Posts Tagged ‘Mexican Cinema’

The Many Seasons of Mexican Popular Cinema (1940s – 1960s) Retrospective | Locarno Film Festival 2023

Mexican cinema has more than proved its worth in the last few years with a new generation of talent in the shape of Alfonso Cuarón, Carlos Reygadas, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Amat Escalante and Michel Franco. These directors have brought us a glittering array of daringly inventive and cinematically bold fare, Roma being the first Mexican film to win an Oscar in 2019.

This year’s LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL centrepiece retrospective Spectacle Every Day – The Many Seasons of Popular Mexican Cinema explores Mexican film production from the 1940s to the 1960s, three decades of creativity that have inspired subsequent generations of cineastes. It showcases works by Roberto Gavaldon, Alejandro Galindo, Chano Urueta, Matilde Landeta, Emilio Fernandez, Fernando Mendez and many more with 36 feature films from Juan Bustillo Oro’s 1940 drama En Tiempos de Don Porfirio to Alberto Isaac’s 1969 outing Olimpiada En Mexico. 



Han matado a Tongolele courtesy of Filmoteca UNAM


So Mexico has always had a distinctive style of its own and a rich culture to draw on. It was one of the first countries to embrace new film technology, and did so back in the late 1890s when the country’s first filmmaker and distributor Salvador Toscano Barragan (1872-1947) introduced the first moving images using a cinematograph camera which had been been invented in France in 1895. Toscano also opened Mexico’s first cinema in Mexico City in 1897. As a documentarian he specialised in the Mexican Revolution, drawing on a rich vein of dramatic potential. 

But the Golden Age (1933-1964) was to come decades later during the 1930s when Mexican cinema all but dominated the Latin American film industry, and even rivalled Hollywood in its quality and prodigiousness. And it was largely Europe and the US’ preoccupation and involvement with the Second World War that allowed Mexico to step into the breach with their own feisty brand of rousing romantic and revolutionary melodramas and musicals, which provided a much needed antidote to the war-themed fare being produced elsewhere – although their own films where far from light-hearted and happy, often ending in tears, vehemence and bitter recrimination. 

La Noche Avanza (1952) Roberto Galvadon


Gabriel Figueroa (1907-1997) was a leading figure of Mexican Cinema in its most glorious period, photographing 212 feature films, starting his career in 1932, when he shared camera credits with the great Eduard Tisse for Sergej M. Eisenstein’s ¡Que Viva Mexico! (1932). The epic visuals are certainly influenced by Eisenstein’s work. The Mexican landscape is celebrated in long, carefully composed shots. Figueroa’s penultimate feature was Under the Volcano (1984), directed by John Huston – the two had already made Night of the Iguana (1964). 

Fernandez and Figueroa would work together on 25 features. Both El Indio and Figueroa established the character of a ‘Mestizaje’, a mixed race identity which Fernandez, whose mother was Native American, carried around proudly all his life.

Maria Candelaria (1944) saw the quartet reunited, Salon Mexico (1949) was another iconic work by director and cameraman. By the Mid-1950 they went different ways; La rebellion de los Colgados  was their last great success; even though their last collaboration was Una Cita de Amor in 1958. Figueroa would go shooting several Bunuel features like Los Olividados, Nazarin, La Joven and El Angel Exterminador.

The Black Pit of Dr M (1959) Fernando Mendez


One of them Pedro Infante (1917-1957) would go on to become a screen idol in that he represented all the qualities most highly cherished and sought after in a true Mexican hero: that of being a dutiful son, a firm friend and a romantic lover. In Nosotros los pobres (1947) he fulfils all these attributes, securing himself an everlasting place in the heart and soul of the Mexican public, and crowning it all by dying when he was only 39, in a plane crash.

Another popular star was Arturo de Cordova (1908-1973) who often played tormented men driven to distraction, his suave elegance and drop-dead good looks making him highly popular with female audiences and winning him 4 Ariel awards during the 1950s. He often played alongside his wife Margi Lopez (who was actually born in Argentina). Lopez’s best film was Salon Mexico (1950) and she won an Ariel for Best Actress as ravishing dancer Mercedes Gomez who reeks revenge on her pimp (Alfredo Acosta) when he tries to double-cross her. 

