© Capelight Pictures OHG / Central Film Verleih GmbH

Aristoteles und Dante entdecken die Geheimnisse des Universums (Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe)
U.S.A. 2022

Opening 8 Feb 2024

Directed by: Aitch Alberto
Writing credits: Aitch Alberto, Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Principal actors: Max Pelayo, Reese Gonzales, Veronica Falcón, Eugenio Derbez, Eva Longoria

Writer-director Aitch Alberto’s interpretation of American author Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s adolescent coming-of-age novel is sweet, its characters endearing, and is an unobtrusive reminder about not prejudging others. Alberto wisely focuses on its crux, the experiences of families with Mexican heritage living in a Texas town bordering Mexico. Sex and race. Plus, the cost of playing by different rules, and the rewards of mutually supportive relationships.

Summer 1987, El Paso, Texas: It is hot as Hades as Ari flaps around in the local pool. He prides himself on blending in better by being aloof with people, although concurrently he wishes he could relate to others, he and his parents talked about what had happened to his older brother Bernardo, and that he could swim. Ari is one angry 15-year-old. Whereas Dante swims like a fish, is curious about life and the constellations above their heads, is artistic, likes poetry, and is a spirit so free he beguiles the staid Ari. They bond over their names: Dante Quintana (Reese Gonzales) meet Aristotle Mendoza (Max Pelayo), “…[P]eople call me Ari.”

Ari stiffly introduces Dante to his parents, Jaime (Eugenio Derbez) and Liliana (Verónica Falcón), who are caught off guard by Dante’s oppositeness to their son. Just as Sam (Kevin Alejandro) is surprised when Ari declines his offer to call him by his first name. “Maybe this guy can learn something from you,” Sam quips about Dante. Seeing the differences in their rooms speaks volumes. The summer oozes into August as their friendship flourishes; Ari jokes with Soledad (Eva Longoria) about having two moms taking care of them. He is stoic when Dante explains they will be gone for a year. They write, they undergo changes; Ari keeps swimming. Tia Ophelia (Marlene Forte), who likes Dante, strokes Ari’s confidence. His parents surprise him with a coming-of-age birthday present; “Legs” follows him home and stays. Dante tells Aristotle, “Someday, I'm going to discover all the secrets of the universe.” When Dante returns and wants to try out something, why not with best friend Ari. Even though it greatly tests their friendship.

Alberto demonstrates a shrewd sensibility portraying Mexican-American ethnic tensions, exaggerated machismo/gender issues, and their impact through humor, expressions of honest doubts/reservations, and being honest. Pelayo and Gonzales’s performances are striking; each actor’s character depiction fortifies the likability of the whole. Production values are well executed, Isabella Summers’s music versatile, complimentary. By the end of this prepossessing, delightful film it is clear discovering the secrets of the universe is open to all of us. (Marinell Haegelin)

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