Critique and Exploration of Themes
No Voy a Pedirle a Nadie que me Crea | directed by Fernando Frías
Piece by Luz Capetillo
No Voy a Pedirle a Nadie Que Me Crea directed and written by Fernando Frías de la Parra, is based on the novel by the same name by Juan Pablo Villalobos. The title’s phrase, in English, which translates to “I Don’t Expect Anyone to Believe Me” ascribes a sense of absurdity and bewilderment immediately. Have you ever been in a situation that feels so improbable and confusing that all you can do is laugh? Moreso, do you ever find yourself contemplating the state of your life, the ups and downs that inexplicably inundate us, and find it comical?
Juan Pablo, our story’s protagonist played by Dario Yazbek Bernal, functions more as a victim of external circumstances than an active participant of life. Fate, perhaps, plays its hand in the events that unfold. The machinations of the world are mysterious and have no rationality, and that irrationality can be exquisitely and wickedly funny.
A distinct theme that defines the film is the hierarchical divide between Mexicans and the Spanish. Machismo, feminism, and internalized racism are explored in the confounding journey Juan Pablo must take to survive. At the outset of his journey, he is a bright-eyed academic, ready to broaden his horizons and say goodbye to his family and roots in México for the bustling and dizzying city of Barcelona. His mom tells him before he leaves, “I don’t know what it is, but something just tells me you’re not coming back,” And she hopes for it to be true. Ironically enough, the eager mother’s premonition is correct, but not as she expected. Juan Pablo’s academic opportunity evolves into a money laundering scheme by Mexican drug lords funneled through Catalonia.
Juan Pablo’s aspirations for a doctoral degree in Spain exemplify upward mobility. The divide between people of distinct backgrounds, race, and class is seen through the composition of the mise-en-scene. Before Juan Pablo leaves for Mexico, he has a going away party. We see the outside of his house, busy with guests and food for the celebration. Separating the scene is a wall, and inside of the house is a woman in an apron preparing food. She is nameless and almost invisible. What separates her from Juan Pablo is more than a wall. It is a constant fixture in the film: character’s cut off from the rest of the world by blinds, a reflection in glass, obscured through doors. There’s an overarching sense of isolation and division.
Valentina, his longtime girlfriend, feels a similar sense of exclusion from the world as Juan Pablo leaves her in the dark for most of the film. She feels othered in Barcelona, mistaken as a store clerk, and longing for her life in Mexico. Juan Pablo believes he’s protecting her from danger by not telling her, but she is still hurt by his seeming disregard for her. She tries to persevere, not allowing herself to give up so easily, and finds solace with a homeless man on the streets who ends up being a better friend to her than the man she came with. Even in the absurdity, Valentina finds something to smile about.
When Juan Pablo is forced to go to Barcelona after his cousin Lorenzo’s death, his mother laments the sadness, not of the death, but of the shabbiness of the funeral. She rapidly spews out angry sentiments about a distant girlfriend who came with their “huge heads and tiny feet, perfect size to run up the pyramids”. The comments of his mother embody the anti-indigenous and racist sentiments that go on internally within the Mexican community. I laughed at Juan Pablo’s mother wishing he would settle with ‘a classy European girl’ when all he wants is a sense of normalcy, away from the chaotic life that has taken hold of him in Barcelona.
Juan Pablo is an interesting character when examining the way machismo functions throughout the film. Gender studies and feminism are topics discussed in depth and done in a hilarious manner. Juan Pablo must abandon his original thesis exploring the limits of humor in 20th-century Latin America and step into the academic space of gender studies to further the Mexican drug lord’s scheme. It’s ludicrous and laughable and yet, it’s the life that Juan Pablo finds himself living.
Through it all, Juan Pablo never asks for help. Of course, he’s in a pretty messed up situation in which he believes and has every reason to think that no one would ever believe him. Alerting the police or telling those closest to him is out of the question. His existence is Sisyphean, endlessly pushing up the boulder by taking orders from El Licenciado and running around Barcelona acting as a puppet, yet his place in the world remains fixed. Juan Pablo has essentially acted out his original thesis: the limits of humor are blurred as his academic pursuits become fodder for the drug cartel. He is at the bottom of the totem pole, a Mexican in Barcelona helping a Catalonian politician further his money laundering scheme. He has played into machismo by using Valentina and discarding her for her own safety. But what other choice does he really have? The film is full of scathing irony and dark humor, making us reimagine the spaces and people we hold up to higher standards. In the end, through the artifice and bullshit, the audience, similarly to Juan Pablo, lives in an absurd world that can either leave us laughing or crying, maybe sometimes both at the same time.