Saturday, June 24, 2017

El compadre Mendoza / Godfather Mendoza

El compadre Mendoza. Alfredo del Diestro (Rosalío Mendoza), Carmen Guerrero (Dolores). The hacienda owner Rosalío about to be executed by Zapata's revolutionaries.

Director: Fernando de Fuentes. Year: 1933. Country: Messico. Spanish version. Revolution and Adventure: Mexican Cinema in the Golden Age.
    Sog.: Juan Bustillo Oro, Mauricio Magdaleno. Scen.: Juan Bustillo Oro, Fernando de Fuentes. F.: Ross Fisher. M.: Fernando de Fuentes. Scgf.: Beleho. Mus.: Manuel Castro Padilla. Ass. regia: Juan Bustillo Oro. Int.: Alfredo del Diestro (Rosalío Mendoza), Carmen Guerrero (Dolores), Antonio R. Frausto (generale Felipe Nieto), Luis G. Barreiro (Atenógenes), Emma Roldán (María), José del Río (Felipe), Joaquín Busquets (colonnello Bernáldez), Abraham Galán (colonnello Martínez). Prod.: Rafael Ángel Frías, José Castellot Jr., Antonio Prida Santacilia per Interamericana Films. DCP. D.: 81′. Bn.
    Restored by Filmoteca UNAM from a 35mm original negative, property of Filmoteca UNAM. Photochemical restored at Filmoteca UNAM lab, and digitally restored in 2K at Vision Globales, Montréal.
    Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna.
    DCP with e-subtitles in Italian and English by Sub-Ti Londra at Cinema Jolly, 24 June 2017.

Daniela Michel and Chlöe Roddick (Il Cinema Ritrovato): "In 1933 Fernando de Fuentes began a trilogy of work about the Mexican Revolution that included El prisionero 13 (1933), El compadre Mendoza (1933) and Vámonos con Pancho Villa (1935). If 1933 was a year in which Mexican cinematic production exploded (twenty-one films were produced that year, as opposed to just one in 1931), it was also the year that de Fuentes, one of the most important filmmakers in Mexican cinema history, made his mark with this devastatingly critical take on the Mexican Revolution."

"Influenced by Sergej Ejzenštejn – who began work on his fated production Que viva México! in 1931 – and by the aesthetics of German expressionism, El compadre Mendoza tells of the dispute between two Revolutionary factions, by way of the story of a landowner whose allegiance changes depending on who is in control in his village at any one time. The preceding film, El prisionero 13, was heavily censored by the government – who had the ending changed in an attempt to dilute the film’s brutal portrayal of the Revolution – while Vámonos con Pancho Villa was the most expensive film in Mexican history up until that time, with a staggering 1 million peso budget (around four times the average)."

"De Fuentes believed that Mexican cinema “ought to be a faithful reflection of our way of being, bleak and tragic” and, indeed, his trilogy of films, either taken as stand-alone works or as an homogenous whole, offers one of the most authentic explorations of the Revolution, and of the the social and moral devastation that it left behind; a devastation that deeply implicated the collective consciousness of Mexican society for generations to come."
Daniela Michel and Chlöe Roddick (Il Cinema Ritrovato)

AA: I am not a connoisseur of Mexican cinema, and seeing for the first time a film by Fernando de Fuentes makes me eager to see more.

The narrative of El compadre Mendoza is original with unexpected features. The story takes place in the 1910s at the hacienda of Rosalío Mendoza located at the very battlegrounds of the war between the government forces and Zapata's revolutionaries. Rosalío's way of life is a case of Realpolitik. He always celebrates whoever is in charge, entertains their troops, and knows which drink to serve: mezcal or cognac. There is nothing dubious about him. Both sides understand his will to survive.

During the narrative Rosalío meets the beautiful Dolores, much younger than he, and they marry. The looks of Dolores are telling, but it becomes a successful marriage based on love and mutual respect, even more after the birth of their son whom they call Felipe, after a Zapatista general who has saved Rosalío from execution and Dolores from rape. Felipe becomes the godfather (compadre) to the baby son, and he is truly devoted to his godson, teaching him to ride a horse, among other things. Late, towards the finale, he confesses, that he, too, has always loved Dolores, but sublimated this love towards the godson. This beautiful triangle love story is unusual and moving.

There is a tragic finale. Rosalío has been hoping to move with his family to Mexico City with the gains of a successful sale of grain, but the Zapatista revolutionaries sabotage the rails, and Rosalío's grain shipment is destroyed. He sends Dolores and their son to safety to the capital anyway and is pressured by the government forces to negotiate a settlement with the Zapatistas. However, he is betrayed, and while Felipe the general is sitting in his kitchen government soldiers shoot Felipe in the back through the window, and he is hanged on the premises of the Rosalío hacienda. Rosalío's spirit is broken, and Dolores and the little Felipe cry on their way to safety, as if sensing what is going on.

The silent accusing looks of the housekeeper and the accountant at the hacienda are memorable.

The performances are wonderful and engrossing.

The music score is powerful, consisting of war songs, wedding songs, slow waltzes, harmonica playing at campfire, and a final tragic song "What Did That Woman Give You?" (Dolores: "that song drives me crazy").

El compadre Mendoza is an unusual and deeply moving film which I look forward to revisiting.

The visual quality of the DCP presentation was generally quite good, with some unevenness, including occasional low contrast and a video look.

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