I'm Gonna Explode (Voy a Explotar), Gerardo Naranjo, 106 mins, (15)

This Mexican 'Badlands' is a joy, until the bloody ending leaves a sour taste

Roman (Juan Pablo de Santiago) is a problem Mexican teenager. You can tell by little giveaway moments.

He keeps a diary minutely itemising the sequence of events on the day he will blow the brains out of the priests at his high school. He contributes to the school drama evening a sketch called "See you in Hell" in which he hangs himself on stage. He has to pay an associate to pretend to be his friend. His father, a corrupt bigshot politician, has absconded with his foxy secretary, and Roman has been raised by a hirsute, intellectual friend of the family, leaving him simultaneously feckless, foul-mouthed and desperate for love.

Maru Hernandez (Maria Deschamps) is also a piece of work, a 15-year-old contrarian, who spends nights sleeping in a van with someone she can't stand, drinks whisky, hates her mother (whose husband has left home) and keeps a running commentary in her head that's aching with romance. When they meet, Roman persuades Maru to get herself expelled from school and go with him in search of a big adventure.

Gerardo Naranjo's third feature comes with an incalculably cool endorsement: among its many executive producers are Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna, the real-life childhood best buddies who played the teenage best buddies Julio and Tenoch on a road trip with a 20-something woman in Y Tu Mama Tambien, a landmark in Mexican cinema. When you learn that Naranjo was himself a teenage rebel in his native Salamanca, and that he founded a cinema club at a university named after Zéro de Conduite, Jean Vigo's small masterpiece of schoolboy rebellion, it's not surprising to find his film is about youngsters on the lam. What's unusual is the way the film avoids many clichés of the Misunderstood Kids genre.

The naive voiceover was all-but-patented by Terrence Mallick in Badlands, in which Sissy Spacek confided her belief that her psychopath co-fugitive boyfriend (Martin Sheen) was just a highly strung romantic. The desperate couple legging it from the big city brings Godard's Pierrot le Fou to mind. But Roman and Maru don't go in for extremes. They don't go anywhere. When technically on the run, they set up home on the roof terrace of Roman's parents, in order to spy on the bourgeois hysteria their actions have generated. They break in and steal home comforts, while the elder generation sleeps off their tequila. One kid hides behind the family sofa as the parents watch a documentary about kidnapped children. There's a nice contrast between the strained conversation of both sets of parents as they discuss the plight of their offspring (murkily filmed on videocam) and the joy of freedom on the roof (filmed in sunlit colour) as the teens drink wine, barbecue food and fumble towards having sex. They don't seem like crazy rebels, more like embracers of an alternative lifestyle.

Also, they don't rob and kill people. Unlike most kids-on-the-run movies, from A bout de souffle to Bonnie and Clyde, Roman and Maru don't slaughter strangers or waste cops. They merely explore each other. But when, late in the film, they acquire a gun, you know one of them has had it. Especially after a lush little slo-mo episode when Maru intones her belief that life is about discovering "something to fight for, something to live for ... a twin ... a perfect accomplice" – words heavy with irony and freighted with doom.

Naranjo's direction impresses most in the first reel, when he captures the chaos of Roman's mind through split-second intercutting. The convergence of the young leads is nicely handled too, as they lie around on a diving board and she asks, "What do you see me as? As a girl, or as me?" The feeling that they are each other's constructed love object is ever-present: there's always someone writing a journal, acting on stage, seeing the world through a lens. "Like a story we used to make up, a boy appeared," breathes Maru on first seeing Roman, "and everything changed."

The climax sees the runaway pair actually running at last, attending a birthday party, acquiring a dog and wondering about fleeing to Mexico City. Maru wears a grown-up white frock and looks like a bride, while Roman embraces the grown-up world by getting drunk and aggressive. The scenes that show this game-but-dysfunctional little family emerging into adulthood are genuinely moving. The blood-drenched ending may leave you with a sour taste in the mouth, but you'll remember the performances with pleasure – darkly handsome Juan Pablo de Santiago is a fine aspirant tough guy and hopeless lover, and Maria Deschamps is a knockout as Maru, her sparkling brown eyes radiating independence, intelligence and desperate need. I'm Gonna Explode never quite explodes but it sets up a potent, sometimes funny, opposition between domestic complacency and youthful rejection, and a slow-burning love story that draws you in. It establishes Gerardo Naranjo right up there with Alfonso Cuaron as a jalapeño-sharp master of Mexican realismo.

Tips for 2010

By Jonathan Romney

I am love: The renaissance in Italian cinema has given us Gomorrah and Il Divo. Now it steams into stranger waters with this magnificent melodrama by Luca Guadagnino. It's the story of a wealthy Milanese dynasty and a woman (Tilda Swinton) who has married into it – and who finds that passion may be her way out of it. Opulent and austere, I Am Love is a bravura piece with echoes of Visconti and Antonioni.

Shutter Island: Martin Scorsese's delayed retro-thriller stars the newly jowly Leonardo DiCaprio as a cop investigating a murder in a secluded mental hospital. It's based on a Dennis Lehane novel and looks labyrinthine and very gothic.

Dogtooth: An intensely strange film by Greek director Giorgos Lanthimos and a must for fans of the unhappy-families films of Michael Haneke. Three grown-up siblings have lived their lives locked into their home by their parents, apparently as part of a bizarre language experiment. Surreal and disturbingly erotic, a black comedy in the Buñuel vein.

Face to Watch:

French actress Sylvie Testud is one of the best-kept secrets of European cinema, who had her first moment of glory as a working-class housewife in the Dunkirk-set drama Karnaval (1999). She's since turned up in Piaf-biopic La Vie en Rose and starred in a 2008 biopic of Françoise Sagan. So why Testud in 2010? Because of her lead role in Jessica Hausner's stylishly unsettling drama Lourdes, in which Testud gives a superb performance from the less-is-more school.

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tv 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there