A great noir, currently on MUBI, that brings to mind Crime & Punishment, Jean Valjean, Bresson’s Pickpocket and I Was a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, among others. A petty thief and former pimp, now a banker, s forced back into a life of crime by the very police who are meant to uphold the law. The story is told in flashback, through voice-over; the setting is contemporary; the indictment of the culture in the final shot, brutal. Whilst a society of spectacle is obsessed with a football match our hero’s odds against tomorrow are nil. There’s no exit, he’s got no way out. He’s no good, but the structures of the culture are even worse. A great film.
Emilio Fernández and Roberto Gavaldón are two of the great directors of Mexican Cinema´s Golden Age. Dolores Tierney is a Senior Lecturer in Media and Film at Sussex University and an internationally renown film scholar who has written an important book on the work of Fernández, Emilio Fernández: Pictures in the Margins, and who has also written extensively on Gaváldon.
As Dolores writes in Emilio Fernández: Pictures in the Margins (Manchester University Press, 2007):
For seven years, from 1943 until 1950, Emilio Fernández (1904-1986) was regarded as one of the foremost puveyors of Mexicanness,’ as one of the most important filmmakers of the Mexican film industry…, and as one of the most famous filmmakers in the Western world. His distinctive, ‘authentically Mexican´ visual style — developed over an extensive collaboration with photographer Gabriel Figueroa of thirteen years and twenty-two films — was praised for bringing international attention and prestige to the Mexican film industry…At the height of his career in the 1940s he was loved by audiences and critics alike, not only for bringing international attention and artistic glory to the Mexican motion-picture industry but also for defining a school of Mexican films. Indeed, he underscored and in some ways initiated this approach to his work by repeated claiming ´!El cine mexicano so yo¡/ I am Mexican cinema´
In his introduction to La fatalidad urbana: El cine de Roberto Gavaldón (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2007), Fernando Mino Gracia writes:
What would Mexican cinema be without the the sure look — distant, reflexive — of Roberto Gavaldón. We would have lost no less that the most rounded, audacious and finished oeuvre, one that explains a fundamental period of Twentieth Century Mexican cinema, that which covers the period of the end of the Second World War to the start of the 70s. Because Gavaldón is the the filmmaker who best diagnosed, over the entirety of his work, the pulse of a society in the process of consolidation. Nothing was the same by the end of the 1950s and Gavaldón was a privileged witness and chronicler. A mirror which re-works with complex subtlety the inequality of that society and which today, for better and worse, gives us sustenance (p. 19, trans my own).
The podcast below is a wide-ranging discussion on the films and careers of Fernández and Gavaldón with the hope of drawing attention to these immense works of world cinema and also to Dolores Tierney´s invaluable writing on both of these directors.
In the podcast, Dolores and I discuss the work of each director, their collaborations with leading stars such as Pedro Armendáriz, Dolores Del Rio, María Felix, Arturo de Cordova; Melodrama, Mexican Nationalism and its discourses, how the films, be they noirs or melodramas or even rural sagas, fit into a post-revolution political project whilst also being dialogue transnationally with classical Hollywood cinema.
My hope for the podcast is that Dolores´enthusiasm will lead you to the films and that my own will lead you to Dolores´invaluable work on them.
Those of you wishing to pursue further links might enjoy this video essay by Dolores Tierney and Catherine Grant on the ´cabaretera´films of the period.
I have also written on several Gavaldón films and you can pursue links here:
Watching La Otra recently I noticed that Roberto Gavildón re-uses his sets. Compare Dolores Del Rio on the staircase in La Otra (1946) in the image on the left below to Arturo de Córdoba looking on at María Felix in La Diosa arollidada (1947) on the image on the right below. A minor geek moment that I’d nonetheless like to record.
Another comparison I’d like to note here, and something I’d like to write more on when I have more time, is the endings of both films, which I’ve extracted below. Two women lose what they wanted, both are incarcerated by past actions, Dolores Del Rio literally and María Félix metaphorically. Both endings take place in a jail and Gavaldón makes full use of expressionist shadows, of angles that emphasise a lack of future, the result of a shadowy and criminal past; note too the music, the rythms of the shots, the highly stylised dialogue and the consistent use of symbols and metaphors. A more considered response will follow if time permits. But in the meantime, have a look for yourself. The first, in slight blurrovision, is from La otra; the second is a much higher quality clip of the great ending of La Diosa arrodillada, filmed the year after.
(Mind out for spoilers, we don’t do a good job of warning of them here. After the plot synopsis at the beginning, expect spoilers throughout.)
Pixar’s extraordinarily vivid, rich Coco tells the story of a young Mexican boy who dreams of life as a musician, stranded in the Land of the Dead. Themes of sacrifice for family, liberation and expression through music, remembrance and commemoration of loved ones and more are explored, and a culture that is typically ignored or stereotyped – or walled off if a certain someone has his way – is allowed to explode onto the cinema screen. It’s as warm, funny, and imaginative as anything you’ll see all year, and we adore it.
Film buffs will recognise homages to Busby Berkeley, Mexican musicals, Dolores Del Rio, Maria Felix, Rancheras, Emilio Fernandez, Enamorada, The Wizard of Oz and Frida Kahlo. It’s full of mariachis. When one hears a whisper of what sounds like Chavela Vargas, the spine tingles.
Jose is reminded of his dear abuelita. Mike cries.
Recorded on 23rd January 2018.
The podcast can be listened to in the player above or at this link