Mosquita y Mari brings us unspeakably close to its main characters, two Chicana sophomores in Huntington Park, Los Angeles, whose budding relationship is portrayed with an innocence and naturalism that makes the film unusually believable. Central to this are the delicate performances by Fenessa Pineda and Venecia Troncoso as Yolanda and Mari (Mosquita is a name that Mari calls Yolanda because she looks like a “little fly”). That they are able to communicate their characters’ layered feelings for each other without much dialogue as they get to know each other at school and as neighbors is impressive given the actresses’ lack of experience. It’s in these nonverbal moments where the film is strongest, where we learn things about the characters that can only be shown, not spoken—new feelings between close friends who know no labels and quietly move in search of boundaries.
In this sense, Mosquita y Mari’s simple story registers as a near “actuality,” to borrow a silent-cinema term for the Lumiere brothers’ first shorts, because the pleasures in watching it are in seeing something so basic to life on screen for the first time. Just in the past year we’ve had Pariah and Tomboy, two well-received films dealing with homosexuality and gender in youth. Both of these films explore relatively uncharted territory, but where Mosquita y Mari differs is in how the same-sex desire is never presented as anything less than an organic feeling relatable to anyone of any sexual orientation. Part of the success of this is due to writer-director Aurora Guerroro’s decision to eschew any acknowledgment, or labeling, of the nature of the girls’ relationship by other characters—and the girls themselves don’t even acknowledge that their feelings for each other might be taboo within their community. In other words, it’s the purity of burgeoning emotions for another person that Guerrero aims to capture, not so much society’s reaction to homosexuality (though, clearly, that the girls keep their feelings private says plenty about what they assume others will think of them).
This is why Mosquita y Mari feels so personal, because most of what transpires between the two girls—most of which happens while hanging out in an auto repair shop, riding a bike, or studying—feels as internal as something you only keep to yourself. There’s been at least two other recent films, Certified Copy and The Color Wheel, that similarly played with the way a relationship can metamorphose on a spectrum of emotion, but, unlike those excellent films in which the characters had long pasts together that came into play, Mosquita y Mari is never out to toy with audiences’ perceptions, but to be honest about how feelings aren’t neat and how, like plants, they grow toward the light.