Jeremy (2015)

[original title: El Jeremías]

 

Mexican comedy Jeremy is often funny, but also often subdued and contemplative, and it has elements of a coming-of-age story.

Jeremias, our roughly 9-year-old hero, is a very gifted child, living in the northern Mexican city of Hermosillo (Sonora). Unfortunately, he grows up in an environment that does neither recognise nor appreciate his intelligence. His parents are loving and caring, but their intellect, especially his father’s, is far inferior to his. His unqualified and highly unmotivated teacher feels threatened and treats him with disdain, while his school mates bully him.

Jeremias’s life changes when he meets an old Spanish gentleman who runs a little book shop in the city. Don G, as his friends call him, introduces him to chess, and he encourages Jeremias’s parents to let their son take an IQ-test. With an astonishing result of 160, Jeremias drops out of school in order to teach himself (which he does more effectively than his teachers) and in order to find out what career path might be the right one for him. In other words: he tries to find out what might be the best way for him to put his talents to good use.

Professional chess player, musician, medical researcher… – a whole number of career options are considered and cast aside again, all inspired by famous historical people Jeremias has read about. In his quest, he also writes to Doctor Forni, a man researching gifted children. When Doctor Forni turns up at his doorstep and invites him to Mexico City, a whole new world of possibilities opens up for him – but they come at a price…

 

Director Anwar Safa debuts with a solid film that contemplates the significance or insignificance of people’s IQ, and also includes a nature vs. nurture question about the origin of intelligence. In passing, Safa highlights a lot of things he perceives as problems in today’s Mexico, including the state of the education system, bullying, drugs, gang violence, etc. He does this, however, in a deliberately light and humorous tone.

In the end, the film boils down to a rather simple message about the importance of family and childhood, and one is left wondering whether this message is not too “small” when compared with the scope of the film. As an audience, we are left with the impression that all we learned is the fact that we do not know more that we did at the beginning of the film. So despite the feel-good intentions of the film, it leaves you mildly unsatisfied.

 

Nine years passed between the first draft of the script until the film was finished, years which were partly spent trying to find financial backing. These are nine out of the eleven years of the director’s marriage, as Safa’s wife Ana Sofía Clerici is the writer. In those nine years, she went through 24 drafts, and after seeing the film one is left wondering if she may have smoothed out too many edges, over-thought things too much, and if this might be the reason why the film’s message and ending feel a tad too mellow.

 

Be that as it may, Jeremy is still a good film, very enjoyable and definitely worth watching if the subject matter appeals to you. The film is beautifully shot and scored, but its strongest element is the casting. Every actor in this film is doing an excellent job, however small the role. Some of the actors are well-known, and many are from the very region the story takes place in, Sonora. Anwar Safa mentioned at a Q&A session that he wanted to take a fresh approach, wanted to get away from film-making that may be too focused on Mexico City, and part of that approach was not only the choice of location but also the choice of local actors and a certain awareness of the particular local language.

The praise of the quality of the acting includes Martin Castro, the boy playing the eponymous hero. Although you feel at times that he is slightly rattling off his memorised lines, his performance is still astonishing for a 9-year-old who has never acted before.

At a Q&A, Safa described how Natalia Beristain, the woman in charge of the casting project and a film-maker in her own right, scouted hundreds of children in order to come up with a selection of 23. Through a process of several weeks of acting lessons and various auditions, Safa then downsized that group to ten, and later four, until he finally settled on Castro for his film’s hero. With this process in mind, and seeing Castro’s strong performance, I had to think back to a remark by Belgian writer and director Raf Reyntjens, who had once stated that, when working with children, a thorough casting process is crucial: choose the right child, and your job as a director becomes so much easier it is already more than 50% done.

Special mention should go to veteran actors Daniel Gimenez Cacho (Doctor Forni) and Eduardo MacGregor (Don G), whose great performances support Castro’s portrayal of Jeremias’s development.

Almost more significant, however, are the performances by Karem Momo Ruiz and Paulo Galindo playing Jeremias’s parents. Galindo’s very funny performance always stays just inside the realm of believability, and Karem Momo Ruiz’s warm and loving portrayal of a worried mother is outstanding, especially considering that the role has to transport a lot of humour as well. Anwar Safa’s direction should probably also be credited with guiding these two actors on the very narrow path their roles entailed.

 

As I said, a good and enjoyable film, all the more if you are interested in the subject matter.

7.0 to 7.5 out of 10.

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