Tag Archives: Mexican Cinema

Thinking Aloud About Film: The Witch’s Mirror (Chano Urueta, Mexico,1962)

The Witch’s Mirror/ El Espejo de la bruja (Chano Urueta, Mexico, 1962) is an immensely entertaining film that is being screened on MUBI as part of their ‘Spectacle Every Day: The Many Seasons of Mexican Cinema’ series. There are claims that it is a ‘uniquely Mexican Gothic’ but we don’t quite agree. Indeed, in the podcast we relate it to Rebecca, Frankenstein, Eyes Without a Face, The Skin I Live In, The Beast With Five Fingers and other well-known films it was clearly influenced by or itself influenced. It is a derivative if visually inventive film, with a director who has an eye for composition, who keeps the camera moving, tells the story at a clip, and who knows how to make the most out of roughly a cast of four performers doing their outmost in about three sets. It’s a considerable achievement in its own terms and great fun to see though those looking for depth will be disappointed.

The podcast may be listened to here:


The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT

and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546


Here’s the American dubbed version https://cors.archive.org/details/the-witchs-mirror-1962
They removed the Goya etchings and the introductory voiceover.
This is the review Richard found which comments on the dubbed US release: 
José Arroyo

Thinking Aloud About Film: Stronger Than Love/ Más fuerte que el amor (Cuba/ Mexico, Tulio Demicheli, 1955)

Another fascinating film showing on MUBI; part of the ‘Spectacle Every Day: The Many Seasons of Mexican Cinema’ program; a lurid and very entertaining melodrama; interesting to compare with its contemporary Hollywood variant but perhaps best seen as an example of Spanish speaking transnational cinema. The director Tulio Demicheli is from Argentina, Jorge Mistral is Spanish, Miroslava originates in Czechoslovakia, from a Jewish family displaced by WWII. The film itself is a Mexican/Cuban co-production, in which, as we can see from the poster, the location shooting is a major attraction: ‘The exteriors for this movie were filmed in Santiago de Cuba, the beautiful Capital of Oriente.’ It’s a movie that condenses, symbolises and allegorises class oppression under patriarchy, interspersing the drama with some melo in the guise of very suggestive musical/ dance sequences.’ All this and much more is discussed in the podcast below:

The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT

and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546


José Arroyo


EL SANTO OFICIO/ THE HOLY OFFICE / THE HOLY INQUISITION (Arturo Ripstein, Mexico, 1974) is a more serious and austere film than we’re used to seeing from Arturo Ripstein, but at least as great as anything we’ve seen by him so far. A Jewish family fleeing persecution in Spain make a life in Mexico and prosper. That is, until the father dies. The family had sacrificed one of their male children to the Church as a cover-up for their own religious practices. Now a grown monk, that son returns to his father’s burial only to detect that they’re observing Hebraic practices. He denounces his own family to the Church, and the persecution begins. A great film about religious intolerance, patriarchal control, and colonial enslavement through the brutal enforcement of a particular ideology. Based on actual court transcripts, an austerely spectacular period film, with much greater production values than we’re used to seeing from Ripstein. We discuss all of this and more in the podcast below.

The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT

and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546

José Arroyo

Thinking aloud About Film: El Castillo de la pureza/ Castle Of Purity (Arturo Ripstein, Mexico, 1972)

I’ve been wanting to see Arturo Ripstein films for decades and never had the opportunity. Now MUBI is showing five of his films and, on the basis of El Castillo de la pureza/ The Castle of Purity, I plan to see them all. The film is based on a real story – not unlike that of the Wests or Joseph Fritzl – of a man who keeps his family locked in the house to protect them from being morally corrupted by society even as he – the only one allowed outside – indulges in every perversion the outside world allows him. When he comes home – the family, who’ve been working all day manufacturing the rat poison that is their living – gets all his self-hatred projected onto them, keeping them off-balance and under his thumb. The shadow of Buñuel overhangs this film – Ripstein had been his assistant on The Exterminating Angel, which bears some resemblance to this film, and Claudio Brook (Simon of the Desert) and Rita Macedo (The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz)  – the stars – also performed for Buñuel. A beautifully designed film, with a textured creepiness that envelops the family, one that is not just due to the rain and shadows that seep right into every corner of the home (the outside world is always sunny and bright) but a moral murkiness, a corrosive poison that is the result of that imperious patriarchal insistence on ‘purity’. A marvellous film. We discussed all the above and more in the podcast.

