Deficit drops you directly into a day in the life of an upper-class, college-aged brat in a posh suburban neighborhood outside of Mexico City. Gael Garcia Bernal directs, as well as stars as the main character, Cristobal, and as the film opens we see him driving over rundown streets with a friend, a quizzical expression on his face, giving off the vibe that we're about to enter some kind of crime drama. In a way, we are -- there are hints and accusations peppered throughout that perhaps Cristobal's father is some kind of drug lord, but Bernal isn't interested in bringing these things to the forefront. Instead, he confines any possible backstory to the whispers of the servants, who are both frightened of their employers and in awe of them. One of them, Anan, a dark-skinned Mexican of Indian descent played by Tenoch Huerta Mejia, is propped up as something of a rival to Cristobal even though they are worlds apart. He endures racist snickering and even slurs by the houseguests and zeroes in on one upper-class girl who has captured his attention.

While Anan is pining away and seething at his own poverty, Cristobal is suffering from a more lightweight concern -- his girlfriend, Mafer (Ana Serradilla) is on her way to the pool party, but has gotten lost and needs precise directions in order to get there. The problem is that Cristobal has met someone else at the party, Dolores (Luz Cipriota) and doesn't want Mafer showing up at all. There's a lot of comedy in this film, mixed in and surrounding the overall class tensions and underlying current of criminality, and it's to the credit of Bernal that it all meshes together so well. When dramatic events present themselves, such as Cristobal's receiving a rejection letter from Harvard in the mail, the film doesn't linger on them or turn them into grist for a debate or an argument, it simply acknowledges and moves on. As I watched Deficit at a recent screening, I noticed the audience members paying very close attention, undoubtedly because they had no idea where this film was going but were intrigued by the possibilities.


As Cristobal, Bernal never overplays his hand by trying too hard and refrains from flexing his dramatic acting muscles when it's unnecessary. Rich kids like Cristobal, who we've all known, much prefer to play it cool and be everyone's friend so that everyone will like them, but that genial, generous attitude can change on a dime if they feel they aren't being treated fairly or showed proper respect. There's a scene late in Deficit where the ugly side of Cristobal's personality comes to the surface briefly, and you get to see the entitled brat lurking underneath the jovial host. That's a Cristobal who has little patience even for his fellow rich brat friends, let alone a disobedient servant. The brewing confrontation between Cristobal and Anan is undoubtedly meant to have more resonance to those who have a deep understanding of the class and racial divisions of , but it's universally accessible. These two guys aren't friends and never could be, yet they exist side by side, in the same privileged world, for the time being.

If there's one area where the film perhaps falters just a little bit, it's in short-changing the female characters, who mostly exist as prizes that the men are competing for. Cipriota plays the potential new girlfriend Dolores as she's written -- a naïve, spoiled female version of Cristobal -- but it might have been more intriguing if there were time for the camera to follow her own thread throughout the story instead of focusing most of its energies on the psychological tensions between Cristobal and Anan. In fact, I'd be interested in seeing a sequel that simply follows other characters at the party -- there are undoubtedly endless stories going on here, and not enough time to get to them all. Deficit begins with the premise that anything could happen today, and then proceeds to show us a day that unfolds like most days in general: a lot of potential, a minor disappointment and a minor victory, an escalation of tension on one level, a reduction of tension on another front, and hopefully, a modicum of peace and quiet when the day is over.


A public TIFF screening of Deficit will be held Friday, September 14th at 12:15pm.