CULTURE

Flame of Mexican cinema is burning brightly once more

Mexican cinema is one of the stars of the 46th Thessaloniki International Film Festival. This year’s festival, under the leadership of Despina Mouzaki, will focus on one of the most creative schools of Latin America, presenting 18 films that represent Mexico’s entire cinematic output over the years. Alexis Grivas, who selected the films featured in the tribute, has put together a portrait of Mexican cinema, showcasing the work of significant directors from the first golden age of Mexican cinema up until the present time, with films that mark a new period of flux for the country’s film industry. The early 1990s saw the beginning of a period of rebirth for Mexican cinema, spearheaded by directors who combine a candid portrayal of modern life with plausible characters and strong, clever scripts. A landmark film of this wave, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s 2000 «Amores perros» (Love’s a Bitch), presents a harsh and fascinating journey through modern-day Mexico City. A low-budget film and the director’s first feature film, it was a huge success and won a slew of awards that brought it international recognition. «Amores perros» will be shown at the tribute, along with «Los Magueyes» (1962, a short) and «La formula secreta» (1964) by Ruben Gomez; «Reed, Mexico insurgente» (1970) and «Frida, naturaleza viva» (1983) by Paul Leduc; «Solo con tu pareja» (1990) and «Y tu mama tambien» (2001) by Alfonso Cuaron; «Cronos» (1992) and «El esinazo del diablo» (2001) by Guillermo del Toro; «Salon Mexico» (1948) by Emilio Fernandez; «Canoa» (1975) by Felipe Cazals; «Los olvidados» (1950) by Luis Bunuel; «Rogelio» (2000, a short) by Guillermo Arriaga; «El crimen de Padre Amaro» (2002) by Carlos Carrera; «Voces inocentes» (2004) by Luis Mandoki; «Batalla en el cielo» (2005) by Carlos Reygadas; «Sangre» (2005) by Amat Escalante, and «The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada» (2005), directed by Tommy Lee Jones and written by Guillermo Arriaga. The golden years Mexico’s relationship with film is an intense one and goes way back. During the great social upheaval that followed the revolution in 1910, film was used, catalytically, to shape public opinion. The Mexican Revolution was actually the first large-scale armed conflict to have been recorded far and wide in photographs and on film. Efforts by successive post-revolution governments to construct the «official history» of a unified Mexico were greatly aided by cinema, which contributed greatly to promoting cultural nationalism, along with many other forms of art. The arrival of the great Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein for the shooting of «Que viva Mexico!» in 1931 greatly boosted developments in the local industry, which reached its acme in the 1940s and ’50s. This was the golden age of Mexican cinema, and it succeeded in building a robust infrastructure of production and a glowing star system akin to that of Hollywood. Mexican films – comedies, social adventures and melodramas – not only filled Mexican theaters but also made box-office hits abroad. Actors such as Dolores del Rio, Cantinflas, Jorge Negrete and Ricardo Montalban were drawn by the bright lights of Hollywood, where they made successful careers. An exception in her time was the great actress Maria Felix, who refused to be seduced by the sirens of the north. Exiled from Franco’s Spain, Luis Bunuel went to Mexico in 1951 where he made a number of significant films, such as the landmark «Los olvidados.» But the Mexican film industry was beginning to slump by this time. Television was gaining mass appeal, replacing movies as a form of popular entertainment. At the same time, the state’s hold over film production began to loosen, leaving young filmmakers more susceptible to the new trends of European and independent American cinema. Their desire to break free of the forms that had predominated the past two decades was expressed through experimentation (such as the poetic essay by Ruben Gomez «La formula secreta,» which will be shown at the festival) and films that challenged conventional norms, patriarchic values and political repression, or films that sought to view the Mexican Revolution beyond the veils of fiction, such as Paul Leduc’s «Reed, Mexico insurgente.» Directors such as Arturo Ripstein, Alfonso Arau, Felipe Cazals and Jorge Fons – who in 1989 did «Rojo amanecer,» the first film to focus on the bloody suppression of the student movement in 1968, just before the opening of the Olympic Games in Mexico City – held the flame of Mexican cinema alight until a new generation of filmmakers, who found themselves at the core of the industry’s rebirth in the 1990s, emerged. During this period the role of state bodies in funding films became less pivotal and young directors became more active in numerous areas in order to attain the production and distribution costs of their films. The free generation While this may have been trying on the artists, it created an atmosphere of greater freedom and gave them greater control over their product. At the same time, having displayed their talent, directors, screenwriters and actors – such as Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Alfonso Cuaron, Guillermo Arriaga and Gabriel Garcia – were invited to participate in productions from other countries and, more enticingly for them, from the US. The abundance of talent that Mexican cinema has displayed over the years has ensured it an important placement on the map of global cinema. In a landscape where the dominance of the American studio film industry has grown to asphyxiating proportions, it is a positive sign when we see a forum opening up that gives us insight into the cultures of different countries through their cinema. The opportunities for such openings given by film festivals are invaluable, so long as the films themselves make it to the general public through mainstream movie theaters.