“Bleak Street,” director Arturo Ripstein’s uncomfortably entertaining new film, is a true (and way stranger than fiction) crime story, ripped from local headlines and filmed in luminous, high-contrast black and white. Dilapidated apartments and exterior walls, lived-in faces, outrageous outfits and elaborate wrought iron railings become hyperreal and have an odd beauty.
Ripstein (whose friend and early mentor was Luis Buñuel) is deep into 21st century Los Olvidados territory. His Mexico City hustlers and strugglers include identical twin midget “shadow” luchador wrestlers, Little Death (Juan Francisco Longoria) and Little AK-47 (Guillermo López), who never remove their form-fitting masks. Their squat tiger mother beams around her beloved boys and is disdainful of their wives.
Adela (Patricia Reyes Spíndola) and Dora (Nora Velázquez), old pals, working girls willing (and financially compelled) to strut their stuff, although they’re well-aware they’ve aged out of the market, are rattled by their diminished opportunities. Dora is supporting her adored husband (a secret cross-dresser pilfering her best work clothes) and a teenage daughter interested in cellphones, short skirts and boys. Dislodged from her well-located esquina by the tough female neighborhood pimp, Adela takes “her old woman” (not necessarily a relative, but cared for) out to beg to supplement their income.
The twins book the old pros for a celebratory romp after a triumph in the ring. Their fateful shacking up in a by-the-hour hotel is both bizarre and funny and the tragic accident is caused by not carefully considering weights and measures.
An incongruously rousing tune heard over the over the end credits has the upbeat singer repeating, “Mexico! Mexico!” It’s as if he’s saying the limited lives and lunacy are to be expected, an echo of “It’s Chinatown, Jake.”
“Bleak Street” will open on Wednesday, January 20 at Film Forum for a two-week run. A Skype Q&A with Arturo Ripstein and screenwriter Paz Alicia Garciadiego will follow the 7:10 pm show on Friday, January 22.