Another Idol who died young was Jorge Negrete 1910-53) although he made the best of his acting and musical talents during a career that lasted from 1930 through to his death. After enrolling in the military, Negrete made his way into singing opera, his recording of ‘Mexico Lindo e Querido’ is now considered the country’s unofficial anthem. Despite his short life, he married twice – Maria Felix and Elisa Christy – and also lived with the co-star of ten of his 44 films: Gloria Marin.

For her own part Maria Felix (1914-2002) (left) was a real stunner with a strong and vibrant personality, perfectly suiting her for femme fatale roles – most famously creating that of remarkable Dona Barbara (1943) in which she captured the public’s imagination, ensuring her place in the Golden Age firmament for posterity.

Directors such as Alberto Gout, Alejandro Galindo, Julio Bracho, and Juan Bustillo Oro were also popular and successful during this Golden Age. Their talents stretched across the board from screwball comedy to country and urban dramas offering audiences a well-rounded view of the Mexican people, their intriguing history and culture. It  was only when television came along to challenge their dominion and their hold over the nation’s viewers, that the Golden Age started to wane.




Macario (1960) **** Salon Mexico series

Dir: Roberto Gavaldon | Fantasy drama | Mexico 91′

The BFI’s season of films from Mexican cinema’s postwar golden age concludes with this rarely seen neo-realist fantasy that resembles an episode of The Twilight Zone directed by the Bergman that made The Seventh Seal and The Virgin Spring (of which the latter beat Macario to the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at that year’s Oscars, for which both had been nominated).

Based on a moral tale by the enigmatic B.Traven (author of ‘The Treasure of the Sierra Madre’), as photographed by Mexico’s top cameraman Gabriel Figueroa, this starts as a grim tale of poverty in which fantasy takes over as the starving hero’s purloined turkey dinner attracts the interest of a thinly disguised Satan, followed by God and finally by the Grim Reaper, who gives him the power not of healing but of prophecy (although people treat it as though it’s the same thing).

The film also provides a rare glimpse of the late Pina Pellicer as the hero’s careworn wife, remembered today as the ethereally lovely heroine of Marlon Brando’s classic cult western One-Eyed Jacks (1961). Richard Chatten.


Lila Alviles Interview (2018) Jury Prize Winner | Marrakech Film Festival 2018

Marrakech Film Festival Jury Prize Winer THE CHAMBERMAID plays the same thematic tune as two other festival winners this Summer: Golden Lion winner Roma and In A Distant Land which won the Golden Leopard at Locarno. They highlight the isolated and lonely lives of ordinary working people, often migrants – in this case, a Mexican national whose job in the capital detaches her from her loved ones. There is a distinct chilly humour to this acutely observed feature debut from Mexican actress, filmmaker and opera director Lila Alviles. We talked to her about her drama that won the JURY PRIZE at the 17th Marrakech International Film Festival 2018. MT

The Chambermaid | La camarista (2018) **** Marrakech Film Festival 2018 Jury Prize | Interview

Dir: Lila Alviles | Cartol | Drama | Mexico | 90′

The Chambermaid plays the same thematic tune as two other festival winners this Summer: Golden Lion winner Roma and In A Distant Land which won the Golden Leopard at Locarno. They highlight the isolated and lonely lives of ordinary working people, often migrants – in this case, a Mexican national whose job in the capital detaches her from her loved ones. There is a distinct chilly humour to this acutely observed feature debut from Mexican actress, filmmaker and opera director Lila Alviles. It follows the daily grind of a hotel worker in one of the Mexico City’s 5 star hotels. Cartol (La Tirisia) plays Eve with infinite grace and good humour – in one astonishing scene she stands for seemingly ages outside a lift during one of those awkward silences – catching a hotel guest’s eye several times with an expression that speaks volumes.

Pristinely executed in the zen-like interiors of this palace of interior design, the film pictures an upmarket public as they often are behind the closed door of their luxury suites: ill-mannered, demanding and crude. Bereft of their clothes they also take leave of their humanity – never mind their courtesy. This is social politics laid bare. The Chambermaid also examines the crafty interactions between the low-level workers themselves: the cunning soft sales techniques of her colleague in the laundry who is trying to supplement her low-paid job by selling hand cream and Tupperware. Or just trying to con her into sharing the latest fad – in this case, a gadget that delivers a shock to stimulate a feel-good rush of endorphin. Like a some ghastly face to face equivalent of FarmVille.

