On its surface, Gerardo Naranjo's I'm Gonna Explode (Voy a Explotar) shares quite a bit with fellow NYFF selection Afterschool in that both are contemporary youth-in-crisis films from directors who are overt in their nods to other filmmakers. Yet the similarities end there. For whereas Afterschool is little more than a clinical exercise in Hanekeian style, clichéd ideas, and painfully empty platitudes, I'm Gonna Explode is a lush cinematic ode to romance and (empty) rebellion that flies its Nouvelle Vague flag proudly.
When we first meet Roman (Juan Pablo de Santiago), the privileged teenage son of a wealthy right-wing politician, he's busy plotting the deaths of the priests at his school, and faking his own at a talent show -- acts that he hopes will draw the attention of his mostly-absent father. Maru (Maria Deschamps), for whom life is elsewhere, buries herself in the imagined world of her diary. Witnessing Roman's faux-suicide, she's convinced she's found what's been missing from her life, and the pair soon decides to run away from the cruel world that just doesn't get them. Rebels without a cause, the two escape only as far as the roof of Roman's house, where they're never too far from the material goods and comfort that they're supposedly fleeing from.
Laughing at the ineptitude of the adults who are unable to locate them, the young couple in their makeshift (though extremely safe) hideaway has ample time to learn more about each other. Having both been outsiders, this sudden confrontation with an opposite-gendered Doppelganger is both fascinating and frightening, and, being teens, it's only natural that unbridled emotions and sexuality enter the picture. Realizing the emptiness of their rebellion, and caught up in the existential romance of both the moment and their (inaccurate) idea of freedom, the lovers court provocation, embarking on a journey that can only prove fatal.
Naranjo makes no effort at hiding the film's debt to Pierrot le Fou, going so far as to include several Georges Delarue cues. Yet unlike Afterschool, which does little more than replicate devices or stylistic choices from Haneke or Van Sant, I'm Gonna Explode is infused with the spirit of Godard's masterpiece, something few filmmakers achieve when paying homage to the Nouvelle Vague. Though Roman and Maru don't trade in political barbs as in Pierrot, the playful recklessness, a staple of several of Godard's early films, is ever present.
Some critics have complained that the film is meaningless, and that Naranjo has nothing to say about the privileged class that the kids are a part of -- a spurious charge at best. Naranjo maintains a healthy distance from his characters (something Campos failed to do in Afterschool), but refuses to sit in judgment of them or take them too seriously (which ultimately is Afterschool's greatest offense.) That the kids have nothing genuine to rebel against is precisely the point, and Naranjo's approach, both from a narrative and filmmaking perspective, reflects that youthful folly. There are no "this is how we live" moments, nor does the film aspire to make any sort of statement about today's youth culture. Posturing as a romantic dreamer is all well and good, but being young and in love isn't enough to save the day. The film's tragic conclusion shouldn't come as a surprise, and their status as young, privileged, empty rebels is no match for the real world, which they run head-on into with reckless abandon.
More than any other film in recent memory, I'm Gonna Explode beautifully captures, without over-romanticizing, that exact period of adolescence that teeters between childhood and young-adulthood -- myopic worldview, inflated emotions, and that magic feeling that comes when finding that special someone who you believe truly understands you. It's a film that never tries to hide its influences, yet not for one moment feels derivative. Sadly, that's an all-too-rare accomplishment these days among young filmmakers.