Juan Pablo Villaseñor’s Por Si No Te Vuelvo a Ver (1997) is the kind of small foreign film that slips by unnoticed—something more apt to happen with Spanish-language movies than, say, French ones. (Consider the fact that an utterly mediocre French film like My Wife Is an Actress (2001) got U.S. theatrical bookings, but this small charmer didn’t.) That’s the sort of thing that’s turning around, however, thanks to filmmakers like Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuarón, Alejandro Amenábar and Alejandro González Iñárritu—and U.S. audiences starting to discover the world of Spanish and Mexican cinema outside the work of Almodóvar (not that there’s anything wrong with Almodóvar). This new awareness comes too late perhaps for this 1997 film, and it may not have helped much in any case. Por Si No Te Vuelvo a Ver has no great hook; it has no U.S. marketable stars; it’s not a terrifically flashy film. It is, however, a solidly crafted work with a terrific heart—and the performances to back it up.
Villaseñor’s film follows the late life adventures of a group of old codgers who’ve been shunted into a rather grim nursing home where they try to occupy themselves by forming a small dance band—something that mostly affords them the opportunity to tell each other, “You suck.” This changes when another resident, Rosita (Blanca Torres), dies. Rosita had requested before her death that the band leader, Bruno (Jorge Galván), take her ashes to a relative, Margarita (Leticia Huijara), who is then to take them to their final resting place in Tijuana. The hitch with this seemingly simple idea is that Margarita—a stripper and sometime prostitute—has no desire to go to Tijuana. Instead, she gives Bruno money to go there himself, but Bruno ends up using the money to bail Margarita out of jail on a morals charge. The situation becomes ever more complicated as Bruno is joined by his bandmates. Bruno manages to get the band a job playing at various strip clubs. The band isn’t very good, but they become useful for unknowingly transporting drugs in their instrument cases—and who really goes to these clubs for the music anyway? This is just the setup as the plot keeps evolving and complicating itself (in a thoroughly engaging way), while Villaseñor’s actual point is an examination of old age and the fact that hope and dreams never die regardless of it. It’s a sweet, simple little work that pays emotional dividends. Por Si No Te Vuelvo a Ver mayn’t be groundbreaking cinema, but when you compare it to the sort of feel-good guff that gets produced in Hollywood, it’s a breath of fresh air.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke