Bleak Street (2015) | Calle de la Amarga

March 16th, 2023
Author: Meredith Taylor

Director.: Arturo Ripstein; Cast: Nora Velazquez, Patricia Reyes Spindola, Guillermo Lopez, Juan Francisco Longoria; | 99min | Mexico | Crime Drama

Mexican veteran director Arturo Ripstein (El Carneval de Sodoma) once again films a script by his partner Paz Alicia Garciadiego, telling the story of a double murder in the seedy atmosphere of downtown Mexico City.

As in most Ripstein films, destiny plays a major role in BLEAK STREET, a sordid area that certainly lives up to its name. The main reason for watching Bleak Street is the crisp black & white cinematography of DOP Alejandro Cantu, who shows the gloomy side streets and alleys of Mexico City with an intensity that echoes G W Pabst’s silent German classic Die Freudlose Gasse (1925)

Dora (Velazquez) and Adela (Spindola) are middle-aged sex workers down on their luck and lamenting the lack of work due to competition from younger talent in a profession where experience seems to count for nothing. Their male dependants La Akita (Lopez) and Muerte Chiquita (Longoria), are twin midget brothers who who work in the wrestling ring where they support the normal sized fighters AK-47 and La Muerte. The brothers are so proud of their occupation they even wear their masks at home. Celebrating a big prize win in the ring they organise a special treat for their female companions which ends in tragedy all round.

This is not Ripstein at his best: the main failing with being the two-dimensional characters who are not fully sketched out as real people; but simply there to carry out the film’s message – poverty ruins your life. But the gracefully choreographed shots of the grim backwaters  make up for the lack of connection feels towards the protagonists.

In the aftermath it becomes clear that the four were supposed to meet on a collision course and that the women’s guilt is secondary to the situation they find themselves in. But how can we relate to these men or understand their motives unless they take off their masks? There are other elements here of the silent films of that era: the detective solving the murder being seen not so much as a man of the law, but a rather sinister figure in the same vein as the detectives in Fritz Lang’s films of the same period. AS


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