Soy Nero (Berlin Review)
If there was one movie that I wanted to watch at the Berlinale and say, “now here’s a movie Donald Trump needs to see,” it would be Rafi Pitts’ Soy Nero. The reality is much harsher: it’s hard to think of anyone really needing to see this movie, regardless of their politics, prejudices, or nationality. The story of a young Mexican-American who becomes a Green Card soldier in order to secure his US citizenship and not be deported back to Mexico is ultimately too bare-boned and thinly spread to resonate beyond any given scene. And in most scenes, it’s the kind of resonance that spins its wheels to produce a deafening sound only to signify nothing much at all.
Nero (Johnny Ortiz) is caught by the US authorities trying to cross the border back to the States. He says he grew up in California, and is attending university, but he’s got no ID to back him up so, naturally, they don’t believe a word. He witnesses a burial of a Green Card soldier, a Mexican national who joined the US army to become a citizen only to end up dying in action. Nero absorbs his feelings and continues on his path back home to the States. He eventually reaches Beverly Hills to stay with his cousin Jesus (Ian Casselberry). From there, the story is divided between Nero’s short stay in L.A. and his wartime experience in the Middle East.
Pitts creates a dislodged atmosphere of ambivalent uncertainty throughout, which is just about the only thing that kept my attention with Soy Nero. The most entertaining sequence involves Orange Is The New Black‘s Michael Harney, who plays a random American Joe with such unpredictable verve, he keeps the tension tight and manages to make a conversation about windmills totally engrossing. But he’s in it for a moment, and from there on, the story rolls on with the intensity of a tumbleweed. And it tumbled on. It’s a cascading series of mini-disappointments as Nero goes through all the familiar motions, rarely expressing himself other than literally vocalizing his thoughts. Most of the action in Soy Nero is inert and primarily revolves around Nero slowly discovering something that’s fairly obvious from the start.
As for the second part in the war zone, it’s too staged to feel real. A nameless desert with only a couple of people posted at guard is meant to instil a sense of barren existentialism, but ends up feeling stretched out and headed towards pointlessness. Even a sort-of-funny conversation about West vs. East coast rappers feels stagnant because we’ve heard it all before. But it’s when Nero has to verbalize the absurdity of fighting this war just for a Green Card when I completely checked out, realizing that Pitts is attempting to reveal something new by recycling the old.