Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Nate Hood's 400 Words on Gasoline Thieves (2019) Tribeca 2019

Does the poppy farmer dream of the dealer? Of the workers turning the flowers to opiates? The junkies dying in alleyways, spasming for one last hit? No, the poppy farmer dreams of their poppies, their minds disconnected from the larger chain of harm enriching the wicked and killing the weak. It’s not malicious, it’s survival.

Few crime films have ever examined this cloistered mindset like Edgar Nito’s The Gasoline Thieves, a harrowing look at the gasoline theft industry in Mexico where gangsters called huachicoleros siphon gas from pumps and sell them on the black market for pennies on the peso. It centers on a fourteen-year-old boy named Lalo (Eduardo Banda) who finds himself drawn into the tail end of a chain of organized crime that starts with impoverished thugs, works its way up to cartels, through the wallets of crooked cops, into the offices of politicians, and ending in shallow graves in the desert. If Lalo is phased by the chaos and violence around him, he doesn’t show it—his only concern is making enough money siphoning gas to buy a smartphone for his high-school sweetheart. His world is a materialistic one; despite having a working class mother who steals from his savings to pay their extended family’s medical bills, he still attends a preppy middle school where the students attend flag ceremonies every morning and get drilled by officious teachers in the classroom. When he decides to join the huachicoleros, it isn’t to support his family, but for his own self-gratification, and the extent of his tunnel vision is staggering. As townspeople riot over gas prices, gangs slaughter each other over turf, and stolen gasoline shipments get riddled with bullets, Lalo has eyes only for himself, his crush, and his smartphone. That it will lead to his doom is inevitable, and though the third act proceeds predictably for anyone who’s ever watched a gangster film, the last five minutes are worthy of Cormac McCarthy in their bleak yet poetic nihilism.

The Gasoline Thieves is one of the most beautiful films of this year’s festival, with Juan Pablo Ramírez’s cinematography evoking the nocturnal chiaroscuro compositions of Goya and the flattened, sun-scorched daytimes of modern Westerns. Banda is likewise revelatory, having perfected the art of acting by not-acting, giving a truly naturalistic performance in the midst of a world gone mad and only growing madder.

Rating: 7/10

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