“Mosquita y Mari” a beautiful coming-of-age tale
Aurora Guerrero's story of two young girls drawn together builds on emotional intimacy and self-discovery, amid cultural clashes.
Mosquita y Mari is first and foremost a coming of age story, and it takes its power from this. If you can remember being 15, you can identify with these girls. They are placed in a time, and a city, and a culture, but you don’t have to be of that time, city or culture to empathize.
Yolanda (Fenessa Pineda), nicknamed “Mosquita” by Mari, is the quintessential good girl: she gets high grades, listens to her parents, is kind to strangers, becomes uncomfortable at wild parties. Mari (Venecia Troncoso), by contrast, is the quintessential rebel: she’s failing school, mothers her younger sister while ignoring their mother, is rude to everyone, steals, smokes joints in school bathrooms. The attraction between Yolanda and Mari is sudden, the attraction of seeing something different, something new, for the first time. They are wholly foreign to each other, with a shared culture and vocabulary that helps bridge that gap. And in figuring out the newness of each other, they teach each other things. Yolanda’s lessons are in complex geometry and kindness; Mari’s teach Yolanda courage, and how she can see at things outside her set path.
The greatest strength of Aurora Guerrero’s direction and script is that Yolanda and Mari are first and foremost friends. Their shared intimacy is emotional first, and not explicitly sexual. Their attraction has sexual aspects, but it is not defined by them. And isn’t that the way falling in love ought to be anyway? You fall in love with a whole person, not just a body part they happen to have.
The girls’ respective immigration statuses create clashes between the two. Mari, undocumented, is trapped in a frenzied life of poverty. Yolanda’s legal-immigrant parents put the dreams they gave up on her shoulders and push her education and success at all costs. And so Mari’s desperate need for money compels her to push Yolanda away, and Yolanda’s parents’ need to see her succeed compels them to try to separate her from Mari.
The urban environment they inhabit works against them as well. The girls attend a school so big that even a caring teacher distractedly answers student questions, where homework questions are put online but it takes weeks to get a new student a copy of a textbook. And their neighborhood features a casual, cultural misogyny, where the local grocer accusing Mari of “getting into cars with boys” stains both girls’ reputations.
Mosquita y Mari develops slowly. Guerrero gives her leading actresses plenty of time and space to explore their characters. The cinematography matches that mentality, a peculiar blend of gorgeous and stark urbanity. In my favorite sequence, Yolanda pictures Mari in her mind, and the camera shows you that image –the camera depicting Mari with a glory of love and vividness that is breathtaking. This is how you see someone that you love, when you look at them or think about them, this laughing, this lingering, this beauty.
In the end, Mari relinquishes the remainder of whatever childhood she had left, Guerrero simply ending the story before we see the aftermath. Whether Yolanda’s vision of Mari can hold is never explored; whether Mari can stand to be faced with that vision is never shown.
At one point, Mari is explicitly asked, “Do you think this is elementary school games?” She has no answer. It’s a shame that we think of the kind of uncomplicated love and acceptance that Yolanda and Mari share as an elementary school game, which we’re expected to put aside when we grow up. To my mind, that’s the kind of thing we should hold onto at all costs.
Mosquita y Mari screens Saturday, Oct. 20 at the UWM Union Theatre as part of the Milwaukee LGBT Film/Video Festival, running through Sunday. Tickets are $9, $7 for students/seniors/UWM community members. For more information on this or other films, visit the festival’s website, or check out TCD’s interview with festival director Carl Bogner.