The border separating Mexico and Texas becomes a botched metaphor for the divide between self and other by the conclusion of I Promise You Anarchy, a stylish, if thematically strained, neorealist story set in Mexico City. There, a teenager named Miguel (Diego Calva Hernández) hangs around town with Johnny (Eduardo Eliseo Martinez), his friend and lover, who also happens to be the son of his family’s maid. In an early, striking scene set in a bungalow apartment and lit in monochromatic red, Miguel silently seduces Johnny, and as the pair has sex in a hammock, Johnny’s girlfriend, Adri (Shvasti Calderón), listens quietly from an adjacent room. Writer-director Julio Hernández Cordón expertly paces the scene through a series of off-kilter camera angles, so that three shots—overhead, a mirror reflection, an askew close-up—fragment a clear sense of spatial logic. Accordingly, the characters’ confusion about their own sexual feelings finds replication in the formal presentation.
Unfortunately, I Promise You Anarchy struggles to continue developing its relationships in such dynamic visual terms. The film’s premise concerns Miguel’s role as a black-market blood donor for local drug cartels, who ship his blood (and that of others from his skater crew) to undisclosed locations for off-the-grid use. But Cordón seems disinterested in exploring the consequence of “milking,” the slang term Miguel and his friends use to describe giving blood, and consistently relegates the intriguing premise to an off-screen space. Instead, Cordón focuses on Miguel and his crew drifting from place to place, hitting skater parks, chatting on their cellphones about innocuous matters, and driving throughout the city, which Cordón often renders in slow motion and with a pop soundtrack. Excluding the erotic tension of the early scene, the film becomes fairly bloodless itself by preferring to play character behaviors objectively and at a distance.
Cordón stages scenes for their gritty realist qualities, as when Miguel and Techno (Diego Escamilla Corona) hustle their music aboard a packed city train or when Miguel’s crew slowly skate through a long city street, packed with vendors and shops, which is all captured in one take. These are fine textures for representing Mexico City’s centripetal spatial construction, but Cordón prefers to leave these strands untied. The film only glimpses Miguel’s growing conflict with David (Oscar Mario Botello), a bullying cartel ruffian, and favors prolonged asides, like a scuffle in the street with Gabriel (Gabriel Casanova), a business associate and actor who’s dressed in a Hawaiian getup during the scrum. It’s hard to tell what tone Cordón is after given that the slapstick scene follows news of an off-screen abduction of Techno and others by the cartel, then turns starkly violent just a few beats after the comic fight.
The film’s final third is especially false, as violence begets not contemplation or concern for Miguel and Johnny, but simply more skating, a little glue sniffing, and a prolonged sex scene that lacks the formal sophistication of the earlier one. I Promise You Anarchy does nearly end on a grace note, however, as Miguel finds himself in a Mexican chain restaurant in Texas and face to face with the last person he likely hoped to see. Cordón rightfully recognizes the irony of a showdown over Tex-Mex given Miguel’s earlier interrogative of “What the fuck is there in Texas?” suggesting that the stateside territory merely simulates Mexican specificity while hypocritically preaching separation and difference. But even that keen perception is curiously dropped in the final seconds for a shallow punchline that compromises Miguel’s previous sense of pain and danger in favor of a wayward sex joke.