Campy, heartwarming, and not without its comedic charms, Beto Gomez's latest film Flying Low sustains the director's on-point sense of parody in using for fodder a send-up of '80s and '90s Mexican music and cinema. That humor is at play throughout most of the film, yet it doesn't take away from any moments of warmth.
Flying Low tells the story of childhood BFFs Chuyin Venegas (Gerardo Taracena) and Cornelio Barraza (Rodrigo Oviedo) who grow up to be Mexico's greatest musical duo Los Jilgueros de Rosarito, a Lennon and McCartney of their times who write soft rock love ballads in the vein of '80s Mexi acts like Los Angeles Negros, Los Yonics or even the mega iconic Los Bukis. Fame and overexposure ultimately eat away at the duo's bond, and they go their separate ways–until Cornelio's untimely death sends Chuyin reeling away from his hectic rock star life. With a news reporter in tow, he travels from his immaculate Paris mansion back to his native small town Cantamar to recover forgotten lyrics the two friends composed years back, and to confront his past.
Flying Low has big hairdos in spades, and meta-film parodies in the scenes depicting Chuyin and Cornelio's burgeoning film career–acting in C-grade action films, which only serve as a vehicle for their singing (Mexican movie parodies are obviously in Gomez's wheelhouse (see Casa De Mi Padre and Saving Private Perez)). They've reached the pinnacle of fame with large houses, adoring female fans, and affairs with beautiful women, but the success is too much stress and loneliness for Cornelio, while Chuyin continues to revel in the spoils. After learning of the death of Cornelio, Chuyin meditates back on their forty-year friendship through flashbacks of their beginnings as tykes learning how to play guitar to their years struggling as musicians playing low-paying gigs to their steady rise to fame. Throughout it all, Chuyin and Cornelio were fiercely loyal best friends to each other, which would ultimately give way to an effective creative collaboration.
Once you get past the big hair and matching colorful leisure suits, you realize the music of Los Jilgueros de Rosarito is actually well-written and enjoyable to listen to. Chalk it up to the songwriting prowess of musical composer Pascual Reyes, and songwriters Daniel Gutierrez and Fernando Rivera Calderon, who wrote convincing '80s pop love songs for the film. Luckily, the faux music videos made for the film exist on Youtube; no English subtitles for the songs, but there's a strong, hilarious element of pastiche that needs no translation.
"Flying Low," the powerful ballad sung at the film's climax, is Chuyin's ode to Cornelio, who told Chuyin at the moment of their musical breakup that he wanted to "fly low" instead of "fly high"- in other words remain close close to loved ones, himself, and his roots over fame and money, a powerful theme prevalent throughout the narrative. Chuyin's swan song, as well as all the music in the film, made me want to reach for my parents' old Bukis records to give them a listen.
As a festival opener, Flying Low is a perfect choice. Its contemporary take on a long-gone era of romantic Mexican music will surely resonate with an older crowd and their kids (although mostly for the humorous camp factor). But then, this film also is a great entry in the burgeoning new wave of Mexican cinema that is crossing over to the States. Oh yeah, this screening is also totally FREE.
OC Film Fiesta (ajua!) will begin with Volando Bajo Thursday night at Bowers Museum, 2002 N. Main St. Santa Ana at 7pm with an opening night after party at Diego's Downtown. For full schedule of all free (yes, FREE!) festival screenings, peep the festival's website over here. See you there!