'Bleak Street' is a grim but empathetic look at Mexico City's demimonde

Veteran Mexican filmmaker Arturo Ripstein and screenwriter Paz Alicia Garcíadiego turn a bizarre true-crime story into an arty portrait of decadence and despair in the aptly named “Bleak Street.” The grubby melodrama should appeal to adventurous moviegoers — and to the director’s small-but-fervent cult — but even that crowd should brace themselves for something slow-paced and opaque.

Nora Velázquez and Patricia Reyes Spíndola play aging, luckless Mexico City prostitutes who plan to poison and pick the pockets of two of their regular clients: a pair of diminutive masked wrestlers (Juan Francisco Longoria and Guillermo López). When they misjudge the dose, they argue over what they need to do next to stay out of jail.

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It takes about an hour for “Bleak Street” to get around to the plot, and even then the movie doesn’t exactly intensify. Ripstein’s more interested in sending Alejandro Cantú’s camera roaming through dingy homes and shadowy streets, capturing all the squalor in beautifully lit black-and-white.

The film is dominated by female characters, and it riffs a little on gender roles in the demimonde. But any heavier themes are mostly incidental. “Bleak Street” is more an assemblage of striking images and elliptical blackout sketches than a hard-hitting social commentary.

Mainly, Ripstein wants the audience to feel the fatalism in their bones. Even at its grimmest, “Bleak Street” is always empathetic, and even oddly poignant — accent on the “oddly.”


'Bleak Street'

In Spanish with English subtitles

No rating

Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes.

Playing: Landmark NuArt, West Los Angeles

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