Gael García Bernal and director Alonso Ruizpalacios discuss the cultural politics of their art heist film “Museo”

09/26/2018 – Chicago Tribune 

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

On Christmas Eve 1985, Mexico City’s world-renowned National Museum of Anthropology was victim to a massive heist, losing 140 Mayan, Aztec and other pre-Columbian artifacts in a single night. The Times reported then that the museum believed that “the thieves are professionals who will probably try to sell the artifacts abroad.”But the reality was quite different.

In the new film “Museo,” director Alonso Ruizpalacios reveals that the thieves weren’t well-trained, suave and highly-skilled criminal masterminds, the likes of which we’ve seen in heist movies such as “Oceans 8.” The real masterminds of the scandalous heist in “Museo” are just two bored veterinary-school dropouts who hatched their plan after a marijuana-fueled joyride.

While Ruizpalacios’ based-in-fact film relates the sometimes funny antics of the two thieves — the Carlos Castaneda-worshipping, Pink Floyd-loving Juan (Gael García Bernal) and his best friend Wilson (Leonardo Ortizgris) — the theft raises big philosophical questions about cultural history: Who are the true keepers of history? How is value ascribed to cultures? And is archaeology a kind of theft itself? As the characters travel around their country trying to sell the priceless artifacts, the film becomes an exploration of cultural appropriation through the lens of 1980s Mexico.

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