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film Mexico Museum Theft

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Ruizpalacios' Museo competes for Golden Bear with museum robbery drama

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Still from the film, Museo (Museum) directed by Alonso Ruizpalacios with Simon Russell Beale (L) Gael Garcial Bernal (C) Leonardo Ortizgris (R) © Alejandra Carvajal

Director Alonso Ruizpalacio's second feature, Museo, whose English title is Museum, is based on a real-life museum heist of 140 or so objects in Mexico in 1985. Set in and around Mexico City, Palanque and Acapulco, the movie is competing for the Golden Bear and Silver Bears at the Berlinale Film Festival. The awards will be announced on Saturday evening in the German capital.


Museo hovers between utter reverence towards the country's ancient artefacts, and nonchalant acceptance of them being a part of Mexican identity.

The theft of ancient works from a national museum is serious stuff. Ruizpalacio and his leads, Gael Garcia Bernal as Juan, and Leonardo Ortizgris as Benjamin Wilson, play two rather lazy veterinary students who form charming, funny anti-hero type partners-in-crime, and friends for life.

"I am always moved by stories of friendship that endure. It's the central story that we found in this real story."

The unusual yet ordinary duo are endearing and funny.

Ruizpalacios' script doesn't spare Bernal's character for being short even once.

"One of the reasons I chose Bernal, apart from the fact he's an old friend and was the only actor for the role, it because he's short, like me." The joke continues to run off-screen.

The scenes in Juan's volatile family at Christmas time are funny. The brief glimpses into Benjamin's relationship with his dying father, sad, and he is torn between filial love and duty and friendship.

Rebels without a cause

Both the director and Bernal refuse to get drawn into suggesting what motivated the theft, but one suggestion the director proposes is that Juan has a 'Napoleon' complex.

Bernal for his part explains that they fall victim to their pathos which always points them the wrong way.

"There are many explanations as to why they did what they did. Not the reasons. One could be they thought they would not be caught. Which opens up the Pandora's Box of impunity," he said.

The real-life families didn't want to be involved so that also lent the Museo crew scope.

Ruizpalacios is a young director, and was a small child in 1985, but says Mexicans need to remind themselves where they come from, "especially" he says "today in Mexican society which is so fractured."

In a little-big role in the film, British actor Simon Russell Beale, is masterly as Frank Graves, the veteran art collector who throws out the two rookie dealers after their subtly comic attempt to convince him they and the objects are the real thing.

One of the highlight moments apart from the Mayan remains at Palanque has to be Graves testing the authenticity of the Mayan jade mask by giving it a lick.

Watching him, the two boys sit indignantly on the edge of the luxury sofa, in yet another moment of gentle suspense in this dramatically understated comic-thriller.