Mexican Film Lampoons The Rich And Sparks National Discussion

A new Mexican film pokes fun at the cluelessness of the country's rich and shows the stark income gap in this country where 40 percent live in extreme poverty and is home to the richest man in the world.

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In Mexico, people are rushing to see a new film that pokes fun at the country's rich. The movie has been breaking box office records. It's the first feature for the director who comes from Mexico's elite.

But as NPR's Carrie Kahn reports from Mexico City, he says he learned humbling life lessons during his time at an American film school.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: "We Are the Nobles" is set in the posh neighborhoods of Mexico City, where high-walled mansions and bodyguards keep the rich securely insulated from the rest of society.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "WE ARE THE NOBLES")

KAHN: But as the patriarch of the Noble family pours over the latest credit card bills racked up by his three grown spoiled children, he decides to teach them a lesson and stages a fake police raid on his own mansion.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "WE ARE THE NOBLES")

KAHN: Fleeing the scene in a common taxi, the daughter, Barbie, dressed in designer clothes and high heels stripped of her car and cell phone, pleads for an explanation.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "WE ARE THE NOBLES")

KAHN: Barbie asks why the police are taking everything away, as if we live in Venezuela. To survive, the three kids must do the impossible: get a job. This riches-to-rags story has struck a chord in Mexico, where the income gap is staggering. The top 10 percent, including the world's richest man, hold 40 percent of the country's wealth while nearly half the population lives in poverty.

FRANCISCO BERISTAIN BRAVO: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: Moviegoer Francisco Beristain Bravo says the rich are parasites on Mexican society. He says what fun it was watching their foils and being entertained at the same time. That's exactly the type of reaction writer-director Gary Alazaraki was hoping for.

GARY ALAZARAKI: I grew up watching "Saturday Night Live" with Cablevision in Mexico.

KAHN: Alazaraki says comedies haven't been a part of Mexican cinema for the past 10 years. He says he wanted to bring them back and tackle relevant issues, like the U.S. screwball comedies spoofed the social inequities during the Great Depression.

ALAZARAKI: And Mexico is pretty much the way that the U.S. was in the '30s when it comes to the lack of a middle class. So I figured that a screwball comedy was a great way to tackle this subject.

KAHN: Alazaraki knows a lot about the subject. He comes from Mexico's elite. His dad owns a leading advertising company. He says he remembers having to make appointments just to see him. But during a two-year stint at the University of Southern California's film school, he says he had to work lowly jobs to survive, just like the Noble kids in the movie. Alazaraki says he came back to Mexico a much humbler man.

ALAZARAKI: I could not look at Mexico again the same way. I missed the meritocracy of the United States. I missed the social mobility and the opportunities that you have when you come to a place to work and you prove yourself. You don't see that much in Mexico.

KAHN: Alazaraki's hard work is paying off. In its first three weeks in Mexico, the movie earned more than $110 million and is on its way to pass Mexico's top grossing film, "The Crimes of Father Amaro." Film critic Oscar de los Reyes Heredia says "We are the Nobles" will go down as one of the most important films in Mexico's recent history.

OSCAR DE LOS REYES HEREDIA: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: He says it sparked a much-needed national discussion about the great cultural, economic and social divide that is Mexico today, all with a great sense of humor. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City.

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