The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT

and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546

José Arroyo


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


José Arroyo in Conversation with Samuel Larson Guerra


larson 2

An interview with Samuel Larson Guerra, distinguished sound designer (a term he hates), author of one of the few books in Spanish on sound in the cinema, ´Pensar el sonido (Thinking Sound)´, award winning sound designer (Ariel award for Fibra Optica in 1998), editor (Diosa de Plata award for best editing for Dos Abrazos, 2007), composer (Ariel for best original music for Vera, 2008), and an award-winning teacher (CILECT teaching prize from the Asosiación Internacional de Escuelas de Cine y Televisión). Larson is a member of the Academia Mexicana de Artes y Ciencias Cinematogáficas (AMACC, the Mexican equivalent of the American Motion Picture Academy  of Arts and Sciences that hands out the Oscars) since 2008. He also composed the music that leads in and out of the podcast.

In terms of sound quality this is one of the worst interviews I´ve ever recorded: Ironic and embarrassing when its subject has devoted much of his life to thinking about sound. However, the conversation is so interesting that I decided to go ahead and put it out, particularly when Jose Homer Mora Costa kindly offered to clean up the sound. He was successful in eliminating the worst offences though it´s still not ideal. The conversation with Samuel Larson ranges from the beginnings of EICTV, film culture in Mexico; the influence of Michel Fano and Walter Murch, both of whom his studied with, on his work, his filmmaking in Mexico and Central America, the effects of changing technologies on sound capture, mixing and design, the changing importance of sound within Mexican film culture and institutions, and finally his own book.


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The conversation can be listened to here:






The Evil That Men Do (Ramon Térmens, Spain, 2015)

the evil that men do

‘The evil that men do lives after them; the good is interred with their bones’. So says Shakespeare in Julius Caesar and so shows this film.

Two henchmen, Santiago (Daniel Faraldo) and Benny (Daniel Tarbet), work for a narco kingpin. They run an outfit in the middle of nowhere – but close enough to a taco stand and a Christian revival tent — where they torture and kill their victims. They’re housed in an armed warehouse full of the heads of rivals they’ve captured and murdered, which they occasionally send as messages to the competition. It has a holding chamber reachable only by a portable staircase where they can keep kidnap victims and torture them at leisure. There’s an industrial freezer where corpses in various states of dismemberment can be kept on hold with various body parts defrosted at various times to suit every type of communication. There’s also a surgery fitted out for torture and even an industrial furnace where corpses of those nameless, unloved and thus of no use in this particular kind of communication can be easily cremated. They’re professional and have no qualms about doing their job though Salvador is better at it, more ruthless, whilst Benny is American and can’t quite get rid of his namby-pamby qualities. However, how will they act when the next  package they receive is the very lively, spoiled and manipulative 12 year-old daughter of a rival narco honcho.

The Evil That Men Do is a very dark and very funny film with very charismatic performances from Faraldo and also from Sergio Peris-Mencheta as the narco kingpin’s nephew. It’s beautifully shot and directed, a delight to see, except for the one moment, a chainsaw scene more brutal even than the one in Scarface, that even I had to close my eyes at. The film is listed as Spanish though it is clearly Mexican and contains and evokes that lawlessness, lack of respect for life, sheer brutality and barbarism that seems to be part of the very fabric of life in that country today. It’s hard to see this as merely a genre film or even to accept the violence as stylised or cartoony and designed to fit an imaginary world. The director has been so successful in creating so much out of very spare means that the film hits close to the bone of a country in chaos. The darkness and brutality here speak a culture; and the laughs that the film very successfully manages to earn from the audience doesn’t wash away the sadness of a culture reduced to this.

Seen at the Festival des films du monde, Montreal, September 2015, where the film received it’s world premiere.

José Arroyo