Buen día, Ramón (2013)

Ramón is a young Mexican who lives with his mother and bossy grandmother. They are rather poor, and his grandmother is lacking the money for her medicine. No local job would pay Ramón enough to help his family out, unless he joins the local drug cartel, which he is not willing to do. So emigration seems like the only option for him. During his latest attempt to enter the US illegally, the shady people traffickers abandon his group in the desert and leave them to die. Ramón barely escapes with his life and he returns home dejected. A friend, whose mother’s half-sister lives in Germany, suggests Ramón should try his luck there rather than in the US. So he flies to Germany on a tourist visa, but his trip does not turn out as planned and he finds himself homeless during a cold German winter, without money or friends. Speaking neither German nor English, he is stranded for good. A chance encounter with a German pensioner leads to his rescue, and he brings some diversion into the lonely life of the pensioner and her neighbours. But all good things must come to an end….

I will be frank, I did not enjoy this film. It is not a bad film, but it is mediocre and long, which is always a deadly combination. I would also claim that this German-Mexican co-production is much more German than Mexican in its focus, and accordingly the passages in which German is spoken are much longer than the Spanish passages.

The first 20 minutes of this film take place in Mexico and are used to establish Ramón’s dilemma and the environment in which he grew up. The scene then shifts to Germany, and the “selling point” of this film is the premise that it gives an outsider’s view of Germany, something much more interesting to a German audience than anybody else, and I would therefore assume that the intended target audience of this film was German cinema-goers. Which is probably one reason why the German DVD release seems to be the only one currently widely available, but it does come with optional English subtitles.

This film has good cinematography and some very decent acting. Kristyan Ferrer does a nice job playing Ramón, although the extreme amount of non-verbal acting in this film seems to bring him to his limits at times. But that is always a directing problem as well, to some degree. The Mexican cast is very good, as is most of the German cast with the exception of one or two minor roles.

However, the actors had to struggle with a script containing many a line that sounded artificial and unconvincing. The film has a “soppy” tone and feel to it, like a distant Hallmark Channel vibe. The film also has a soppy and overbearing score; somehow fitting for the film, but still a bit “too much”.

There are numerous problems with this film, and the premise is one of them: while Ramón is a real 3-dimensional character as long as we are in Mexico, he gets reduced to a helpless little Latino boy as soon as the plot moves to Germany. He is in need of rescuing, in need of charity. And the interest others take in him often has overtones of a “project”, or an ethnological study. The script would have needed much more fine-tuning in order to avoid these (foreseeable) pitfalls.

The plot progression is the bigger problem. The film is very long (2 hours) and slows down very early on without ever gaining any speed or traction again. A lot of things are happening, but many of them seem arbitrary, and few are really connected to anything else. Little ideas are thrown into the mix but then never picked up again. Nazis are mentioned for a minute or two, but you don’t really know why. Critics sometimes say of a film that the film makers have thrown everything against the wall in order to see if any of it will stick – and the entire (very long) second act of this film feels exactly like that.

It is hard to see who this film is for. My guess is that it is aimed at middle-aged women, but I might be wrong. This is not a bad film (roughly 5.0 out of 10 for me, I guess), but it is a film that no-one needed, that no-one had been asking for.

There is no need to see this film, especially since – for example when browsing through my blog – you can find many films that tell much stronger stories.

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