The gang's all here in a disturbing and perceptive 'Mi Vida Loca'

October 14, 1994|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

One of the lost missions of the cinema is to take us inside. But since so few movies care about the outside any more -- that is, reality -- there's rarely an inside into which to be taken. Who'd want to go inside . . . "The Specialist"?

But there are a few true believers still out there, chief among them Allison Anders, who bravely sails into uncharted waters. In "Gas Food Lodging" she looked at a set of what might crassly be called "truck stop women," and found them wonderfully humane and loving on one of the far outposts of civilization. Now she examines members of a Mexican-American gang in the Los Angelos barrio, with this newest of all wrinkles: It's a female gang.

"Mi Vida Loca" ("My Crazy Life") spins this week in rotation with Lisa Wertmuller's "Ciao Professore!" at the Charles. It's a terrific movie, riding a conspicuous irony. That is, it arrives on the same day as Quentin Tarantino's astonishing "Pulp Fiction," which it .. resembles in many ways.

Both films are set in an outlaw society; both treat their denizens with sympathy and anthropological understanding rather than cheap moralizing; both are brilliantly photographed in a Los Angeles nightworld that pulses with light and dark possibility; and both tell three interlocked stories that play out over a short period of time.

But where there's something brazenly artificial about "Pulp Fiction" (that's part of the appeal), the more low-key and poignant "Mi Vida Loca" has the crackly feel of authenticity, the ,, gritty sense of a documentary, which it almost is.

Indeed, Anders relates in press notes that when she first noticed the Mexican gang girls in her sleepy, arty-bohemian neighborhood of Echo Park, they terrified her. They seemed so grandly tragic and darkly violent. Gradually, she worked her way into their society, met several generations' worth of their members and survivors, heard their stories, learned their myths, and set out to replicate gradually their lives in art.

The movie hasn't the traditional omniscient storytelling point of view of conventional feature cinema. Rather it's almost like a stage cavalcade, as different characters slide to the foreground and take over the narration. It's a story of a blasted society, a wasteland of macho pretensions, where most of the men end up on a long slide at Chino State or ride a bullet into the next world by the time they're 21. The young women have to deal with survival in this mini-Beirut.

Fortunately, they are tough, strong and resolute. The movie chronicles the antagonism of Mousie (Seidy Lopez) and Sad Girl (Angel Aviles), childhood friends who fall out over their mutual attraction to (and motherhood, at the hands of) the young drug dealer Ernesto (Jacob Vargas).

But other story threads come in: the eternal conflict between neighborhoods (Echo Park has always had trouble with River View), the completely sincere fascination with gleaming, wax-glistening restored classic cars (treated with dead earnestness, never condescension), the rituals of machismo and machisma that rule the world so powerfully they cannot be described any more than they can be denied.

"Mi Vida Loca" indeed documents how crazy life can be, and how cruel.

"Mi Vida Loca"

Starring Angel Aviles and Seidy Lopez

Directed by Allison Anders

Released by New Yorker

Unrated

***

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