“Museo” Review

Museo FilmMuseo (Museum) [2018] – ★★★

This heist movie is by Mexican director Alonso Ruizpalacios (Güeros (2014)), starring Gael Garcia Bernal (No (2012), The Motorcycle Diaries (2004)) and Leonardo Ortizgris (Güeros). Loosely based on a real story, the film won the Silver Bear for Best Screenplay at the Berlin International Film Festival 2018, and is about two young men in their thirties who still live with their families, while trying to become veterinarians. They decide to break their cycle of personal desperation by robbing the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. What follows is their journey trying to convert their stolen Mayan artefacts into money, while battling personal doubts, since they did not initially realise what their theft might mean culturally and societally for the people of Mexico. Museo is a well-made film with an interesting premise and an unusual dimension to it, but it is also fair to say that it often slides into some obvious melodrama, losing its force and conviction.

No one could know why someone did what they did, except for a person who did it. And more often than not, not even them.” With this statement starts this movie which details the events of Christmas Eve, 1985. Juan Nuñez (Bernal) and Benjamin Wilson (Leonardo Ortizgris) are best friends in their thirties who decide to rob the National Museum of Anthropology. They share close, but sometimes strained friendship, and their relationship with their families sometimes reaches desperate points. Wilson has a terminally ill father, and Juan’s family is obviously disappointed in him, and does not take him seriously anymore. If the first thirty minutes of the film is about setting the scene: the curious friendship between Juan and Benjamin, and their familial circumstances, and the rest of the film is about the crime and its consequences. Being unbelievably lucky, Juan and Benjamin manage to evade security authorities at the Museum, and steal valuable Mayan objects, realising at that point that their troubles have only just began as they now need to shift their objects in the attempt gain money.

The Rotten Tomatoes’ summary reads: “Museo…approaches familiar genre territory from a refreshing new perspective that’s as exciting visually as it is narratively”, and I am not quite sure that Museo is really that refreshingly different from other heist movies or is somehow more distinguishable narratively. It is true that the film has many interesting camera movements and angles (the cinematographer is Damián Garcia (Güeros)), and the director tries to inject into the movie some poetic, mystical element, while making statements on the nature of Mexican identity. It is also true that the movie touches twice on the interesting issues of national heritage, ethics of anthropology and ownership of archaeological findings. Apart from these elements, the story is rather predictable, and the drama is obvious and melodramatic. The two guys are portrayed as unprofessional and misguided youths who realise they may have made a mistake, but are at first too afraid or selfish to turn back and redeem themselves. Moreover, the character played by Gael Garcia Bernal is not actually likeable: his domineering influence over his friend and his treatment of some women in the story mean that his actions are even less heroic than the story evidently tries to make them by the end of the film.

🏛️ Even though a bit too long, Museo is still a Spanish-language film of some quality and interest that provides an insight into the Mexican cultural heritage, showcasing crafts of the Mayan civilisation. There are also some nice tense scenes showing the heist itself. The unfortunate aspect is that Museo still decides to play it too safe, preferring to go for a narrative that is obvious, melodramatic and forgettable over something which is more thought-provoking, subtle and unexplained. 

See also my list of films about visual art, and my list of great films on the topic of international crime.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Sam Simon says:

    Thanks for the interesting review! I’ll check it out…


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