Sunday, January 18, 2009

Santitos - 1999

Santitos (Little Saints) - 1999

This film received many international awards, including the Latin American Cinema Award at the Sundance Film Festival, where it had its premiere in 1999. It is the directorial debut of Alejandro Springall, and the screenplay is by Maria Amparo Escandon, based on her novel.

It is about a bizarre journey from Vera Cruz to Los Angeles and back again, as the naïve, childlike, widow Esperanza seeks to find out what happened to her daughter, and relies on supernatural visions to guide her, which eventually prove that God works in mysterious ways when it comes to matters of the heart, for both maternal and romantic love. Her circuitous pilgrimage takes her through Tijuana, the world of prostitution (which at times unfortunately is somewhat idealized in this film), to the professional wrestling arena.

Dolores Heredia is exquisite as Esperanza, the mother who never gives up hope, and others in the cast include Demian Bechir as Cocomixtle the pimp, Alberto Estrella as Angel the wrestler, and Fernando Torre Lapham as Father Salvador. With rich, colorful cinematography by Xavier Perez Grobert, and a good soundtrack (Carlo Nicolau and Rosino Serrano), this film is filled with wonderful imagery and excellent acting.

Cabeza de Vaca - 1991

Plot Summary: An international award winning saga of old Mexico. In 1528, a Spanish expedition founders off the coast of Florida with 600 lives lost. One survivor, Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, roams across the American continent searching for his Spanish comrades. Instead, he discovers the Iguase, an ancient Indian tribe. Over the next eight years, Cabeza de Vaca learns their mystical and mysterious culture, becoming a healer and a leader. But soon this New World collides with the Old World as Spanish conquistadors seek to enslave the Indians, and Cabeza de Vaca must confront his own people and his past.

"Cabeza de Vaca" may be viewed as a surrealistic rumination on the nature of early contact between Europeans and North American Indians, but it has very little to do with the actual narrative of events as presented to Charles V by Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca in his 1542 report.
Viewers who may wonder about the rapid transition from Florida to the Southwest in the movie should realize that the opening scene depicting the separation of the rafts of Captain Narvaez and Cabeza de Vaca took place off the coast of Louisiana WEST of the Mississippi more than a year after their first landfall in Florida, despite the meager information provided in the opening credits. Cabeza de Vaca is also presented as Treasurer to the King of Spain, when in fact he was merely treasurer of that particular expedition.

And although the long sequence early in the movie showing Cabeza de Vaca's period of slavery to the Indian sorcerer and the armless dwarf is quite interesting to see, there is no corresponding incident in the explorer's writings. C de V did report on a brief period of enslavement, but that is all. No sorcerer, no dwarf. Similarly, the bond created between C de V and the young Indian who he cures by removing an arrowhead is not in the original narrative, but rather a conflation of several different episodes from the journey. The key scenes of capture and near-murder by the blue-painted Indians are wholly the creation of the screenwriter.

The movie has an inconsistent approach to nudity. Most of the Indian tribes encountered by C de V went entirely naked during the warm season, but are almost always shown with at least some kind of loincloth. However, during the "blue Indian" sequence and later, when the survivors are taken in by friendly Indians for a while, full nudity is present among the females, and even full-frontal on the part of an Indian girl who offers herself to one of C de V's men. Meant to be tittilating? I don't know. It wasn't. In C de V's report, he notes a number of times that he and his Spanish companions were, for a long period, "naked as the day we were born," but there is no male nudity whatsoever in the film.

