Laura Patalano and Joaquin Garrido as anxious parents.
“Mosquita y Mari,” an unassuming indie jewel, resists all of the clichés that its story of the fraught friendship between two 15-year-old girls invites. Yolanda (Fenessa Pineda) and Mari (Venecia Troncoso) are high school classmates and neighbors growing up in Huntington Park, a struggling, predominantly Mexican neighborhood in Los Angeles County.
Yolanda, an A student, is the fiercely protected only child of a hard-working immigrant couple who have invested all their hopes in her and who continuously remind her of their sacrifices. The sullen, rebellious Mari is an illegal immigrant and a failing student who lives with her single mother and younger sister; she helps support the family by handing out fliers on the street. A sultry, tempestuous beauty, she is just becoming aware of her sexual power and puts on an air of arrogant bravado.
Their friendship begins when Mari, who is contemptuous of their boy-crazy peers, inserts herself as a protective buffer between Yolanda and her friends. Mari gives her the nickname Mosquita because she looks like “a little fly.” Their relationship deepens when Yolanda takes it upon herself to tutor Mari in geometry.
This semi-autobiographical movie, written and directed by Aurora Guerrero, is about dealing with powerful personal and social undercurrents as Yolanda becomes aware of her attraction to Mari, who may or may not return her feelings. Those desires remain mostly unexpressed except for a few tentative caresses. “Mosquita y Mari” is neither a standard coming-out film nor a ballad of requited or unrequited love.
Ms. Pineda and Ms. Troncoso give wonderfully natural performances in which they convey the impulsiveness and insecurity of adolescence. You are uncomfortably reminded of what it feels like to be 15.
Huntington Park is portrayed as a tightly knit neighborhood whose residents are struggling to get by. Everyone tends to mind everyone else’s business. You feel the tension and the pressure on Yolanda by her parents to reject the usual temptations of teenage life and to single-mindedly pursue her studies toward college and a better life. The movie implies that her nascent lesbianism might be her salvation.
Yolanda’s parents, for all their devotion, have lost sight of what it is like to be a still-unformed adolescent buffeted this way and that. When Yolanda becomes distracted by the intensity of the friendship, and her grades show signs of slipping, the expectations heaped on her seem almost unbearable. When her parents worry out loud that a boy is to blame, she assures them it is not the case.
Your initial expectations that “Mosquita y Mari” will be a standard good-girl, bad-girl melodrama are foiled. Mari, who shoplifts, smokes pot and throws away the fliers she is paid to distribute, may be careless and rebellious. But she is not the devil who has come to steal Yolanda’s soul. Expected to contribute the rent, she is under even more stress than Yolanda and at one point tries to sell her favors for desperately needed cash.
For both girls the friendship is genuine refuge. By the end of the story there is no guarantee that either will emerge from adolescence unscathed, although Yolanda seems to have a better chance. You root for them both.
Mosquita y Mari
Opens on Friday in Manhattan.
Written and directed by Aurora Guerrero; director of photography, Magela Crosignani; edited by Augie Robles; music by Ryan Beveridge; production design by Dalila Paola Mendez; produced by Chad Burris; released by the Film Collaborative. At the Cinema Village, 22 East 12th Street, Greenwich Village. In English and Spanish, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes. This film is not rated.
WITH: Fenessa Pineda (Yolanda), Venecia Troncoso (Mari), Laura Patalano (Mrs. Olveros), Omar Leyva (Mr. G), Dulce Mari a Solis (Mrs. Rodriguez) and Joaquin Garrido (Mr. Olveros).