We’re now deep into the Golden Age of Mexican cinema, though I can’t tell you much about the director himself. He was from a large family, was sister to Andrea Palma (seen in 1934’s The Woman of the Port and in Another Dawn below) and a cousin to Dolores del Río (whom we saw in La otra). He was involved with modern theatre in Mexico City in the 1930s and then moved into writing and directing between the 1940s-1970s, though he had trouble with the censors later in his career. He passed away in 1978.
Distinto amanecer (Another Dawn, 1943)
Not quite the equal of his subsequent Twilight (albeit there are no vampires in either, depending on how you define them), but this could have probably been a little tighter in its construction. As it is there’s a lot of to-do over an envelope full of incriminating documents that functions as a classic MacGuffin, but the constant back-and-forth of who has the documents and how they’re going to be smuggled out of town to where they can help to bring down corrupt politicians can be wearying, especially given the real drama is about where lie the affections of our leading lady Julieta, played by the director’s sister (and a big star) Andrea Palma. We are introduced to her rather shifty husband Ignacio (Alberto Galán), but it’s not until the final sequence that you really grasp how torn she is between him and the dashing moustachioed Octavio (Pedro Armendáriz). There’s a great sense of style too with the cinematography (as you’d expect given the involvement of Gabriel Figueroa), lots of deep shadows and expressive lighting, and the final crane shot of the train departing is rather wonderful too, so the film is hardly without its delights. Still, I think it might have landed more with contemporary audiences, given its corruption themes, and there are apparently plenty of nods towards some real figures (enough that the filmmakers put the ‘not inspired by real people or events’ disclaimer right up front).
Director Julio Bracho; Writers Xavier Villaurrutia and Bracho (based on the play La vida conyugal by Max Aub); Cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa; Starring Andrea Palma, Pedro Armendáriz, Alberto Galán; Length 108 minutes.
Seen at BFI Southbank (NFT3), London, Thursday 11 July 2019.
Crepúsculo (Twilight, 1945)
I may have lived a few years now, but I remain in many ways quite a novice when it comes to melodrama, and it really struck me while watching this film that there’s so much in the form. Not just expressive formal elements, but an excess in the plot, in the staging and in the acting that is deeply loaded with all kinds of connotations, to the point where every gesture becomes a slap in the face, every camera movement or change in the direction of the lighting seems to signal some new break in reality. I enjoy the over-determined nature of the construction of this reality — it’s something that clearly puts this in a line towards soap operas and telenovelas — but all these elements are brought together to create a deeper understanding of an individual psyche in a way that feels really powerful. This film may not be the finest example, but it’s a very fine one nonetheless, and the twilight of the title turns out to be a form of clinical depression. There are all kinds of thwarted romance plot lines running throughout, a lattice-like structure of homicidal impulses criss-crossing between the two male leads, and an almost limitless array of sultry poses from Lucía (Gloria Marín), our femme fatale of sorts (this isn’t strictly a noir) — none more destructive to our Doctor hero (Arturo de Córdova) than the naked sculpture of her that he covets. It’s all very heady stuff, with a feverish array of Dutch angles and expressionist lighting changes to signal the disorder in the Doctor’s mind, and compelling too.
Director/Writer Julio Bracho; Cinematographer Alex Phillips; Starring Arturo de Córdova, Gloria Marín, Manuel Arvide, Lilia Michel; Length 108 minutes.
Seen at BFI Southbank (NFT2), London, Tuesday 9 July 2019.