So what is accurate? The suffering endured, for sure, and the apparent success of the Spaniards in "curing" Indians through the power of God. The arrival in Mexico toward the end, and the capture of the Indians there as slaves. That's about it. Nevertheless, the film holds the attention throughout, and the final scene of Indians bearing the enormous silver cross through the desert is quite arresting.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Forgotten Village - 1941

Burgess Meredith - Narrator
Story by John Steinbeck

This sensitively-done 30s documentary tells the story of Juan Diego, a young man who lives in a tiny Mexican village, where people live a traditional rural lifestyle that has changed little over thousands of years. The only link with the outside world is Juan's school teacher, who gives the village children a bit of knowledge of the modern world. When the children of Juan's village start sickening and dying in droves, Juan goes to his teacher for help. The teacher suspects that the village well is spreading an infectious disease, and he encourages Juan to go to a nearby city and get a public health team to come and help. Unfortunately, the villagers rely on a local medicine woman for healthcare, and they are extremely hostile to new ideas.

When Juan returns with the medical team, most of the families hide their sick children from them, and when they try to disinfect the well, the villagers accuse them of poisoning it. In desperation to cure his seriously ill younger sister (he already lost a brother to the illness), Juan sneaks her to the medical team in the middle of the night to get her an injection of a curative serum, but his father catches him afterwards and orders him to leave the village and never return. The medical team, however, make arrangements for Juan to attend a special school for young people who want to bring modern medicine to their villages. They reassure Juan that change happens slowly, and that it will be young people like him who will finally bring such changes about. This is an intelligent and sensitive film that is not too hard on the villagers who reject the medical team's interventions.

This makes it more enlightened than you'd expect for the time it was made. Of course, by today's standards, it has some problems as it gives no context for the villagers suspiciousness of outsiders coming in and trying to change their ways, which may encourage audience members to think of them as just ignorant and stubborn. And it shows no downside to modernity, whereas from today's perspective we know that modern ways, with their medical miracles and conveniences, have a tendency to destroy traditional ways of life, leaving little for poor rural people to take its place. Still, this film is a wonderful documentation of those ways of life, as well as providing a historically interesting snapshot of public health practices in Mexico during the 30s.

El Imperio de la Fortuna - 1986

El Imperio de la Fortuna (1986) - Directed by Arturo Ripstein

Plot Summary: A very poor and handicapped man, lives in a small town in Mexico with his mother. He works announcing things along the town ("The priest lost his cow, if someone sees it ..."). He is very interested in the cock fighting. One day a man gives him a looser cock, thinking to give him something to eat, but instead he takes care of the animal and it becomes a winner cock. He begins to win some money. La Caponera, a very good looking singer, earlier avoided him but now she uses her coquetry to gain some drinks. He thinks she is his talisman so she marries her when he becomes rich, taking her apart from the show-bizz, so she begins to feel very unhappy.

Based on a short story by Juan Rolfo, EL IMPERIO DE LA FORTUNA tells the story of Dionosio Pinzon, a Mexican peasant living with his mother. Born with a deformed hand, and living a very meager life, Dionosio's luck turns around when he is given a losing gamecock which he nurses back to health. He trains the bird for fighting, begins to make money, and begins a relationship with a gold-digging singer. As he makes money, though, he begins to become more and more corrupt--and it becomes apparent that his winning streak will not last. This story was also filmed by Roberto Gavaldon in 1965 as EL GALLO DE ORO (GOLDEN ROOSTER).

Emilio Fernández

Emilio "El Indio" Fernández Romo, who was born on March 26, 1904 in the state of Coahuila, Mexico, is the most famous person in the history of Mexican movies. For an era, he symbolized Mexico due to his violent machismo, rooted in the Revolution of 1910-17, and because of his staunch commitment to Mexican cultural nationalism. Sired by an ethnic Caucuasian father and born to an Indian mother, Emilio was himself a "mestizaje" (mestizo) that his films would later glorify.

The teenaged Fernández abandoned his studies to serve as an officer in the Huertista rebellion, which broke out on December 4, 1923. On July 20th of that year, Francisco "Pancho" Villa had been ambushed and killed, one theory being that he was assassinated by agents of Mexican President Álvaro Obregón Salido. Obregón, when he served as a general during the revolution, had defeated Villa in four successive battles collectively known as the Battle of Celaya. The Battle of Celaya was the largest military confrontation in Latin American history before the 1982 Falklands War.

