In “Fauna,” the Mexican Canadian filmmaker Nicolás Pereda teases with and deconstructs the fictions typically associated with contemporary Mexican culture in a lean 70-minute running time that abounds in droll humor and bold conceptual play.
At first, the film starts out like a deadpan indie comedy heavy on the cringe: Luisa (Luisa Pardo) and her boyfriend Paco (Francisco Barreiro) drive out to a depopulated town in the Mexican hinterlands to visit Luisa’s parents for the weekend. Once they’ve reached their destination, they encounter Luisa’s churlish brother, Gabino (Lázaro Gabino Rodríguez), unfolding a tense, awkward dynamic that only worsens when Luisa’s father and mother arrive.
When Luisa’s father (José Rodríguez López) takes the two men out for a beer, Paco — who plays an actor in the Netflix series, “Narcos: Mexico” — is asked to reprise his role right then and there, pitting his nervous disbelief against dad and Gabino’s stoic entreaties. Barreiro, who in real life acted in the drug trade drama, is eventually pushed to perform a monologue drawn directly from the finale of the first season, resulting in one of the most exciting, and wonderfully mortifying bits I’ve seen in quite a while.
Pereda then deftly reorients the film by bringing to life the plot of a hard-boiled novel that Gabino is midway through reading. The actors from the first half of the film are recycled in this nested narrative, playing detective story archetypes involved in narco-adjacent intrigue ripped straight from the original characters’ dreams.
Brimming with postmodern flourishes, “Fauna” calls attention to the slippery nature of performance and identity, lodging a complex, yet highly engrossing critique of narco culture’s influence on Mexican storytelling — and it does so without a drop of that pesky didacticism.
Not rated. In Spanish, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 10 minutes. In theaters.
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