Carlos Cuaron makes his directorial debut with “Rudo y Cursi,” a comedy-drama about bickering stepbrothers from rural Mexico who are discovered by a soccer scout and brought to the big city, where they quickly become the stars on two rival teams but use their newfound fame—and wealth—badly. But he’s hardly a neophyte in the business—he wrote the script for his brother Alfonso’s breakthrough picture, 2001’s “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” and his picture reunites its stars, Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna, whom he’s known for years.
But it didn’t start out that way. During a recent interview in Dallas, Cuaron explained, “Originally I wanted to make a fake documentary on a soccer player from a humble background who made it big and who when he was at the peak of his career suddenly disappeared mysteriously. I told this concept to Gael and Diego…and they both said, ‘I want to be that guy.’ So I had a problem—I had two actors and one character. And what I realized was, I wanted to work with them. So I made up a brother, and I wrote the script for them.
“Initially I met with them in a restaurant in Mexico City, and they were confused because back then they knew I wanted to make this fake documentary about one character, so they didn’t know why there were the two of them together. So I told them, no there’s no fake documentary anymore, this is what I want to do.
“And they were thrilled. And then I said, Diego you are Rudo and Gael is Cursi. And immediately they both said, ‘No.’ Gael said, ‘I am Rudo,’ and Diego said, ‘I am Cursi,’ and that is because they are like that in their lives. I mean, Gael is a rough guy, and Diego is a corny guy. Just like that. And I said, no, I don’t want to make ‘Y Tu Mama Tambien 2,’ repeat the same structures. I don’t like repeating myself when I work. So they understood perfectly, and threw out ideas immediately. These guys are so cool and so flexible.”
And they were also, to use the term Cuaron used to describe them (and himself) “soccer freaks. They used to play in a team that I founded twenty-three years ago. Diego’s a good forward, especially a good striker—not the best, but he tries. He’s not a goalkeeper, and he really suffered the post, because he’s so far away from the action. Both of them trained for two or three months in their specific positions, Diego as goalie and Gael as striker, and Diego suffered a lot, because he could see Gael having fun. And he hated that. And Gael, in real life, he’s more like a mid-fielder or defender. He’s not a good forward. He’s been playing lately as a forward, but he’s not good at that!”
But for all the soccer, “Rudo y Cursi” isn’t a sports movie, Cuaron said. “As a soccer freak, I wanted to get soccer out of my system, to do something sort of about soccer. But at the same time I didn’t want to make a sports movie. So what I chose to do is to have soccer as a very strong context and probably some kind of fourth character. But soccer to me is a sort of an excuse. It’s almost unimportant, because the movie’s about brotherhood.”
That’s why, Cuaron continued, he chose to show so little field action, concentrating on spectator reaction to carry that part of the story. “The reason was that I always wanted to make a film about brotherhood, to have that main theme very clear, and if I started to put some soccer scenes in it, it then becomes a sports movie. And I didn’t want to make a sports movie.
“Soccer is something very difficult to shoot—not only to shoot, it’s also not a dramatic sport. It’s not like baseball of American football or even basketball, and the reason is that there is no pause. In American football and baseball, especially, you have a pause. In baseball, every pitch is a probability, so there are bets and there are stakes. That doesn’t happen in soccer, because it never stops. In American football, the same thing—you have strategy and you huddle and go and pass or run. In soccer it just goes on and on and on, and that’s not dramatic. So the only moments that I used are the penalty kicks. The penalty kick is the only moment where soccer is dramatized, because a penalty kick becomes a duel, a western duel—two guys facing each other, destiny. And so in the film the first penalty kick is understated…whereas the penalty kick in Act III is like a duel, a western duel. It’s shot that way, sort of like Sergio Leone’s ‘Good, Bad and the Ugly.’
“So I came to the idea of not showing soccer when I saw Michael Haneke’s ‘Funny Games’—the original film, which is probably the most violent film I’ve ever seen, and the violence is off camera. And when I saw it, I said, ‘I want to do that.’ And I was very concerned about the soccer—as I said, it’s not easy to shoot, and I didn’t want to make a sports movie. So it was tough up until that moment when I saw Michael Haneke’s movie…and I said, ‘Why don’t I do that?’ That’s why I chose not to show the game, only in the penalty kicks or at the points where the conflict between the two brothers are at stake. Not much, really.”
Cuaron noted that another aspect of the story was about how the two essentially wasted their success. “It’s a cultural thing. It happens everywhere,” he said, “but it gets worse in third-world countries. The guys earn these crazy amounts of money, and I don’t know what they do with it….It’s very, very common.” But, he added, “My two characters are not losers, they are winners. Why? Because at the end they recognize each other as brothers. And that is the main theme.”
Working with two actors who were practically brothers themselves made the shoot easier too, Cuaron said. “The fact that these guys knew each other since they were born—well, Gael is one year older, but Diego was born, they’ve been together in the cradle because of the relationship of their parents. They grew up together, and that complicity is something that saves you ten years of rehearsal. There’s no other way you can get it. This chemistry is just natural between these two guys.
“It helps a lot to know each other…we know our weaknesses and our strengths, we know how to read our moods. The set is a very stressful place, and they know how to approach me and I know how to approach them. And if we talk directly and there are tough words, we’re not insulted or anything, because we are friends. And like brothers, we fight and quarrel, but five minutes later, we’re friends and brothers again. It’s way easier to build characters. The way I work is I give people freedom, and they give you back ideas—which is great. They would come up with all these ideas, because they are very imaginative and positive guys, and they would come with great ideas.”
All of which helps to explain why despite following formula to some extent, “Rudo y Cursi” seems to avoid cliché and stay natural. It’s a Sony Pictures Classics release.