Even if the storytelling, style and pace won’t necessarily be everyone’s cup of tea, there is one great merit to be found in Julio Hernández Cordón’s new feature film, I Promise You Anarchy (Te Prometo Anarquía). This slow-burning pastiche, a blend of coming-of-age melodrama, gritty-bleak thriller and social commentary infused with documentary vibes, “normalises” a gay love story within the bigger picture rather than putting it under the spotlight in sensationalistic fashion.
The filmmaker’s intent is clear from the very beginning as he opens the film introducing the core relationship and its complex ramifications without a fuss. In the pitch black of night, at some undefined and shady crib in an underground tunnel, best friends Miguel (Diego Calva) and Johnny (Eduardo Eliseo Martinez) have an argument about a girl who lies there asleep. However, they’re not competing over her, as you’d imagine; truth is Miguel can’t stand her presence and would love to have Johnny all to himself.
Within a matter of minutes, the boys’ interaction nonchalantly switches to sexual intercourse on a nearby makeshift hammock whilst the girl is still there asleep and the smooth way the filmmaker handles such abrupt transition is indeed the trademark of the relationship we’re about to witness and how it affects the film’s plot. Cordón goes for a naturalistic approach reminiscent of an early Van Sant and the fact these boys are skaters reinforces the undeniable cinematic reference.
There’s a lot more at stake here than some adolescents’ love triangle though as these two amigos and part time lovers are actually involved in the criminal underbelly of Mexico City, dealing blood on the black market. They wander the streets and recruit poor souls who are desperate for easy money and willing to give their blood for cash. When Miguel’s contact in the blood trafficking, an ambulance driver, asks them to gather a larger number of “cows” to milk for a bigger operation, the boys have no idea they’re about to get involved in some gangster business.
As easily predictable, things go awry and although the terms of the mess Miguel and Johnny wind up can’t be revealed, suffice to say the boys get caught in something bigger than their average small time crimes. Facing the consequences of their actions will test their relationship and redefine it forever and that’s where things get interesting but the film reaches its end without getting deeper into it. That’s probably the most unsatisfying element in I Promise You Anarchy since Cordón plays around with compelling themes but doesn’t give them enough room to breathe.
What struck as particularly intriguing and worth exploring more was the class gap between Miguel and Johnny as the latter is the son of the maid that works for the former’s family. We’re not talking about some big time social difference as Miguel’s background is practically middle class but given especially what happens in the film’s epilogue, we are left wanting to know more about the boys’ background. This doesn’t mean I Promise You Anarchy should’ve taken a more traditional approach to storytelling structure and character development. The time and place where the story kicks off are actually strong but then it feels like the filmmaker meanders a bit before getting us to the most compelling part whilst he could’ve made a more efficient use of the film’s first half.
Cordón’s work is still commendable for the organic way he integrates a gay relationship within the context of a coming-of-age crime drama. What we get here isn’t your typical boy-loves-boy-who-loves-girl triangle or even boy-loves-boy-who-pretends-to-love-girl because he’s in the closet. The compelling factor is how Miguel is gay and in love with Johnny who is bisexual and just likes to “have fun” with both his best friend and his girlfriend at his own convenience.
The actors deliver rather convincing turns, especially for the casual and chilled way these two boys go from dealing with their shady deals to passionately jump each other’s bones, only to later fight over Johnny’s girlfriend being omnipresent and unpleasantly so for Miguel. There’s a genuine portrait of a lost generation, aimlessly hanging in the streets with their boards, looking for quick and easy money and the film’s title and themes receive an evident nod during a weed-induced, slam-poetry free-styling performance by one of the boys’ acquaintances.
Despite such manifesto, the overall feeling we’re left with is a lack of focus on the filmmaker’s part and the only “anarchic” vibes come from the unkempt storytelling. The fine cinematography captures the world depicted on screen authentically and even if the “f” word is spelled out several times, it’s refreshing to hear it not necessarily as a bullying weapon but rather like any other derogatory slur. This doesn’t mean Miguel and Johnny are holding hands in public and such, but at the same time, being occasional lovers is not the center of attention in their journey. In the epilogue, Miguel has way more to process and figure out about himself than his sexuality. I just wish we’d seen more of that.