Pals Saúl and Jerónimo are excited to go to the soccer game that all of Mexico is talking about, El Clásico. But their complicated journey to the Aztec Stadium will test their friendship and will forever change young Jeró. Director Joel Vázquez Cárdenas subtly explores Mexican society through an unusual friendship and its existence within CDMX.
Despite the specifics of the friendship and the location, there is an undeniable universality to the story of El Clásico, and Cárdenas makes sure that the audience is truly involved in this coming of age narrative and is given enough emotional room to process it, alongside Jerónimo. When we asked the director what made him gravitate towards this story for his Columbia graduation film, he shared with us that he was consumed by the desire to go home to Mexico. Dwelling on the pull of his homeland, he used this as inspiration and decided to make Mexico City not just the canvas of the film, but give it an actual role in the story.
Co-written with producer Andrés Fernández and Mauricio Rivera Hoffman, the narrative is not only compelling but also immersive. Transporting us to the streets of CDMX, from Jeró’s house to Saúl’s barrio, both the cinematography and the sound design work to bring the city to life on screen. It is however the unlikely friendship between the two main characters that makes Cárdenas’ film touching. While Saúl is old enough to be Jeró’s father and is his driver, the connection between the two feels genuine, with soccer a major contributor to what binds them.
With the city cast as the antagonist of the piece, as it’s those external forces that act against the pair, at first the film feels like a race against the clock, with lots of twists and turns. However, halfway through the 19-minute short a tonal shift occurs and the film reveals its nuances, depth and complexity. The fact that the first half is so gripping working to amplify the emotional power of what follows it.
The chemistry between the two lead actors, Camilo Inda Suarez and Fermín Martínez, is a beautiful thing, but it’s the younger of the two actors who really helps land the impact of the narrative. As the camera stays with Jerónimo as he dwells on the events of the afternoon and comes to understand the consequences of his actions, his performance truly nails the emotional roller coaster of his character and he really does have a magnetic on-screen presence. With very few words, you really feel his character’s emotional journey and by the end of their ill-fated journey to the stadium, Jerónimo feels like something has changed within him. He’s grown up.
Ahead of its online premiere with Short of the Week, El Clásico made its way around the festival circuit with notable stops at Morelia and the Palm Springs ShortFest, where it was awarded Best US Student Short in 2021. Cárdenas is currently developing his first feature “a sci-fi mystery called Rebecca”, and editing a new short Estrella, also shot in Mexico.