MEXICO CITY (AP) — A construction magnate’s preppy son is forced to drive one of Mexico City’s battered green buses, while his spoiled sister waits tables at a cantina in a miniskirt and non-designer shoes. Their credit cards have been canceled, their BMWs and mansion seized.
The Mexican riches-to-rags movie, “We are the Nobles” has opened to packed theaters in a country with one of the world’s widest income gaps — and a love for laughing at misfortune. More than 1 million people showed up in the first week to see the story of an impresario who fakes a government raid on his riches to teach his children the value of work.
Only a Hollywood blockbuster featuring Bruce Willis and DreamWorks’ latest 3D animation beat it at the box office last weekend, the second-biggest opening for a domestic film here in more than 10 years.
“Latin America is a region where middle class is very small,” said writer and director Gary “Gaz”Alazraki. “So I thought if you want to capture the mood of the public with cinema, that’s the first place to look, the contrast between rich and poor.”
In the movie, patriarch German Noble’s eldest son spends his days at daddy’s company dreaming up big ideas, such as mixing the world’s largest rum and Coke in Mexico City’s storied Aztec Stadium. His daughter is engaged to a failed businessman and aspires to open a restaurant on her father’s dime. The youngest is a hipster who preaches against capitalism, even as dad pays his private college tuition — until he is expelled for sleeping with a professor.
After surviving a heart attack and getting a second chance at life, Noble decides to stage a raid on his Beverly Hills-like home.
“Can someone please explain why they are confiscating all our stuff, as if we were in Venezuela?” the agitated daughter, Barbie, demands to know in the Mexican equivalent of Valley speak.
“They discovered fraud,” German Noble tells her.
“Jesus Christ,” she answers in English.
People like the fictitious Nobles appear on any ritzy corner of the city, where Mexico’s carefully coiffed, wearing the highest fashions, can be seen stepping from the running boards of their enormous SUVs, their bodyguards lurking outside as they go for a workout or pedicure. They have been to the best schools in the world and the finest malls in Texas, but never to one of the city’s ubiquitous, crowded marketplaces or a street-food stand.
“I haven’t seen the archetypes of urban Mexico portrayed on the big screen so well in a long time,” said Oscar de los Reyes, an expert on cinema and society at the Technological Institute of Monterrey.
It’s not surprising that the social contrast is playing big in the cinema. In Mexico, 10 percent of the people held nearly 40 percent of the wealth in 2010, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America. The world’s richest man, Carlos Slim, holds more than 6 percent himself. While Americans look up to the rich, believing they too could be among them one day, the dream is mostly unattainable in Mexico, where upward mobility is smaller and slower.
Videos and tweets displaying the arrogance of Mexico’s privileged class periodically go viral.
One video, recorded by a passer-by, shows two rich girls, dubbed “the Ladies of Polanco” after one of Mexico City’s most exclusive neighborhoods, shoving, slapping and insulting a traffic cop who pulled them over suspecting they were drunk. In another clip drawn from surveillance cameras a man in an affluent suburb beats up the valet of his luxurious apartment building for not providing a jack to replace a flat tire on his Porsche.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto’s daughter reacted to people who laughed at one of her father’s campaign gaffes by tweeting that they were “a bunch of idiots who form part of the proletariat and only criticize those they envy,” causing a national uproar. The tweet disappeared and Pena Nieto apologized.
Alazraki said he was trying to capture the behavior behind Paulina Pena’s tweet in his film, whose hashtag is (hash)WelcomeToTheProle.
He acknowledges he comes from the very society he is lampooning. His father, Carlos Alazraki, is an influential advertising businessman behind several presidential campaigns and publicity for Slim’s restaurants and phone company. When he was younger, Alazraki has said in interviews, all he cared about was having the prettiest girlfriend and going to the hottest club. After attending film school at the University of Southern California, he now pities people who stay inside the bubble of Mexico’s rich.
“It’s very interesting to see our characters transform,” said Luis Gerardo Mendez, who plays eldest son Javi Noble. “You get to see on one side how this group of people spends so much money, and on the other end, the everyday jobs people have to do to survive. People who think there is no racism here, there is. It is called classism.”
The script was inspired by the 1949 film “The Great Madcap” by surrealist Luis Bunuel, in which a rich man wasting his money and life is fooled into thinking he lost his fortune. It leads his family members to take low-paying jobs as seamstresses, shoe shiners and carpenters.
The three Noble offspring end up working as a bus driver, a waitress and a bank teller.
“What is your biggest problem?” Javi asks a fellow bus driver.
“There is this chick from my town who says that her child is mine and she wants me to send her money. But she can’t prove it. So, until I send her money, she will send her cousins with sticks and machetes…”
“For that, you need bodyguards,” Javi tells him.
Barbie, meanwhile, ends up falling for her nanny’s nephew, a youth she once teased for being poor.
When he tells her that he used money her father loaned him to open a stand selling pirated CDs, she scolds him: “Did you know that drug traffickers run those informal CD shops … Seriously, you are only fostering crime in this country.”
He becomes enraged.
“The criminals are your little friends,” he says. “Don’t tell me you don’t know about the two friends who were at your most recent party. The politician’s sons. Haven’t you seen the videos? Everyone did. If you are really worried about your country, don’t feed them, don’t invite them to your parties, don’t get on their yachts.”
Moviegoers said they find a lot of reality in the humor. Arturo Lopez, who works in construction, said he has friends like the Nobles.
“Here, your social status depends completely on what you have,” he said at an exclusive movie theater in high-end Polanco. “It’s really ugly, but there are many people like that.”
Maria Larios, a nurse, paid a third of the luxury theater’s ticket price to see the same film in the middle-class neighborhood of Santa Maria La Ribera.
“This is real,” Larios said. “There are people who are very picky and stuck-up. When the roles are reversed, it changes them, brings them down to earth.”