The Godardian influence on Gerardo Naranjo’s I’m Gonna Explode goes beyond the film’s girl-and-a-gun scenario, even past the absurdly tragic and self-involved decisions of its male protagonist, a 15-year-old rich kid rebel named Roman (Juan Pablo de Santiago). Naranjo best transcribes the Nouvelle Vague (specifically late-1960s Godard) with his brazen, constantly shifting mise-en-scène, where splashes of primary color, deep texture, and chaotic movement dictate a nervous youthful energy stemming from the anxiety and passion of his teenage protagonists. It’s when these stylistic flourishes compliment the budding romance between Roman and his equally disaffected peer, Maru (brilliantly played by Maria Deschamps), that I’m Gonna Explode takes on a fascinating immediacy, as if the visuals and sound are being constructed moment to moment by the fractious youths themselves.
After a brutal fantasy sequence where Roman envisions himself murdering two Catholic priests execution style, I’m Gonna Explode goes the Rushmore route and banishes it’s prep school troublemaker to public school for thinking out loud. Roman’s right-wing politician father Eugenio (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) is only casually outraged at his son’s very-real threats of violence, and when Roman fakes his own hanging at the new school’s talent show, his family is more annoyed than surprised. But the act gets Maru’s attention, the first time a glimmer of any kind has livened up her zombie eyes. The two begin an exciting, almost instinctual relationship, culminating in a staged kidnapping meant to mask the couple’s escape to Mexico City.
Naranjo fragments Roman and Maru’s whirlwind escalation early in the film, using disjointed editing techniques to fracture their involvement with the socially corrupt outside world. In a brilliant victory against his overbearing father, Roman hides out with Maru on the extensive roof terrace of his family’s villa as the police and their families sit floors below panicked and distressed at their children’s sudden disappearance. The pair playfully watches as their families experience discomfort, calling in fake tips to send them on wild goose chases into the countryside. These scenes are complex, evocative, and strangely dark, indicative of dangerous child’s play that challenges the very notion of family dynamics.
Roman and Maru’s charade begins to grow more hallucinatory as their Badlands-style romance evolves from ideological to physical. In one particularly poetic longing reminiscent of Sissy Spacek’s waif in Terrence Malick’s debut film, Maru looks at Roman and says, “I gazed at him, and felt more alive…he was my perfect accomplice.” We can feel her free spirit falling deeper and deeper into a state of fuzzy love lust, and in her eyes Roman’s increasingly absurd actions become more romantic. But there’s a lack of stylistic lyricism to complement this brisk attraction, replaced by a breakneck pace that favors quick decision-making and steam-of-consciousness morality. Naranjo keeps interrupting intimate moments with narrative complications, as if the adult world based on cause and effect won’t allow the teenage fantasy to fully transcend its roots. Like all couples on the run, eventually Roman and Maru are forced out onto the open road.
I’m Gonna Explode expands its narrative outward, positioning Roman and Maru within an us vs. the world structure, and this is where their relationship begins to break down. The excitement of the first half begins to wane, as color schemes grow increasingly drab, the editing becomes less kinetic, and the realizations of adulthood hover over every decision the couple makes. In a particularly disturbing shift, Roman often leaves Maru behind when being chased by authorities, screaming incoherently into the wind for his companion to avoid capture. Despite this growing physical separation, it never dawns on Roman that all Maru wants is for them to escape together. In this sense, Roman’s dense focus on himself consistently floods his emotional connection with Maru.
As Naranjo finalizes the couple’s descent back to reality with a flood of film-history references (a picture of Buster Keaton frames Roman in a serious moment of reflection), the reflexivity is more nuanced than overt. The absurdities of both action and surroundings cloud any chance at romance for these two, and the inevitable tragic finale feels too forced when compared to the film’s fascinating pastiche-riddled opening. I’m Gonna Explode eventually does just that, blowing its characters’ minds on a physical and psychological level. But the high can never last, and the film’s decline in adrenaline also relegates these characters back into the realm of familiarity. Roman’s final dash of defiance is no longer fresh, but indicative of his most contrived weaknesses, and it’s hard not to feel Maru deserved better. But maybe that’s Naranjo’s point.
The color of the costumes and set design—all vibrant reds, yellows, and blues—jumps off the screen in exciting splashes. The digital transfer allows this dynamic color scheme to rightfully pop, preserving Gerardo Naranjo's widescreen vistas, busy camera movements, and surreal vision of young love. The black levels are somewhat muddy during a few night sequences, and some characters and objects blend into the darkness. The sound design is equally balanced, mixing rising and declining levels of music and dialogue freely and effortlessly. Although some of the lines of dialogue aren't timed well with the English subtitles, narrative coherence never suffers as a result.
The core extra on this disc is a scattershot and ultimately useless making-of feature with rambling on-set footage of Naranjo staging scenes, cast members partying, and crew members setting up and breaking down equipment. This self-indulgent feature lacks interviews and commentaries, and seems to be more of a drunken series of memories for the filmmakers than any coherent examination of the film's production process. A trailer for the film is also included.
I'm Gonna Explode is simultaneously energetic and enigmatic, a tragically absurd Mexican love story told through the resurfaced lens of Godard and the French New Wave. This frustrating barebones DVD release isn't worthy of the film's aesthetic and thematic ambitions.