We Are Mari Pepa (East End Film Festival 2014)

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In a garage just a bit down your road, there’s some bored young punks jamming because there’s nothing else to do. Samuel Kishi charmingly captures the youthful energy of one band in Mexico, built up of teen boys obsessed with sex. They’re also not ashamed of their single-minded urges, given they have only one song, in which the chorus goes: “I want to cum in your face, Natasha.” (It’s actually quite catchy, if you excuse the crudeness.) Furthermore, the band name derives from marijuana (Mari) and the slant term for vagina (Pepa). The hazy coming-of-ager is, thankfully, more than just a portrayal of obnoxious kids, given it touches upon the more sentimental side of adolescents who live with elderly relatives and are aware that their carefree days in the sun will soon be over.

The main teen is long-haired Alex (Alex Gallardo), who is especially keen for the band to enter a competition that has one hurdle: entrants must play two songs. The “difficult second song” proves harder to write, especially when the other members find their own distractions – one amusing note is when the bassist finds a girlfriend who takes priority over fretwork. Instead, the richer moments occur outside of band practice, primarily when Alex prepared for no longer being a 16-year-old. His training session for a sales firm becomes what looks like an induction to Scientology; his guitar is stolen, and the summer’s heat starts to burn.

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There’s some expected similarities with Lukas Moodysson’s We Are the Best! (tying with Boyhood for my favourite film of the year so far) in depicting mischievous teens being mischievous teens. However, We Are Mari Pepa isn’t as ample with the charm, and is often just meandering in its own serenity. What sticks is the suppressed shock beneath the male bravado and infantile humour, particularly when Alex considers job prospects and asks, “What the fuck is a biscuit maker?” (Good question.) By the end, the drama switches to full-on melancholy through a montage that reflects a powerful slice of nostalgia that arrives a little too late, but is appreciated nonetheless.

‘We Are Mari Pepa’ plays East End Film Festival on 18 June at Rich Mix. For more information, click here .

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