YouTube Premium film review: Museo (Museum)
Ivan Radford | On 24, Dec 2018
Director: Alonso Ruizpalacios
Cast: Gael García Bernal, Leonardo Ortizgris
Watch Museo online in the UK: YouTube Premium
Why ruin a great story with the truth? That’s the question Museo leaves you pondering, as it takes a true event and recounts it with flights of fiction and characters’ fancies.
The event in question? A museum heist that took place in 1985. In fact, it’s the biggest museum heist in Mexican history, with over 140 artefacts stolen from Mexico History’s National Museum of Anthropology. Not only was it audacious, but it was audaciously timed, unfolding on Christmas Eve – a Robin Hood-like act conceived as a present to… well, who exactly?
Juan and Benjamin are our culprits, two childhood friends who live in the suburb of Satélite, looking for some kind of reason in life beyond their failing veterinarian studies. Gael García Bernal stars as Juan, who hatches the whole plan, while Leonardo Ortizgris plays Wilson, his loyal, likeable sidekick, who’s torn between looking after his sick father and supporting his friend, in whom he believes almost unquestioningly. The only problem is that Juan hasn’t found something to believe in himself with such purpose or conviction.
Their decision to break into the museum and sell its most valuable objects, including the jade death mask of Mayan ruler King Pakal, is an unlikely one, and that bizarre, extreme choice makes the mystery of the heist all the more intriguing. The actual job is executed with gripping precision and filmed by director Alonso Ruizpalacios with thrilling tension and a fun attention to detail. It’s no coincidence that it takes up a good chunk of the film’s first act. By placing the heist at the front, though, Museum then sets up the challenge of painting a sympathetic portrait of our robbers. Fortunately, there’s the rest of the runtime to do it, and Bernal and his co-star being real chemistry to their believable and entertaining friendship.
Their wayward behaviour leads us on unexpected detours, including a drug-addled interlude halfway through that isn’t exactly endearing. But that’s the game Museo is playing, as it uses the charming bond between these two young men to smuggle in a challenging and disarming exploration of cultural appropriation and theft. The artefacts in their possession are in want of validation, of a value outside of their own existence – just like our thieves, who both want to be respected for their achievement but also not defined by their crime.
The film builds to a key encounter with Simon Russell Beale (always a delight) as an arts and antiquities dealer, who provides a fantastic blow to their childish fantasy, as he brings home the weight of their actions with all the shock and surprise they deserve. It’s here that the occasionally uneven pacing comes into focus. Who does culture belong to when it’s stolen from a public institute? Who has the right to sell it? And should they be celebrated or arrested if they give the items back?
These aren’t simple questions, and Museo works by allowing them to grow on you over time by remaining unanswered, as our antiheroes stumble into a debate too clueless to grasp it, and wander away none the wiser. After all, why ruin things with the cold, hard facts?
Museo is available exclusively on YouTube Premium, as part of an £11.99 monthly subscription – including YouTube Premium Originals and YouTube Music, as well as the rest of YouTube advert-free.