When I was in eighth grade, I asked my friend Mike to ask our friend Liz if she would be my girlfriend. She said yes. I was elated. I didn’t do anything to change my behavior — I didn’t sit with her at lunch, I didn’t call her to talk, I didn’t actually see her outside of art class during the day, though I could’ve. At thirteen years old, I didn’t know I was supposed to do those things. Lalito (Eduardo Banda), the protagonist of The Gasoline Thieves (Huachicolero), doesn’t either.
He’s an awkward middle schooler, who asks out Ana (Regina Reynoso) early in the film. Her friends laugh at him, and mock him, “Haven’t you seen a soap opera?” They tell him if he want’s Ana to go out with him that he needs to be spontaneous, to act like a gentleman, and give her gifts. Specifically, an iPhone.
The film is set in a part of Mexico where gasoline shortages have led to violent crime. It opens with a pair of gasoline thieves executing someone who’s siphoning gasoline from their spot. Like in so many other crime films, Lalito is a good person outside that world. If he’s going to get that phone and help pay his Uncle’s medical bills, he needs to infiltrate it though. Director Edgar Nito Arrache goes out of his way to show the tragedy: that Lalito, and by extension everyone around him, is predestined by poverty.
What sets The Gasoline Thieves apart from cookie cutter crime film is the time it takes to explore Lalito’s life outside of the crime. He’s loved. He loves. He feels joy. It’s something that Victor LaValle has rightly pointed out is missing from the stories of people of color written by outsiders. There’s a beautifully shot scene where Lalito takes Ana on a bike ride and to the circus and both actors exude happiness.
Like other crime movies, there’s a sense of dread that hangs over The Gasoline Thieves as well. In the scene where Ana first rejects Lalito, a stray dog slinks through the background of the shot, establishing the dog as a symbol for the boy. Each dog Nito Arrache films later is hurt or killed, suggesting that may be Lalito’s fate.
What the film demonstrates as well as the way good people get sucked into a world of a crime, is the way toxic masculinity is taught. Rulo (Pedro Joaquín) is a grown gasoline thief who’s dating Ana. He serves as Lalito’s in to both the crime world and the world of objectifying women. Nito Arrache shows Lalito being corrupted before our eyes.
The small budget hurts The Gasoline Thieves in places. All of the stealing takes place at night, and the dark lighting makes it difficult to differentiate characters or to tell what’s going on, especially in the opening and the climactic fight. That fight is also over edited, relying on cuts rather than stunts to get the point across, likely a combination of budgetary restrictions and protecting young actor Eduardo Banda.
The Gasoline Thieves is Nito Arrache’s first movie, but it never shows. He tells Lalito’s story with the poise of a more experienced filmmaker. You should be excited to see this movie. I’m excited to see what Nito Arrache does next.
Wicked Rating: 8/10
Director: Edgar Nito Arrache
Writers: Alfredo Mendoza, Edgar Nito Arrache
Stars: Eduardo Banda, Regina Reynoso, Pedro Joaquín
Release: April 25, 2019 (Tribeca Film Festival)
Studio/Production Company: AMP International, Pirotencia Films, Screen Division
Length: 93 minutes