Most films focusing on the trials and tribulations of being in love tend to gravitate toward one of the principle parties. This structure creates a situation where one of the pair is saintly while the other is a sinner.
In “You’re Killing Me Susana,” the screenplay by Luis Camara based on the novel by Jose Agustin doesn’t take such a definitive stand. There are moments when each side of the romantic equation deserves sympathy and other times when they earn disdain. The way the film flawlessly slips between these emotional tent poles is what makes it so compelling to watch.
At the heart of the story are Eligio (played by Golden Globe winner Gael García Bernal), and his wife Susana (Verónica Echegui). Both are involved with the arts as he’s a soap opera actor in Mexico City and she’s a promising writer.
Eligio’s weakness is that his flirtatious nature has blinded him to his wife’s suffering. That’s why he’s shocked when he wakes one day to discover she has left him. The actions by Susana seem justified considering Eligio’s amorous ways.
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Eventually, Eligio discovers Susana has been accepted at a writing workshop in Iowa and he travels to the American heartland to confront her. He finds her and discovers she has been spending bed time with a fellow writer. The film begins to shift sympathy away from Susana and back to Eligio.
As their relationship twists and turns, the heroes and villains of this tale change constantly. This works because Bernal and Echegui are so believable as the couple who have had their lives twisted by revolving emotions. They slip in and out of the personal vortex with ease.
Bernal has shown in film and TV offerings such as “Mozart in the Jungle” that he’s got leading man looks but not leading man swagger. His work is very down to earth – and that is a lot more difficult to plan than moments of huge emotions.
Echegui brings the same qualities, a necessity in a role that strips her character to her bare core.
No matter how many times the characters do things that make them unlikable, they can win the audience back with only a few lines of dialogue. That’s because the actors make it sound like there’s a truth behind everything they say.
Director Roberto Sneider saw this ability in his stars and capitalizes on it by not pushing scenes to be filled with action but allowing their lives to unfold with the kind of conversations normal people would have. Even the final scene doesn’t bank on a massive display; instead reducing the entire film down to a deep and sensitive small moment.
“You’re Killing Me Susana” is one of the purest love stories to come along in years. Movie makers love to paint these kind of relationships as being very black and white, but as shown in this film most people exist in a gray world where the lines are always blurred.
Please note “You’re Killing Me Susana” is in English and Spanish (with subtitles).
You’re Killing Me Susana
Cast: Gael Garcia Bernal, Verónica Echegui, Ashley Grace, Jadyn Wong, Björn Hlynur Haraldsson.
Director: Roberto Sneider
Not rated (language, smoking, nudity)
Opens: Friday, Feb. 24