“Me estás matando, Susana” (You’re Killing Me, Susana) is the most recent film by Roberto Sneider, who seems to specialize in adapting Mexican novels. His previous films are “Dos Crímenes” (Two Crimes), based on the novel of the same name by Jorge Ibargüengoitia and released in 1995, and “Arráncame la vida” (Tear This Heart Out), based on the novel by Ángeles Mastretta and released in 2008. Sneider is not a very prolific filmmaker: 13 years passed between his first and second film and we had to wait another eight years before this new offer.
“Me estás matando, Susana,” in keeping with Sneider’s style, is also based on a novel. This time it is “Ciudades desiertas” (Empty Cities) by José Agustín, a member of the Onda (wave) literary movement, onda being 1960’s slang for what was fashionable in the eyes of young people.
Eligio (Gael García Bernal) is a young Mexican actor living in Mexico City, stuck in a struggle between doing what he loves — theater — and acting in insipid telenovelas to make a living. He is married to Susana (Verónica Echegui), a Spanish novelist. Their marriage is beginning to unravel, with Eligio showing up drunk late at night on a regular basis and gleefully cheating on Susana while thinking nothing of it.
One morning, Eligio wakes up (with a hangover) to find that his wife is gone. He is nonchalant at first, thinking she has gone to work, but begins to grow suspicious and afraid when days pass and she doesn’t come back. Eventually, he learns that Susana has won a scholarship for writing and has left Mexico to go to a literature workshop at the University of Iowa. Never one to hesitate, Eligio sells his car and uses the money to travel to the United States in search of her.
The title of the novel Sneider’s movie is based on, “Empty Cities,” alludes to a fragment, also present in the film, where Eligio marvels at how desolate and devoid of people the little towns the characters visit are. “Where are all the people?,” he asks. “They’re at the mall, probably. They love malls,” Susana answers. Isolation is one of the main themes of the novel, along with the culture shock experienced by Eligio, who has always lived in the busy and chaotic Mexico City.
But “Me estás matando, Susana,” chooses to set aside some of the novel’s preoccupations and focus on Susana and Eligio’s relationship. Sneider abandons the highly stylized dialogue of the book in favor of a more naturalistic approach, making the couple throw insults and harsh words to each other in a bleakly believable manner. It is also a condemnation of machismo culture, embodied in the character of Eligio, who cheats but is stunned into silence when he is cheated on and who is impulsive, rude and almost infantile.
In this unconventional rom-com, García Bernal continues to explore his comedic chops, although he also offers some of his best dramatic and poignant moments. Echegui’s performance is equally strong, portraying Susana as an almost aloof figure, but with increasing hints as to the pain that she constantly keeps hidden beneath a façade of coolness.
“Me estás matando, Susana,” is one of the most interesting movies among the recent offerings in Mexican cinema.