Day Five: Maria Candelaria (Emilio Fernández, Mexico, 1944)
I have a particular love for melodramas that actually make you cry, and sometimes also gasp at the impossible beauty and sadness of it all, in whatever style: Sirk (Imitation of Life), Wong Kar-Wai (In the Mood for Love), King Vidor (Stella Dallas), Lean (Brief Encounter), Maria Luisa Bemberg (Camila). Today I’m in the mood for those directed by Emilio Fernández.. His films often focused on the marginalised in society, fishermen, peasant farmers, prostitutes, gangsters, usually cast from the great beauties of the day (Maria Felix, Dolores Del Rio, Pedro Armendariz) . The setting was usually rural, (Flor Silvestre,La Perla, Maria Candelaria) sometimes historical and revolutionary (Río Escondido, Salon Mexico, Enamorada, Las abandonadas) . The great Gabriel Figueroa filmed Mexico, it’s landscapes and its people with great skill and feeling so as to show beauty, complexity, depth, so that it ennobled those people and that place. The endings were often tragic. Dolores Tierney has already chosen Enamorada so today I chose Maria Candelaria. Particularly because of that moment where Dolores Del Rio as Maria Candelaria goes to sell her flowers, the flowers she needs to make a living, to feed her pig, and thus to marry. And the whole village, who’s been whispering that she’s the daughter of a prostitute, turns out in their canoes to stop her from doing so, thus denying her honest work and almost certainly condemning her to her mother’s life. It’s an unsentimental moment –peasants can be nasty, violent, cruel; communities can destroy and cast out – but a beautiful one in terms of the way its filmed and also the sadness, unfairness, and determination that it expresses.
Martin Scorsese’s appreciation of the director and one of his other great films, Enamorada, can be seen here
I was invited to participate in a discussion on Una mujer fantástica/ A Fantastic Woman with the legendary Rosa Bosch, now also Honorary Visiting Professor at Warwick, and thought I’d grab the opportunity to lasso her from her busy schedule and into a conversation on her extraordinary career. In fact no lassoing was necessary, and she was as open and generous with her time, experience and knowledge as anyone could wish for. And great fun.
Born in Barcelona in 1962, part of the last generation to have experienced Franco’s dictatorship, Bosch depicts her career as peripatetic. She dropped out of studying chemistry, fell in love with an American, moved to LA around 84-85, and began working at the AFI Fest in Los Angeles, where because of her language skills, her first task was looking after Agnès Varda, Yevtushenko, and Tarkovsky. When the AFI decided to send someone to Havana, the American embargo and Bosh’s speaking Spanish contributed to her being chosen as the delegate. The Havana film festival was then the focal point and agenda setter for Latin American film cultures world-wide; and as Bosch tells it, Latin American cinema and culture has been, in one way or another, at the centre of her life ever since.
Names like Pedro Almodóvar, Fernando Trueba, Wim Wenders, Terry Gilliam, Fernando Birri, Gabriel García Marquez (Gabo), and Julie Christie pepper the conversation. She’s got a connection to Warwick through John King and pays homage to Sheila Whitaker who brought over to London to help bring Latin American cinema to the London Film Festival.
Bosch shares anecdotes about the screening of Guillermo del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone at the Toronto Film Festival falling on 9/11; about the great Maria Luisa Bemberg taking her under her wing; about the making of The Buena Vista Social Club and about how Julie Christie sparked her re-connecting once more with The University of Warwick. The conversation ranges through various aspects of her extraordinary career – she’s been engaged with the business of culture in almost every capacity from curating to finding money for films like Amores Perros to developing campaigns so that films succeed in reaching their audience– right up to her producing the legendary Karl Lagerfeld/Chanel show in Cuba, which catwalked its way down Havana’s legendary Prado and evoked a clash of ideologies still heatedly discussed today.
The conversation can be listened to here:
Many thanks to Alison Ribeiro de Menezes and the School of Modern Languages and Cultures at the University of Warwick for arranging the event and making the interview possible.