Tuesday, September 28, 2010

NYFF Masterworks: Fernando de Fuentes' Mexico and its (continuing) revolution

One gets the decided sense, while watching the films of Mexican movie-maker Fernando de Fuentes, that the would-be, society-and-country-changing event known as the "Mexican Revolution" -- even at the time his films were made (the mid 1930s), not to mention the most prominent time of that hoped-for revolution (1910-20) -- remains ongoing. And perhaps going nowhere. We may learn more about this upon the showing of the new Mexican ten-part movie Revolución (below), which will screen on Saturday, October 9, and about which I'll have more to say next week.

Meanwhile, the fine program of Mexico's revolutionary history made up of the three de Funetes films in the tiny retrospective that the Film Society of Lincoln Center is hosting during its 48th edition of the New York Film Festival would seem to demonstrate this view. TrustMovies managed to see two of the three, and his time was very well spent.

One of the first things you notice about de Fuentes' work is how current, in some of their tricks and tropes, his movies seem. In the first of the three films, PRISONER 13, in order to show the passage of time, the camera glides in on a mother's hands adjusting the collar of her little boy's shirt and tie. When the camera moves outward again, he's a young man. Likewise, in the second of the films, EL COMPADRE MENDOZA, a landowner/arms merchant, Mexican style, who of course plays both sides of the street, appears to support the Mexican Army under Huerta (whose portrait appears prominently in the merchant's home).  When the Zapatistas come to call, however, it's Emiliano whose portrait gets quickly get hung in replacement. We've seen this done countless time since, but Señor de Fuentes may have been the first to offer it, and in any case handles it with good humor and great style.

El Compadre Mendoza, by the way, is a must-see for several reasons.  The story of this fence-straddling, please-'em-all "businessman" -- whose lovely and quite wonderful wife was herself a kind of "business deal" -- is told with amazing charm and tact. Even today, we'd be lucky to get a movie that says so much about so many subjects done with this kind of subtlety and skill. Marriage, politics, family love, longing, passion, adultery, parenting, sacrifice, even some buried homo-erotic feelings -- they're all blended seamlessly into one rich, funny and moving film.

Prisoner 13 (a still from which is shown above), is a melodrama about a top military man who a decade ago rejected wife and child but now longs to know the whereabouts of his son. It stars the same two actors from "El Compadre" (a still from which is shown below) -- Alfredo del Diestro (shown center, above, and at right, below), who plays Compadre's rich landowner and Prisoner's military sleaze-bag, and Antonio R. Frausto as Prisoner's revolutionary leader and as the handsome, hunky general of Zapata's army (below, left).  Both men give fine performances in roles quite different, and both were among the lights of Mexican cinema during the first half of the last century -- with Frausto giving nearly 100 performances over that time and del Diesto almost 50.

I wasn't able to see the last of this Mexican trilogy, LET'S GO WITH PANCHO VILLA, said to be one of the best of de Fuentes' films. But the first two have peaked my interest to the point that I'll make sure see it somehow. On the basis of what these film show, the revolution was always an "iffy" proposition greeted with the kind of popularity shown by those more democratic/socialist regimes of Chile's Allende or Spain's anti-Franco Republican forces, in which the countries themselves remained (and still remain) divided on the subject of which road -- right or left -- is best. And, as usual, in so many supposedly "democratic" countries, wealth and power consistently collude to make certain that the have-nots
continue not to have.

All three films are getting a rare and deserved theatrical screening at the Walter Reade Theater tomorrow, Wednesday, September 29. Seats are available, and times and ticket information can be found by clicking here or on the individual films (above).

(All of these films are also available via Netflix and even more by de Fuentes can be found at Blockbuster.)

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