Gonzalez Gonzalez (Harold Torres) has a doubly generic name, for good reason. He’s meant to be a solitary stand-in for the many who were crushed by debt during the global recession. And he’s also a bit of a blank. The latter characteristic isn’t all that advantageous for the movie.
Director Christian Diaz Pardo goes to great lengths to emphasize Gonzalez as a man apart. He’s often shot from behind or with his face cast in shadow. The wide-screen mise en scene allows for plenty of space between him and the other people in the frame, be they a couple kissing on the subway or the group playing soccer outside his apartment complex (when an errant ball rolls his way, he ignores it).
Torres, meanwhile, plays Gonzalez with a stubborn reticence, even once the plot kicks in. Having indulged in a flat-screen TV that he can’t pay for and constantly being harangued by creditors, Gonzalez seeks out work, any work. Eventually he takes a job at a call center for a Mexico City megachurch led by a shady televangelist (Carlos Bardem). Ostensibly there to comfort the “desperate,” Gonzalez is mostly encouraged to solicit donations.
Gonzalez might have been more interesting if there was a bit more shading to the operation of the church itself, which is clearly a scam operation, right down to the concession stand worker who “forgets” to give Gonzalez his change. The movie is far more incisive about the economic atmosphere: the way Gonzalez covers his precious TV before he leaves the apartment; the reality that the bank is garnishing his paychecks; the fact that one of the people constantly hounding him on the phone for money is his mother. Eventually Gonzalez admits that he, too, is one of the desperate.
This wakes him up a bit, enough to demand a meeting with Bardem’s televangelist, where he asks to become a staff pastor. After being silkily rebuffed, Gonzalez goes off the deep end and the movie whips itself up into a climax of Taxi Driver proportions. Yet as animated as Gonzalez Gonzalez eventually manages to get, Travis Bickle he’s not.