to like its main character at all, and given the sitcom format, spending 22 minutes with a guy who loves Kenny Loggins and turtlenecks can be fun. This is what separates Lopez’s vision of the world, where the pathetic nerd thinks he should be entitled to these women specifically because he’s a nerdy loser. What the film fails to acknowledge is that Roberto objectifies Cristina as much as his nemesis in the film, and just because he doesn’t rape her and get her pregnant (spoiler!), he’s the best a woman like Cristina can ask for. Archer never asks us to get behind its main character; Promedio Rojo wants us to like this guy from the very beginning.
Promedio Rojo gets some apparent inventiveness by switching between Roberto’s reality and his fantasy, where he plays an over-sized superhero rescuing the damsel in distress (always dressed in small, tight dresses). But it’s the kind of film where I muttered to myself that I wouldn’t mind if one of the characters went on a school shooting. The film sort of suggests some sort of a cop out where Roberto only sort of gets the girl (and the film strangely takes a pro-life stance, though why Cristina didn’t give her child up for adoption completely baffles me). But really, it suggests that anti-social losers who occasionally stand up for themselves deserve hot attractive women without having any redeeming qualities. By the end of the film, we still have no idea what makes Cristina special except her slightly sexier accent and skin color, and the fact that she likes comic books (a detail used exactly twice in the film). But at least the rapist doesn’t get the girl, so maybe we’re progressing as a culture.