BY GARY M. KRAMER | The title characters of “Mosquita Y Mari” are 15 year-old neighbors in the Huntington Park section of Los Angeles. These high school sophomores meet when Mari (Venecia Troncoso), a new girl in school, has to share a geometry book with Yolanda (Fenessa Pineda).
“You look like a little fly,” Mari tells Yolanda, and nicknames her Mosquita. And so begins an intimate and intense friendship between the bookish Yolanda and bad girl Mari, who smokes pot in the school bathroom. The film chronicles the influence the teens have on the other and how their friendship masks a deeper desire.
“Mosquita Y Mari” does have lesbian overtones, but despite their mutual infatuation, the girls explore their growing attraction only briefly in a scene late in the film in which they lie together on a couch. The next day, Yolanda tries to address what happened only to be met with Mari’s shrug and a change of subject. But the lack of any explicit sexuality does not make writer/director Aurora Guerrero’s film any less interesting or absorbing. Watching these two young girls grapple with their feelings is compelling.
Guerrero brings an authenticity to her characters and their location that informs the film’s drama.
In Yolanda’s storyline, her parents insist she get good grades, which she does until Mari enters her life and she is too distracted for schoolwork. Yolanda’s parents want her to go to college and they emphasize this at every opportunity. In contrast, Mari would rather get a GED than go to school. Her concern is helping her single mother pay the past due bills.
Despite, or because of, their respective family pressures, the girls conspire to spend time together. Yolanda uses the excuse she is helping Mari study to go hang out with her neighbor. Mari, who has taken a job distributing flyers, skips work and meets up with Yolanda. They go to an abandoned warehouse to while away the afternoons when not playing video games at a nearby arcade. It’s engaging to watch the girls bond over music, ride a bicycle together, or sit in a Mercedes, singing.
Music in particular drives the film, and some of the most touching moments in “Mosquita Y Mari” feature Yolanda dancing. In one particularly telling scene, Yolanda’s mother catches her daughter dancing while wearing her husband’s cowboy hat. But rather than fight, Yolanda and her mother dance together until Yolanda tries to raise a question about her parents’ relationship. Her mother tells her not to worry about the “life stuff” and concentrate on her schoolwork. It stifles any chance of Yolanda understanding some of the desires she’s feeling.
The other dancing scene involves Yolanda and Mari. Their rhythmic closeness reveals the special bond these two teens share. It’s a beautiful scene that shows their connection and sexual tension without making it overt.
“Mosquita Y Mari” is subtle — almost to the point where little of narrative consequence happens. The film builds its drama as minor conflicts develop between the title characters. When Mari gets her job, Yolanda feels slighted. Mari experiences jealousy because Yolanda is determined to go to college. The issues do not remain issues very long. Other situations arise to challenge the characters in the last act, when Mari needs to raise money and the students have a final exam.
If the characters handle the situations about school and money in a contrived manner, Guerrero maintains a sure hand. She lets viewers bask in the texture of the characters’ lives. From Mari’s efforts to find work in various shops in Huntington Park, to the local bodega owner, Don Pedro, who dispenses gossip to both Mari and Yolanda’s parents, the film is realistic with a wonderful atmosphere. Guerrero’s arty touches, such as filming the characters in slow motion or playing with music, sound, and editing to enhance a dimension of a scene, are welcome storytelling devices.
The filmmaker is also blessed with fantastic, natural performances from her two leads. As Mari, the tall, slender beauty, Troncoso is adept at showing how her character’s mood changes whenever she is with Yolanda. But Pineda gives the more accomplished performance as an assured young woman who becomes empowered as she is enamored of her best friend. A scene late in the film where Yolanda sheds a tear is incredibly moving.
“Mosquita Y Mari” may feel slight — the film goes for small emotional moments, as when Yolanda puts colored highlights in her hair — but it yields a solid payoff.
MOSQUITA Y MARI | Directed by Aurora Guerrero |Distributed by The Film Collaborative | Spanish & English | Opening August 3 at the Cinema Village | 22 E. 12th Street | cinemavillage.com