It is only fitting to include this hyper neo-western on my viewing docket for the month, because, after all it is a complete embracing and rejection of the traditional western that preoccupies itself with white, male issues and often passively incorporates Mexican characters as a means to create narrative cohesion, usually in an exploitative manner, reflect on my recent discussion of Rio Bravo for an example. While the character of Carlos is certainly not out-and-out exploitative, one cannot help but question his relevance to a plot aside from filling a narrative gap. What one is provided with in Desperado is a complete and highly visceral consideration of the experiences of, next to Native American persons, the most othered bodies within the traditional western, the Mexican/South American identity. Robert Rodriguez's pseudo-sequel to El Mariachi (A film I absolutely adore) Desperado is in some ways better than its predecessor, while also lacking a considerable amount of its gritty low-budget honesty. Robert Rodriguez, much like his filmic compatriot, Quentin Tarantino creates films that are so heavily invested in multiple genres and references as to almost not be any specific style, yet the nature of Desperado is, if anything, wholly a western that also happens to be a film about the drug trade. Desperado stands as an excellent reminder that Tarantino, while a rebel and provacateur of a filmmaker, does not exist on a spectrum all his own, and very much exists in the same world as Rodriguez. In fact, I know this will seem sacrilege to fans of this style of film, but in many years in which the two have released films in the same relative space, I would contest that Rodriguez has offered the better product. Rodriguez, unlike Tarantino, manages to continually surprise, such was the case with Machete, a film I dismissed only to find it absolutely engaging and appropriately excessive. Desperado is a cinematic fiesta that is tightly paced, while being slow and introspective when necessary, borrowing from a melodramatic tradition integral to Spanish cinema, while also embracing the b-movie world where Rodriguez clearly learned his film language. Many genres formulate, instersect and explode on the screen in one of the globe's most criminally underrated auteurs work. I would call Desperado a minor Rodriguez film, but even that makes it stand far above its counterparts.
Desperado preemptively follows the character of El Mariachi (Antonio Banderas), I say preemptively because he is introduced through a tale told by barfly and "brother" of El Mariachi Buscemi (Steve Buscemi) who informs a local bar, that is a knowing front for corruption and drug trafficking about his presence and killing at another bar, particularly his unusual means for carrying weapons via a guitar case. El Mariachi is introduced within the context of a performance, one that is excellent, but goes unappreciated by the mostly white patrons. As a result, El Mariachi goes on a quest to end the evil reign of Bucho (Joaquim de Almeida) whose evil ways have led to a border town turning into anything but habitable. El Mariachi moves about the town, almost like a shadow, searching for Bucho and destroying all those who seem to get in his way, yet viewers are also provided a glimpse into the world of Bucho as he ruthlessly exploits everyone around him, regardle
ss of loyalty or family ties. When El Mariachi finally discovers the bar which much of the trafficking takes place it results in an intense shootout with countless deaths. During his retreat from battle El Mariachi is chased by one of Bucho's men and shot, only to be rescued and nursed back to health by bookstore owner Carolina (Salma Hayek) who sees El Mariachi as a hero her town desperately needs. After engaging in a fiery night of passion El Mariachi uses information provided by Carolina to hunt down Bucho, only to discover that he has implemented every single member of the community into his drug ring, including children and even Carolina, using a back room of her bookstore to hide drugs. Initially furious at the discovery, El Mariachi attempts to take on Bucho's men alone, a task that proves troublesome at first, especially when he is simultaneously attacked by the elusive and seemingly non-partisan Navajas (Danny Trejo). Eventually, El Mariachi gets Bucho in his scope with a chance to kill him, which leads to the realization that Bucho is his brother, causing him to hesitate in his attack, much to the anger of Carolina. After stepping over his fraternal boundary issues, El Mariachi recruits the help of his band, whose instrument cases also double as weapons, to take on Bucho's men and eventually Bucho, which is yet another bloody affair, although both El Mariachi and Carolina survive, and even if it is tumultuous the closing scenes suggest that their relationship will do the same.
Desperado, as noted in the opening paragraph, is a film that not only rejects white patriarchy and its power within the western genre, but turns it inside out, in fact, reversing the entire notion of who controls the space of the western, especially in a post-colonial world. While Rodriguez's films would certainly evolve to consider the issues of navigating a border in a post-9/11 world, Desperado does not have the same concern, because its presence right in the middle of the 90's proved to be a culturally diverse and open to exploration. Rodriguez however is not idyllic or optimistic about this sort of movement between borders, because as he sees it through the narrative of Desperado, the movement is only that of white tourists coming in and invading the cultural spaces of Mexico. Think of the particularly frustrating scene involving a few American tourists critiquing Cheech Marin's character and his methods of bartending. Granted, he is a terrible bartender, but their dismissal is based entirely on their constructions of American service industries. Similarly, Rodriguez dismisses the carefree evasive attitudes of spring break college kids who move into Mexico expecting it to instantly become a party palace for their every whim and completely void of the violence and despair present in many border cities. I know that it might seem as though such a set up would absolutely undermine the possibility for any tropes being discussed, but that is far from the case. The idea of the "stranger" is quite prevalent in the western genre, however, it usually involves a dark, mysterious individual coming into a town and while El Mariachi certainly serves as the first example of this within Desperado, he is also not the stranger, especially since he is the person with whom viewers are to share with experientially. Instead, Rodriguez has the moments of white invasion serve as a sort of example of how the stranger really exists within contemporary Mexico, especially when they double as a former colonizer. The white bodies, including Buscemi to a degree, move through the space as though it is their own, while also fearing every alley. In fact, I would say that the entire opening scene to this film sets up Rodriguez's idea of what non-Mexican bodies represent to the Mexican cultural community and, trust me, it is far from endearing.
Key Scene: The big bar shootout is action scene magic
This is a cheap film to obtain and probably less recognized than it should be. I would suggest picking up the bluray double pack paired with Rodriguez's earlier film El Mariachi.