Film Forum

García Bernal plays it young, fun, and serious

Gael García Bernal plays fictional ad man Rene Saavedra in the Chilean drama NO, just one in a long line of the Mexican actor’s starring roles. (Via Sony Pictures Classics)


By Jefferson Beavers

On May 10, Filmworks screens the Chilean political drama NO, starring Gael García Bernal as a brash, young ad man who creates an advertising campaign to bring down Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. A veteran of the big screen at age 34, the Mexican-born actor is no stranger to playing brash, young characters.

In a recent post on our Facebook page, Filmworks fans declared their favorite García Bernal movies. Their many great picks included:

  • Y tu mamá también – The 2001 coming-of-age romantic drama where García Bernal plays one of two teenage boys who take a road trip through the Mexican countryside with an older woman;

  • The Motorcycle Diaries – The 2004 biopic of Ernesto “Che” Guevarra where García Bernal portrays the early evolution of Che as he roams South America on his way to becoming a revolutionary;

  • Rudo y Cursi – The 2008 Mexican comedy (literal translation: “Rude and Tacky”) where García Bernal gives in to consumer culture after an overnight rise to national fame as a soccer hero.

One of García Bernal’s earliest roles was in Sin noticias de Dios, a 2001 dramatic comedy from Spanish director Agustín Díaz Yanes. While most American critics got to know García Bernal through Amores Perros and Y tu mamá también, in this picture he played the campy, evil “manager” of the devil (played by Penélope Cruz).

His best line? When a consultant suggests that it might be a good idea to install air conditioning in the office, García Bernal, as the arbiter of all things evil, responds: “Let me remind you that we are in hell. We’d be making fools of ourselves.”

In February 2005, Filmworks featured García Bernal in the gender-bending murder mystery Bad Education, directed by Spanish filmmaking auteur Pedro Almodóvar. To this day, the film is still one of the best-attended Filmworks screenings ever.

The film’s explicit handling of a boyhood love affair, transsexuality, and sex abuse secrets among Catholic priests initially earned it an NC-17 rating. But García Bernal’s meticulous study for the role of Ignacio/Zahara yielded perhaps his most heartbreaking performance.

In one of García Bernal’s most quirky roles, he plays a man entranced by his dreams in The Science of Sleep. French director Michel Gondry – the filmmaking inspiration for Fresno’s own do-it-yourself film festival, the Swede Fest – writes and directs this 2006 dramatic fantasy.

Immersed in Gondry’s stylized world of science-fiction feelings and cardboard imagination, García Bernal is charming and cute as Stephane, the boy next door who is lovestruck with Stephanie, the equally charming and cute girl next door (played by Charlotte Gainsbourg). One amazing moment: García Bernal plays the drummer in a band of “cat people” singing a Velvet Underground cover.

This month, with NO, García Bernal now adds another great role to his impressive résumé.

Jefferson Beavers serves on the Fresno Filmworks board. Based in Fresno, he works as a freelance journalist.

Every second Friday of the month, Fresno Filmworks screens first-run independent and international movies at the historic Tower Theatre.