Monday, April 01, 2013

White Elephant Blogathon: Promedio Rojo

My (very unfortunate) contribution to the White Elephant Blogathon, as run by Paul Clark

            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.

  But enter the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, Cristina, whose only two qualities we ever get to know about her is that she’s from Spain and she likes comic books. For some reason, Robert can’t find it in himself to masturbate while thinking about her. Is this true love at last?

              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.

      But wait! Let’s also talk about how the only other female character in this has the only quality of being a “total slut,” who is only redeemed by having intimate knowledge of everything there is to know about abortions (including how to perform one with a celery stick). Or there there are two visual semen jokes in the first five minutes. Or the grandfather that takes an active interest in his sex life as well, explaining all the women he's enjoyed coitus with while at the dinner table with his grandson and daughter. And let’s not forget how the film’s rapist character makes Cristina forgive the rape simply by singing a Spanish love song.

            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.


Kenji Fujishima said...

Nicolas Lopez? I knew I had heard that name before, and when I checked IMDb, I discovered: His most recent film, Aftershock, played at Toronto last year...and I sat through that piece of shit! Judging by the fact that Aftershock features, if I remember correctly, the gratuitous second-half appearance of a gang who goes around gleefully raping women in the aftermath of a massive earthquake in Chile...well, maybe Lopez has a thing about trying to depict onscreen rape without crossing any boundaries of taste, if Promedio Rojo is any indication. Classy dude, apparently.

Stacia said...

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.

Heh. Ouch. This looks painful. Truth be told, I didn't think there were a lot of outright offensively bad films this year (thus far), though this certainly seems to fall under both the "offensive" and "horrible" categories.

Peter Labuza said...

Perhaps a bad taste joke, I'll admit. The sad part is how much this film is a success in Chile. A sequel due out later this year!

Stacia said...

It didn't really scream bad taste to me, just indicated how frustrating the film must have been -- though I admit that this kind of outrageously bad film is something I like to watch every now and again just to break the monotony.

Paul C. said...

Like Stacia, I noticed that most of this year's crop seemed fairly mild. You seem to have gotten some of the worst the ol' White Elephant had to dish out this year, although I'd bet Lynch would disagree with that statement.