Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia

Don’t you sometimes find that crime films produced by countries that are not America are a little hard to follow? Especially if the crime (usually a robbery) is perpetrated by six or more individuals who somehow all look alike with their dark hair and bushy mustaches. If their names and faces are unfamiliar, and none of them is Tom Cruise, you may find yourself quickly losing track of which is who.

Fortunately, this is not the case in a new heist film from Mexico. “Museo”, which is based on an actual robbery that took place in Mexico City in 1985, involves two young men who, apparently for want of something better to do, decided to steal precious cultural artifacts from the nation’s prestigious Museum of Anthropology. The leader of this two-man gang is portrayed by Gael Garcia Bernal, whose name may be familiar to foreign film aficionados who have seen him in “The Motorcycle Diaries” and the more recent “Babel”. His devoted acolyte in this adventure is played by Leonardo Ortizgris, who, despite his trepidation, allows Bernal to bully him into agreement.

And so the two, after six months of planning and visiting the museum some 50 times to study the building and the treasured artifacts, and to observe the behavior of the guards, chose the early hours of Christmas Day to carry out their plans.

The museum, which was supposed to have 100 guards on duty, had only nine on the night of the robbery. And because they had spent the evening celebrating the holiday, they were either drunk or asleep when Bernal and Ortizgris showed up.

Entering through a newly installed air conditioning duct, the two set about collecting the national treasures that were sitting unprotected on plinths and some that were encased in glass cages.

The incredible part of the story is that in the half hour that the young men spent looting, they apparently made enough noise to awaken the dead—or at least the sleeping guards. They dropped heavy tools that echoed on the marble floors, hammered nails into wooden planks, and otherwise behaved as if they were playing a noisy game in the backyard.

It’s hard to determine whether this noisy interlude was inserted by the director, Alonso Ruizpalacios, in order to provide tension and suspense, or if the two robbers were actually as clumsy as they appeared.

At any rate, they managed to leave undetected through the same duct by which they’d entered, dragging their canvas bags filled with 124 items that had been created in western Mexico between 200 B.C. and 200 A.D.

Not realizing that they wouldn’t be able to find a buyer for these precious, and recognizable, objects, they deposited the bags in a bedroom closet where they sat untouched for more than

a year.

Meanwhile, the character played by Bernal, named Carlos Percher Trevino, drifted into narcotics and when one of his associates was arrested for drug trafficking he told the police that Percher was the man who had robbed the museum. Percher was arrested; his partner in crime is still at large.

“Museo” was premiered this year at the Berlin International Film Festival where writers Manuel Alcala and Alonso Ruizpalacios were awarded the Silver Bear for Best Screenplay. It is also an official selection of the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.

It will open in Los Angeles on September 28.

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