Up in smoke

Nicotina is a bloodshot black comedy so nail-biting it makes you want to light up at the back of the cinema


Hugo Rodríguez
2003 (Spanish, English subtitles),
Altavista et al
93 minutes

Reviewed by Georgina Jiménez

LATAMROB rating: ***

THERE ARE only two kinds of people in life, according to Nicotina: smokers and non-smokers. While cigarette addicts cannot face reality without a smoke, others believe that smoking is a disgusting habit and inevitably leads to death.

But life turns out to be much less black and white after computer hacker and full-time voyeur Lolo (Diego Luna) – a smoker – seriously messes up the deal with a Russian gang set up by the babyfaced Argentine Nene (Lucas Crespi), also a smoker, and the gritty Mexican Tomson (Jesús Ochoa), an abstainer, when he hands them the wrong data disc.

The setting of this hilarious black comedy is Mexico City by night, but the film exploits many cultural similarities between Argentines and Mexicans (as well as some big differences). It also pokes fun at the growing trend in society to become smoke-free, with those who are in the process or willing to quit the habit facing the painful, self-inflicted consequences.

Kicking the habit

Martín Salinas’ clever script and witty dialogue make this film highly entertaining: how many times have we endured long speeches by chain smokers justifying why smoking does not always kill? Nene, for example, elaborates ad nauseam on his belief that death by nicotine is only a game of coincidence. How often have we experienced the living hell of those people in the process of kicking the habit?

Directed by the Argentine-born Mexican Hugo Rodríguez – the maker of En medio de la nada (1994) and El Violín (2005) – Nicotina has no great pretentions and at times may appear to have been edited for television.

Yet its quirky style seems to fit well within the sophisticated trend of hard-edge editing and intertwining stories in Mexican and Latin American cinema apparently sparked by the arrival of directors such as Alejandro González Iñárritu.

Nicotina received 12 awards in Mexico and was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival – yet more proof, as if we needed it, that after years of trying to break market barriers the current Latin American cinema is consistently achieving the quality and commercial potential that allows it to compete within the global film industry without turning trashy.

Georgina Jiménez is a freelance Mexican journalist