Tag Archives: Macario

In Conversation with Dolores Tierney on the films of Emilio Fernández and Roberto Gavaldón


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.

If Fernández´films are already well known, Gavaldón´s work is having an incredible and long over-due revival this year, with retrospectives  in New York´s Lincoln Centre and the San Sebastian Film Festival, His work also featured heavily in the Salon Mexico: The Golden Age of Mexican Cinema retrospective at the BFI earlier in the year and  the Cine Doré in Madrid, whose programme names him ´The King of Mexican Melodrama´, is currently showing a range of his films.

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:

La Diosa arrodillada/ The Kneeling Goddess (1947)

La Noche avanza/ Night Falls (1952)

Camelia (1953)

La Escondida (1956)

Macario (1960)

…and on a couple of Fernández films:

Las Islas Marias (1951)

…and you can see the incredible clip from Fernández´Victimas del pecado (1951) here:

José Arroyo


Macario (Roberto Gavaldón, Mexico, 1960)


The first Mexican film to be nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, and a truly great movie. Macario (Ignacio López Tarso) is a good, honest, hardworking peasant who lives for his family. He works all day but has so many children that they literally take the food from his plate. Director Roberto Gavaldón is great at showing what hunger feels like, the life of people who live on less than subsistence wages, the melodrama that conveys the truth and pain of the small things in life: .

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Macario fears God, is haunted by the dead, and dreams of food. One day he vows that unless he can have something entirely to himself he won’t eat at all . His wife (Pina Pellicer), fearing that he’ll die, steals a turkey, cooks it for him and asks him to eat it out in the fields where the children won’t get to it first and he won’t be interrupted so that he can finally enjoy one thing all to himself. When he sits down to eat his turkey, he’s taunted by the devil, who offers him all kinds of things if he’d share his food with him. But Macario is a good man and refuses. Then God appears and also asks for some of his food. But Macario, figuring that God can have anything he wants, refuses him also. Finally death appears. Macario figuring he’s got no option and that at least he’ll live for as long as it takes death to eat his half of the turkey, agrees to share it.

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As a reward, death offers him a vial of water that can bring some people back from the dead. Macario is to be alone with those he wants to cure, death will then appear. If he’s at the foot of the bed, Macario can offer them his water and cure them. If Death’s at the head, nothing can be done for them and they’re goners. Macario’s urged to be careful with this magic water as he will receive no more and when it’s gone Death will be merciless.

Screen Shot 2018-08-13 at 14.43.05.pngMacario is delighted to have escaped death, and with newfound powers. But has he? The rest of the film is a morality tale, a fable about life and death, a commentary on the meanings of Mexico’s day of the dead, the cruelties of Church and government, the petty avarices of little people made big with money.

It’s a beautiful film, rich in symbolism, poetic but directly accessible. It’s got striking, expressionist imagery that is easily understandable in ways that go right to one’s head and heart.  It’s a direct influence on the equally great Coco, one of the many reasons to see it.

José Arroyo