The Chambermaid is set in Mexico City’s Presidente Intercontinental. Eve is hard-working and diligent, but if she tries harder she’ll be allocated the stratospheric, newly refurbished 42nd floor with views to die for and even infinity pools. Pinning her hopes on the promotion, she improves her efficiency but to no avail. The only bonus here is in the lost property cupboard. In one of her rooms Eve has found a red dress and hopes to take it home, if the owner doesn’t claim it. But her gruelling schedule leaves no time to be with her child, let alone meet a partner. Outwardly timid, Eve shows her true colours in one scene involving a window cleaner who has taken a shine to her – along with his windows. Eve acknowledges him at a distance. Her reaction is plausible – a little light relief in a sea of sameness. But Alviles restrains herself and keeps this convincing.

Stunningly captured by Carlos Rossini’s creative camerawork, this sealed and sanitised world has a strange beauty. Loosely based on the book Hotel, by Sophie Calle, The Chambermaid is a contemplative but well-paced cinema verité piece that resonates with a powerful message from both sides of the equation. Eve’s humdrum existence is piqued by moments of insight that show her in a different light as she endure the indignities of her role with calm forbearance and subdued silence. The magnificent skyscapes are hers to see but never to enjoy in her closeted existence, locked in an eternal bubble with no respite, until the final scene where the ambient sounds of exotic birdsong replace the refrigerated buzz of musak and air-conditioning.  MT


7 QUESTIONS FOR Lila Alviles – director, THE CHAMBERMAID

1: Some of the most interesting films are coming out of South America – your story is simple but has universal appeal

Alviles: When I’m asked to explain my film I realise its so simple and yet profound. The idea started 8 years ago when I saw book about a photographer who took photos of the things people had left behind in hotels. I’m originally from a theatre background so originally it was going to be a play, but then I decided to make a film – to show to the chambermaids working there what I had in mind – and in the end it turned into a feature film as I followed them through their daily lives for 6 years so I could understand their world.  

2: The hotel feels like a microcosm of Mexico or even Mexico City with its different social make-up – the rich the poor, men and women behaving badly – behaving well.

Alviles: Yes, you’re absolutely right – I had so many stories to tell and yet I had no formal training, or diplomas in film – so in some ways I was an outsider. But I was determined to make the film and that’s how it all happened, and then we premiered in Toronto. Now, I’m taking on the festival circuit. 

3. How did you finance the feature?

Alviles: The money came from my own savings but I was so passionate about my idea and so I went with it through intuition. Then my producer joined me and helped me finish the film and other producers joined us to promote it. And we filmed in 17 days and have no done 18 festivals.

4: The good thing about your film is that its minimal dialogue and meditative pacing make it an absorbing watch for all nationalities – viewers can sit back and just enjoy the visual story. And that’s its strength, apart from the intriguing narrative. Are you part of the filmmaking community in Mexico today – along with Alfonso Cuaron or Michel Franco?

Alviles: Yes but not for me! There’s a lot of great cinema in Mexico, I go twice a week to the cinema. Well it’s difficult because I’m the one who came out of nowhere with my film as I didn’t attend film school. But now my film has been shown in Morelia – Mexico’s leading film festival  – and gradually it’s gaining an international platform. For the first time in my life my work speaks for what I am – whether I’m a woman or not.

5: The central actress Gabriela Cartol is very strong – how did you cast her?

Alviles: We had instant chemistry but I knew she was right for the part instantly. I often chose newcomers for my roles. But with Gabriela we have a trust that makes everything happen.

6: Yes she holds that scene outside the life with humour and with dignity – it’s my favourite scene is it yours?

Alviles: Yes it is – it’s almost like a documentary. I wanted so much to be a filmmaker and now I realise that this is my thing!

7: Do you have a project in the pipeline?

Alviles: Well I originally come from theatre and opera – and I love music. My next story actually comes from a personal experience and I started writing it before The Chambermaid. It’s a documentary.




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