Saturday, June 24, 2006

Musing Pictures: Nacho Libre

Parodies can be wonderful, but they're tough to pull off well. Nacho Libre is a fight-movie parody, in some ways transplanting the narrative from the Far-East, where such films often originate, to a sort of timeless, quintessential Mexican Nowheresville.

Nacho Libre, embodied here by Jack Black, is a Mexican wannabe-wrestler, whose life as a friar in an orphanage leaves much (including a pretty nun -- played by Ana de la Reguera) to be desired.

There's a lot of potential for humor here, but somehow, moments that could be riotously funny just aren't. There are some good chuckles, here and there, but to my mind, the film's greatest error is that although it is a fight-film parody, the fight scenes themselves are the least funny parts of the film!

When you think of a war film, you might think of battle scenes, but you'd also think of generals rallying their troops, soldiers commiserating in foxholes, etc. In a parody of a war film, all of those elements have to be transfigured in to something really funny, really hysterical (and of course, this is not the same as a comedy about war, a-la M*A*S*H -- only of parodies of serious movies about war). Since "Nacho Libre" is a parody of fight films, the elements that one thinks of in a fight film (especially the fight sequences that are always central to fight films) need to be funny.

There are a few notable elements to "Nacho Libre", though, that are interesting, but which have nothing to do with the content or quality of the film. There are a few sequences of un-translated, un-subtitled Spanish in the film, which, to a non-speaker of Spanish, were rather startling in a political and not-at-all-funny sort of way. Those segments, unlike untranslated or un-subtitled segments in other films, were presented as if they contained something important (that is, they were not background chatter), but non-speakers of Spanish were left (intentionally) out of the loop. It was as if the film were punishing non-speakers for not knowing Spanish (remember, I paid to see a film, anticipating that I would be able to understand it -- it's true of foreign films, too -- I pay to see them with subtitles, after all). If I know that a film is in a language other than English, I expect to be warned if it is not going to be translated in some way, so that I don't waste my money on a ticket to a film I won't understand.

And I'm not opposed to having extended sequences of American films done in other languages. I think "Traffic" was a triumph of multi-lingual film. But of course, with "Traffic", the subtitles were essential to those of us whose Spanish is limited to the digits from one to nine.

It's stuff like that, when a film tries to snub its audience, that makes me a little squeamish.


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