"Año Uña" screened in the Emerging Visions section at the 2008 SXSW Film Festival which, loosely translated, means films out-of-competition which are often among the most unique and original works screened here. And, boy, was this film unique. That term is a cliché and not one to be thrown about lightly but this is about as original as can be -- "Año Uña" isn't even a "movie."
Jonas Cuaron spent a couple of years in Mexico (with a short hop to New York City) photographing people he knew. With a camera. A still camera. He then took those stills and pieced them together along with a script to create an 80 minute narrative feature. My first thought was, gee, nice slideshow -- can I sit through 80 minutes of stills with a voice-over? What I found was that the experience became more compelling as the characters became more engaging. Nobody knows what he was actually documenting at the time but the story Cuaron created, ultimately exploring a tentative relationship between a 20-something American studying in Mexico (a "gringa") and a 14-year-old boy just discovering (read "obsessing") about the wonders of the opposite sex, is poignant and funny.
Lead actors Eireann Harper and Diego Catano are so charming that the stills-as-motion picture device falls away and we find ourselves creating the images in the gaps, which is essentially what a movie is anyway, after all -- just frames per second while our brain fills the spaces in between. Black and white gives way to color about halfway through the "movie," and the Americans often speak Spanish (with English subtitles) while the Mexicans try to speak English (with Spanish subtitles). I found myself reading both -- "oh, wait a second, they are speaking in English -- why am I reading Spanish subtitles?"
As a photographer, Cuaron is excellent and the pictures would stand on their own as a fine exhibition of photography. The script he penned also makes for a fascinating story so, although this is quite an original way to create a "movie," it all works somehow. In the end, I wanted to stay with these characters and find out what happens next. If that was his goal, Cuaron succeeded.
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