The world of Mosquita y Mari is rich in color and emotional depth. Set in the transitional neighborhoods of Southeast Los Angeles, Aurora Guerrero’s coming-of-age tale explores how traditional ideas of family and duty intersect with the ever-changing world of two Chicana teens. Screened at a handful of film festivals in 2012, the film is now available on DVD and on demand.
Yolanda (Fenessa Pineda) is a straight-A student who is dedicated to her mother and father. When she meets new student Mari (Venecia Troncoso) at school, Yolanda is immediately drawn to the tough and troubled girl. Though Mari dismisses Yolanda’s initial attempts to help her and nicknames her Mosquita, she eventually acknowledges that she needs tutoring for math. Weaving through the streets of L.A. together, the two become friends and begin to spend more and more time together.
A neglected garage in their neighborhood becomes a hangout for the two girls, who quickly realize that their attraction to one another goes beyond friendship. Guerrero deals with issues of sexuality and cultural prohibitions with a great deal of sensitivity, allowing Mari and Mosquita to explore their feelings without making themselves into a spectacle designed only to please the viewer. Handling sensuality in such an understated fashion works very well, making it an above-average coming-of-age film.
It’s easy to predict that the girls’ increasing infatuation with each other will lead to problems at home and school. As Mosquita’s grades fall, her parents worry that she’s spending too much time helping her friend Mari. When Mari’s mom struggles to pay the rent, she implores her daughter to stop worrying about school and get a job. We watch the two girls grapple with balancing their familial and personal obligations, which makes them endearing even when we know that they’ve made the wrong decision.
Much of the credit for how we perceive the two lead characters is due to Pineda and Troncoso, who play their roles with precision and passion. Pineda’s Yolanda is an honor student, proud of her accomplishments and focused on her future. Troncoso’s bad-girl Mari is every bit the overly sensitive, hot-tempered teen struggling to understand her place in a weary-looking world. As a duo, the two actresses are utterly believable. Their friendship reads as authentic and their intense feelings for one another are just apparent enough that we worry for them.
As Mosquita y Mari progresses towards its end, the two girls must decide whether or not they can balance their intense, new feelings with pressing obligations. Mosquita begins to see that being an honor student is about more than just pleasing her parents; it’s also about securing a better future. For her part, Mari is reminded that it is fulfilling her obligations that keeps her alive, not following her emotions. It’s hard to watch the friends as they try to adjust their lives to accommodate their new feelings. Though worries about prejudice aren’t vocalized in the movie, the atmosphere that Guerrero has created makes it apparent that the pair are stepping into socially dangerous territory.
The film’s ending unfolds slowly as the girls begin to realize the consequences of their decisions. Guerrero holds back nothing as she reveals the realities of the world in which Mosquita and Mari live. In one of the movie’s final scenes, we see Mosquita staring at downtown L.A. from atop a building in her neighborhood. The distance between that glittering metropolitan center and the barrio where the girls live seems to increase as we consider what it represents for Mosquita y Mari.
A world of emotions and traditions is created in Guerrero’s first feature-length film. Though the movie does adopt the intimate, good girl meets bad girl pattern of many lesbian coming-of-age films, it manages to do so in a way that is directly relevant to the world in which the characters live. It’s truly refreshing to see a queer tale set in the world of Chicana teens, which has not received enough attention in mainstream cinema.
Bonus features on the Mosquita y Mari disc include the original theatrical trailer and a behind the scenes featurette. The feauturette is more of an ethnographic look at how Guerrero ran her set and highlights many young interns who worked on the film. It’s a fitting feature given the director’s obvious admiration for poet and playwright Cherríe Moraga and other progressive Latina thinkers. Unfortunately, the two special features don’t seem like quite enough on a disc that begs for a neighborhood and culture-centric piece.