Pros: performance of Gabriel González, gratuitious nudity
Cons: script, structure, social vacuum
“El búfalo de la noche” (The Night Buffalo, 2007) has the look of a neo-noir, and is a paranoid thriller with obsessive loves starring Diego Luna. Luna gives it his all, or at least shows it all (even the glans of his circumcised penis). Luna has been good in supporting roles (Before Night Falls, Milk, as Harvey Milk’s Mexican lover) and costarring with his longtime friend Gael García Bernal in “Y tu mamá también” (2001) and “Rudo y Cursi” (2008) and I suspect that he cannot carry a movie by himself (as García Bernal can).
I’ not sure that “El búfalo de la noche” is a fair test, however. The script that Guillermo Arriga — frequent scriptwriter of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu movies (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel) and of “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada” — adapted from his own novella is very murky, never making it clear who is sending notes about the titular night buffalo that obsessed the schizophrenic pal, Gregorio (Gabriel González) of Luna’s character, Manuel.
At the start of the movie, Manuel visits Gregorio at Gregorio’s parent’s house just after Gregorio has been released from a mental hospital. Gregorio tells Manuel that the psychiatrist pronounced him “cured.” The next day, however, Gregorio shoots himself. Manuel identifies the body and receives a box of mementos, including what seem to be poems by Gregorio (the main one of which is the lyrics of a popular song unfamiliar to Manuel), and photos.
The notes in Gregorio’s handwriting start to appear as Manuel has trysts with Gregorio’s girlfriend, with whom he began having sex while Gregorio was incarcerated. Tania (Mexican television star Liz Gallardo) feels guilty that their liaison pushed Gregorio over the edge, though there is no evidence that he knew of it. And various flashbacks show that he lived on the edge of homicide and suicide, believing that an earwig had burrowed into his brain (and that a buffalo breathed on him at night, etc.).
I won’t try to relate all the melodrama Arriga included. In case it isn’t obvious in what I’ve already written, there is abundant nudity, male and female, and full-frontal. Perhaps this was supposed to distract me from the unreality of the characters, none of whom has any visible means of support (a job or a trust fund or the ill-got gains of criminal enterprises). It is understandable that Gregorio did not have one, being in and out of mental hospitals, but Manuel and Tania and Manuel’s other not-so-ex girlfriend (Irene Azuela)and the other friend of Gregorio (Walther Cantú ) have, as far as the viewer can tell, zero jobs among them.
The actors play younger selves without facial hair, and their present, late-20s characters with beards (Luna’s is surprisingly scraggly given that he is fairly hirsute). Gonzales has a wide range of mental states to play, and is the standout in the cast (in terms of acting, not in terms of endowment).
I found the soundtrack music (by Omar Rodriguez-Lopez) mostly annoying, and the flashing back and forward was excessive. I don’t have complaints about Héctor Ortega’s cinematography, which I think was supposed to be jumpy.
I place most of the blame for the disappointing movie on Arriga, since what I find forced melodramatic touches herein are very similar to those in “Babel” and” 21 Grams.” Sentence on Diego Luna’s ability to carry a movie are suspended until he has the chance with a good script.
There were no bonus features to persuade me of noble intents on the part of the filmmakers.
©2010, Stephen O. Murray