*This review was originally published at The Film Experience as part of the coverage of the 66th Berlinale.
Rafi Pitts’s first film made outside of his native Iran tells the story of Nero Maldonado (Johnny Ortiz), a young Mexican boy who dreams of following his older brother’s footsteps across the northern border to obtain American citizenship. He illegally crosses the metal fences that separate the two countries and arrives in LA, at an opulent mansion where his brother ostensibly lives. Nero’s shortest path to obtaining an American green card is serving in the military under the controversial “Dream Act”, but the system is a lot more complex than it appears at first.
Co-written with influential Romanian screenwriter, Răzvan Rădulescu (Child’s Pose, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu), Soy Nero is divided into two halves that differ drastically in setting – the affluent, suburban neighborhoods of Los Angeles and the brutal, barren vistas of battlegrounds in the Middle East. It is in part a satirical take on the illusion of American superiority and exceptionalism, and partially a challenging drama about the difficulties of immigration and the ruthlessness of war. Along the way, Nero meets a strange cast of characters – from a conspiracy theorist Seymour (Michael Harney) to two soldiers who argue about East Coast-West Coast Hip-Hop. Though Soy Nero’s approach to the story is generally absurdist, the consistent tonal shifts and the sparse plotting undermine the audience’s engagement.
This is an interesting addition in the resume of a filmmaker who’s made a career out of stories about desperate heroes fighting against all socio-political odds, but the film never quite settles into rhythm. Particularly problematic is the mismatched tone of the performances who are not equally attuned to the film’s satire. Soy Nero tells a compelling and politically charged story and, like Pitts’s previous film, The Hunter, is visually stunning, but suffers from inconsistent pacing and blunt exposition of its themes.