The title of Netflix’s new Mexican thriller, I Don’t Expect Anyone to Believe Me, balances in between several different layers. Based on the book by Juan Pablo Villalobos and directed by Fernando Frías de la Parra, I Don’t Expect Anyone to Believe Me follows Juan Pablo (Dario Yazbek Bernal – Casa de las Flores) as he becomes entangled in an organized crime network while leaving his native Mexico to get his Ph.D. in Barcelona with his girlfriend Valentina (Natalia Solián – Huesera).
There’s a lot gringos may not believe going in. For one, our protagonist is a white Mexican. And I’m not just talking Yazbek’s skintone although that’s certainly part of it. No, his culture is white, as we understand it here in the United States. His dad’s a doctor, he’s been raised with middle-class sensibilities and expectations (a rewarding career, safety, prestige), and his mom is straight-up racist, looking with disdain at his brown girlfriend.
Our protagonist, his privilege, and his story should look familiar to many on the North side of the border – even if he does speak Spanish. So while in the US, we may racialize everyone from Mexico, I Don’t Expect Anyone to Believe Me shows us what it is like to be a white Latino, something the US media’s limited depictions of Latinos rarely if ever portray, outside of telenovelas.
I Don’t Expect Anyone to Believe Me also bucks the US trend of low expectations of Latinx art. It plays expertly with its elements, juxtaposing its comic elements with growing suspense to make a taught work of social commentary that lampoons colonialism. And its play-within-a-play element (or here, book-within-a-movie) is a fascinating device, simultaneously pointing out the absurd within the film’s world, parodying it, and portraying it as truth.
Going in, I was skeptical – I’m of the belief that we don’t need any more Mexican crime stories. But from the jump, I Don’t Expect Anyone to Believe Me is different. Yes, we do first meet our criminal enterprise in Mexico, but they are more mob than cartel – in fact, the exact nature of their business remains hidden for most of the film and is largely irrelevant.
What is important about them is that they’re international – with specific interests in Spain. When our young Mexican protagonists arrive in Barcelona, the critique really hits its stride. Because in I Don’t Expect Anyone to Believe Me, Spain is in no way better than Mexico. Its intellectuals are no more astute, its culture no more grand, its leaders just as corrupt, its streets just as dangerous.
It’s a funny turn, seeing hapless Mexican protagonists maneuver the unwanted attention of organized crime bosses in Spain. The Spanish just feign more surprise when it turns out their systems – from their police to their elected officials – are just as racist and rotten as Mexican ones. Regardless of nationality, it’s all just more refusing to believe in this smart film that plays with reality to make its points.
Without spoiling anything, it’s clear from the beginning Juan Pablo is not up for the task in front of him – and he eventually gets a rash to prove it! Valentina has more street smarts and calm, but without all the information, it’s hard for her to solve a problem she’s not even aware of. By the end, the film has set itself up to deal its final blows eloquently, situating the continued perpetuation of its crime plot in the willfully ignorant racism of Juan Pablo’s mother and the people like her.
It’s the perfect conclusion to a film that knows it is both absurd and darkly believable.
I Don’t Expect Anyone to Believe Me is streaming now on Netflix.