What Do You Think?:
The Paul Leduc short film Como Ves? (English translation; what do you think?) asks that musical question against a backdrop of mid-'80s Mexican rock and roll. Leduc closes his film with a dedication to the World Monetary Fund - an answer for you if you couldn't find one amongst the almost stream-of-consciousness flow of the movie.
What Do You Think? almost wordlessly follows varying groups of nameless individuals through a few days of entrenched poverty so all-encompassing that if they see it as a problem they can hardly see a way out. Macho bullying, scarce low-wage jobs, and squalor are accepted with resignation as a way of life. The younger ones sense something is wrong as their eyes are slowly opened by a groundswell of rock and roll, but examine poor solutions in an effort to escape.
More of a languid documentary than an engaging narrative, What Do You Think? in rumpled fashion lopes along spinning its loose threads while weaving them together with music. Scenes almost totally lacking dialog fit together like a collage - lover's squabbles, teenage girls harassed by young men - eventually emerging as a very loose look at youth crime. Framing most scenes are live songs performed by about three different rock bands whose lyrics, while hardly relating to the action, represent the bulk of language on screen.
It's an interesting way to approach a few subjects, melding an examination of social concerns with an archetypal drama and lingering but superficial look at a small section of Mexican rock. What hinders the almost dreamlike brevity and distinct lack of preachiness for such a volatile subject is the reliance on rock band performances book-ending each scene. One wishes Leduc had fashioned a hard and fast documentary about the rock bands and the scene, maybe using some of what he found there to add an air of immediacy to a different movie about youth and poverty. As it is, viewers will struggle with the ragged, over-driven sound of the bands, vainly parsing the lyrics for meaning that relates to the shaggy story, but ultimately get no closer to who these bands are, or how their music informs the proceedings. Instead of being an instructive backdrop, the music intrudes and disrupts. Then again, that's a notion the adults in the film would probably agree with.
Leduc's film, tightly shot with skill and flair, is quite rough around the edges. Presented in 1.33:1 ratio, heavy film-grain and occasional damage is evident. It echoes the endemic poverty of its subject - there obviously weren't any Hollywood studio dollars spent here. Clarity is not great, and colors are in the less than vibrant category. Aside from the abrasive quality of the rock music scenes, though, the movie doesn't suffer from poor craftsmanship at all, so other than the roughness of the source materials, it's a good-looking film. Your plasma screen may even thank you for the break.
For a film mostly about music, the sound is grating. Nearly dialog-free, the movie has clear audio for when the actors talk, though it's obvious lots of the dialog was recorded later in studio. Of course the way to watch the film is with the Spanish Audio track, with subtitles if you need them, so dialog clarity is somewhat beside the point. The live rock songs, though, and some crowd scenes (like during a soccer match) are loud and harsh, coming close to overdrive. The music itself ranges from protean rock to new wave, and would have been better served by nicer recordings. The review screener came minus packaging, and thus no indication as to what type of digital audio processing may have been used.
Rockola presents three music videos. The first is Jaime Lopez, performing solo in a recording studio, the lovely, lilting two-minute number titled Bonzo, with acoustic guitar. Cecilia Toussaint contributes the song Three Feets Under, an angst-y, and new-wave-y rock ballad performed in studio. Finally, Cecilia and Jaime perform a number titled Longliness Street, a song similar in tone to Three Feets Under, complete with 8-bar guitar solos. All videos are shot in a very bare-bones manner, no flashy music-video tricks, and with adequate sound form the soundboard. All are in color and with 1.33:1 ratio fullscreen presentation. Five Articles are presented. These are medium-length reviews, from Mexican publications, that came out when What Do You Think? was originally released, and - despite funky translations into English - add a good deal of context to the movie, including explaining why it is so damn short (about 49-minutes). Brief Filmographies of three actors, (Roberto Sosa, Blanca Guerra and Tito Vasconcelos) four musicians and six members of the crew, and a self-navigated Photo Gallery of production stills and promotional materials completes the extras package.
What Do You Think? is a flawed but entertaining film. Examining the effects of poverty on youth in mid-'80s Mexico City, it blends rock and roll with shambling drama to create a sort-of hybrid-docudrama that doesn't quite work. An expansion of the twin engines that drive the movie would be nice, letting them split off into their own realms, but as presented, the movie holds the viewer's attention with cinematic skill and the atmosphere of a stupefied back alley in the thrall of the Mexican sun, a place where seemingly the only escape is through the righteous anarchy of rock and roll. For something entirely different than what Toms Cruise and Hanks can bring you, adventurous viewers are advised to Rent It.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com