IMDb Biography of Emilio Fernández

Friday, January 9, 2009

Roberto Gavaldón

Roberto Gavaldón was a consummate film professional who worked his way into the emerging Mexican film industry beginning in the late ’20s, doing everything from acting to editing to assisting directors Alberto Gout, Alejandro Galindo and Gabriel Soria. His long apprenticeship made him a detailed craftsman behind the camera, known for carefully planning every shot in even his most modest productions.

Like his contemporaries Emilio Fernandez, Ismael Rodrigues and Luis Buñuel, Gavaldón worked on a wide variety of subjects and genres in Mexico’s highly commercial industry: he developed a series of slow boil thrillers from three works written by the enigmatic German émigré writer B. Traven (author of the source novel for John Huston’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre) and collaborated extensively with writer and activist José Revueltas.

Yet certain recurrences—from a catalogue of slighted heroes seeking revenge to the intricate visuals developed through Gavaldón’s close working relationships with cinematographers Alex Philips and Gabriel Figueroa—dominate the director’s work, establishing his legacy as one of Mexico’s most complex and gifted filmmakers.

La Perla - 1947

La Perla (1947)

Plot Summary: Quino is a Mexican diver that discovers a pearl at the bottom of the sea. He and his wife Juana, and their son have just taken possession of a pearl that is worth thousands. Everyday people try to get in on the cash, even Pearl Dealers try to rip them off. When Quino is attacked one day, he kills his attackers in self defence. His brother suggests their only hope is to leave the village. But on their journey to give their son an education they never had, someone may just do anything to prevent it.

User Comments: A visual feast!!!

I am a Brit happily married to a Mexicana for many years and lived in Mexico for a number of years.

La Perla is a photographic masterpiece of significant beauty and well worth seeing for the magnificence of the incredible use of natural light to highlight the scenery.

In addition to the two main stars the cast contains a number of actors whose work I have enjoyed immensely and the scenes depicting the singing and dancing at the local fiesta bring back to me countless memories of pleasure during my life in that beautiful country.

This film really does reflect the Golden Years of the Mexican Film Industry.

Mexican Cinema - Emilio Fernández

Macario - 1960

Macario (1960)
Plot Summary: Poor, hungry peasant Macario longs for just one good meal on the Day of the Dead. After his wife cooks a turkey for him, he meets three apparitions, the Devil, God, and Death. Each asks him to share his turkey, but he refuses all except Death. In return, Death gives him a bottle of water which will heal any illness. Soon, Macario is more wealthy than the village doctor, which draws the attention of the feared Inquisition

User Comments: Memorable, funny, wise and very entertaining.

Beautifully realized fable that quickly made history as the first Mexican film to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film. It is based on a story by B. Traven, the man behind the source material for the classic film Treasure of a Sierra Madre (1948). Like most fables, symbolism is plentiful, and the social message is unmistakably strong. The film opts for a combination of naturalism and surrealism, and the result is a visually dense, and dramatically interesting movie. The film's structure is reminiscent of both Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal (1957), and William Dieterle's The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), so if you like any of those films, you will probably enjoy this movie. Dazzling camera work by the great Grabiel Figueroa is key to the film's success, but one cannot overlook Roberto Gavaldón's excellent direction, and a truly superb script by Emilio Carballido and Galvadon. Ignacio Lopez Tarso is perfectly cast as the peasant that makes a deal with "Mr. Death", and I loved the work of actress Pina Pillecer, who is a clone of actress Marisa Pavan.

Mexican Cinema - Roberto Gavaldón

Macario video on YouTube

Related Posts with Thumbnails

Mexico Cine & Video Clips

These are mostly movies I have collected over the years. Many bought thru Amazon, some copied from television to VHS and lately downloaded with a Torrent client.

Many descriptions are from Amazon and reviews are from IMDb

Peliculas de Mexico
San Diego Latino Film Festival