By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
On Wednesday, May 3, Austin’s 20th annual, Cine Las Americas International Film Festival began with this hilarious relationship comedy from Mexico. Every year, the film festival highlights mostly Spanish language films from Mexico, Spain, the United States, and nations of Latin America. The festival also features movies from Portuguese-speaking nations and from filmmakers of native and indigenous cultures. The festival kicked off this year’s lineup with Me Estas Matando Susana (You’re Killing Me Susana) which stars acclaimed Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal. Written by Luis Cámara (based on the novel by José Agustín) and directed by Roberto Sneider, this well written, directed, and acted film got the festival off to a great start.
Bernal stars as Eligio, a witty and charming soap opera actor who loves to party with his friends and often cheats on his wife Susana (Verónica Echegui), obviously taking her for granted. After too many extra-marital activities and drunken nights out, Susana has had enough of Eligio’s foolishness. Eligio discovers that Susana has packed her things and left him without any notice. After making some phone calls and doing some further investigation, he finds out that Susana has departed for Iowa in the United States where she attends a writing workshop to actively pursue her writing career. Eligio jumps on the next plane there and confronts his wife for her actions. In the process, Eligio must face some not-so-favorable truths about himself and attempt to change for the better. However, some old habits and attitudes die very hard.
Sneider and Cámara offer a highly entertaining, but very realistic comedy with Me Estas Matando Susana. Some of the scenarios and character flaws are very similar to and typical of romantic comedies, but the filmmakers and actors develop the characters so tremendously well they resonate with real people that their audiences can recognize. Most adults know or have encountered macho men who are way too confident and charming for their own good and take their spouses for granted until it is too late. What makes this film refreshing, though, is that Sneider and Cámara also develop Susana’s character as realistically as Eligio and make sure to that she has some character flaws of her own.
In addition to the exceptional character development, the filmmakers have written some wonderful humor that allows the leads, particularly Bernal, to exercise their comedic chops. Bernal delivers a tremendous performance as Eligio, a very likable jerk who swings back and forth from charming other characters and the film’s audiences, to infuriating them. The gorgeous and talented Verónica Echegui performs well as the sympathetic wife Susana, but also makes some infuriating decisions of her own. Both Bernal and Echegui share a beautiful chemistry which makes them credible on-screen lovers. The film also features great performances by Ashley Hinshaw, who portrays Irene, an American student smitten with Eligio, Jadyn Wong, who hilariously stars as Altagracia, a conniving instigator always adding fuel to the fire, and an amusing, mostly silent turn by Björn Hlynur Haraldsson who stars as Slawormir a fellow writing student of Susana.
I am not sure what kind of availability or release this film will receive via streaming or video in the United States, but I highly recommend that my readers be on the lookout for this one. If I find anything out, I will keep everyone posted, because this comedy deserves to be viewed by as many people as possible. Me Estas Matando Susana serves as a comedic, but truthful reminder that marriages and romantic relationships demand the attention and care of both parties involved and makes for an amusing cautionary tale when they neglect this responsibility.
The Cine Las Americas International Film Festival continues through Sunday, May 7 in Austin. For information on the film lineup, venues and ticket prices go to http://cinelasamericas.org/ for more information. Films screened at the Mexican American Cultural Center are free of charge to anyone who wants to attend.