Espaldas Mojadas (1955) Locarno Film Festival 2023

August 8th, 2023
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Alejandro Galindo | Cast: David Silva, Victor Parra, Martha Valdez, Oscar Pulido | Mexico Adventure 111’

One of the most topical features in this year’s Locarno Mexico retrospective is one of the most lyrical contemplations on the nature of belonging ever to hit the silver screen. Golden Era director Alejandro Galindo subtly explores the pros and cons of economic migration in a black and white adventure drama that often romanticises the eternal search for a better existence while glorifying the mother country of his native Mexico.

Starring David Silva (as Rafael) and Martha Valdes (as Maria) this soulful black and white beauty unfolds on the Mexican border on the banks of the Rio Grande. On one side there is the burgeoning wealth of late 1950s America where ‘everyone has a car’. On the other, Spanish is spoken and traditional life holds sway amid the proud poverty of Mexico where, due to an accident of birth, people strive to survive and eke out an existence while always hoping to make it over to the ‘other side’, with or without papers, to a place where the streets are paved with gold.

In the dead of night amid twinkling stars and the ambient sound of nature a group of Mexican men are seen furtively making their way down to the river’s edge where they embark on the short journey to the other side of the river. Suddenly, sirens blare and shots ring out over the rippling waters captured in Rosalio Solano’s pristine velvety visuals. One of the men sinks below the surface, his only plea is to be taken back to die on the Mexican side where he is serenaded by a sultry solo guitar.

There are joyful moments too in this melancholy melodrama. Carnival time sees the camera soar about the crowds in an amazing overhead shot, the camera then dips down into the crowd where Rafael is enjoying a street-side hamburger (‘without the mustard’!). But life without papers is no picnic. In the railway sidings bound for Colorado Rafael strikes up a friendship with the joker of the piece, one Luis Villarreal (Pulido), who takes a laidback approach to living as a drifter away from home. He provides the film with a much needed dose of dark humour offering Capra-esque social commentary (“I thought about converting to communism, but then they told me ‘everyone still has to work”.) Eventually securing casual labour with an American called Mr Sterling Rafael becomes a slave to the arduous grind of railroad construction, and discovers that Catch 22 still persists despite making it to the ‘promised land’ and this strand gives the film its dramatic twist.

Filled with nostalgic songs from back home this soulful film portrays Mexicans as a deeply sentimental people striving for a better life while celebrating their family traditions and rich culture of the homeland. Wet Shoulders also highlights the plight of second generation Mexicans born in the US and now finding themselves lost in a halfway house where they no longer belong back home, or in America. A thematically rich drama about the basic dignity of belonging, earning a living and being able to hold your head high wherever you are in the world. MT


Copyright © 2024 Filmuforia