“Raising hell.” The expression captures Mexican filmmaker Gerardo Naranjo in multiple ways: Not only is it the colloquial translation for the title of one of Naranjo’s great inspirations—François Truffaut’s coming-of-age classic Les quatre cents coups (a/k/a The 400 Blows)—but it’s also how he defines his own childhood. “I had a shaky adolescence,” admits the 38-year-old director, whose three features—Malachance, Drama/Mex, and I’m Gonna Explode—exude a new wave–style brashness and vitality.
Growing up in the small Mexican town of Salamanca, where I’m Gonna Explode is set, Naranjo ran away from home when he was nine and, like the two young renegades in the film, hid out on the roof of his house. “I didn’t have a girl or a gun,” he says, referencing both his latest and Jean-Luc Godard’s famous dictum that all you need to make a movie is those two. “But I remember feeling that I didn’t want to belong to that society. I was trying to create my own reality, which soon proved to be impossible.” And yet, Naranjo eventually found a way of manufacturing his reality: “In that sense, cinema saved me.”
Naranjo survived adolescence to study at Mexico City’s Universidad Iberoamericana, where he founded a film club called “Zero for Conduit,” evoking yet another movie about youth revolt. He transitioned to the National University’s Film School and, in 1999, studied at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, where he befriended filmmaker Azazel Jacobs. The two later collaborated on Jacobs’s 2005 debut The GoodTimesKid (just released on DVD), for which Naranjo co-wrote the script and co-starred as a depressed layabout living on a houseboat. “He holds film above all else,” says Jacobs. “Nothing has, and I don’t think anything will stand in the way of him making films.”
Naranjo’s go-for-broke spirit is evident on screen. Both Drama/Mex and I’m Gonna Explode open with furious, expletive-filled dialogue (i.e., “Fucking asshole, fucking asshole, fucking asshole”). “It’s a bit of a ‘Fuck off’ to what I didn’t agree with in the landscape of Mexican cinema,” says Naranjo. Before Y tu mamá también and Amores perros came along, he says, “I was so frustrated and angry with filmmakers and the film industry that no one was making anything that said, ‘This is us.’ “
For inspiration besides Truffaut, Naranjo cites French iconoclast Leos Carax (Les amants du Pont-Neuf): “Even though he failed most of the time, not many directors try to be so bold and so intense.” Naranjo also mentions ’70s Polish director Andrzej Zulawski (“He’s one of the most aggressive, visual storytellers that I know”).
But it was a Godard film, the meta lovers-on-the-run story Pierrot le fou, that significantly informed Explode. “The idea was to think about what it means to be a rebel in Mexico, where all the symbols of rebellion have been digested by society and become a fashion statement,” he says.
For his next projects, Naranjo is focusing on another trendy Mexican notion: corruption. He’s producing a documentary on Mexico’s most corrupt policeman and writing a new narrative about the country’s reputation for crookedness. “It’s one of the biggest subjects in Mexico,” he says. “Why are we so rotten?”
Naranjo will present ‘I’m Gonna Explode’ at the Walter Reade Theater on August 12 and 14. In addition to ‘Explode,’ the Film Society of Lincoln Center will screen ‘Drama/Mex’ August 13 though 16.