Recent Mexican Cinema

Recent Mexican Cinema

Mexico is a Spanish speaking Latin American country which produces
about 25-30 films annually. It became an independent state in 1821 and
a republic in1823.Interestingly Mexico or United Mexican States is the
only South American country not to have a military coup in the post-war
period. As such it has a congenial atmosphere for the growth and
development of arts including Cinema.

                    Mexico has a long history of filmmaking which dates
back to the early part of the last cencury.One of the most vital
influences of the early Mexican Cinema was the Mexican Revolution. We
shall discuss here Mexican Cinema from 1990 to the present, which is
commonly termed as the Age of the New Mexican Cinema or Nuevo Cine
Mexicano.Arturo Ripstein,Alfonso Arau,Alfonso Cuaron and Maria Novara
are few of the stalwarts of this recent movement in Mexican Cinema.

Just when everything seemed lost for Mexican cinema, the dismantling of
what had once been a solid industry, middle class audience decided on
its salvation. This is the same middle class that had turned its back
on domestically made Mexican films for decades.Suprisingly,a 1999
bitter –sweet comedy,Sex Shame and Tears(Sexo,Pudor Y Lagrimas)by
Antonin Serrano turned out to be the most successful Mexican production
in history ,beating out Hollywood blockbusters like Star Wars prequel
The Phantom Menace. While it may be natural to identify with a pair of
star-crossed teen-age lovers abroad the Titanic, with all its
limitations, Sex, Shame and Tears prompted different, more immediate
reflexes and ways of thinking.

    Although it would be premature to call it a resurrection, it is
true that production has recovered. In 2007 we can expect about 30-35
full-length feature films from Mexican cine industry. AltaVista Films,
Argos, Producciones Anhelo and Titan are some of the companies that
have put their money on commercial cinema capable of attracting
middle-class intelligent audiences without insulting their intelligence.

    Love is a Bitch (Amores Perros),Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritus’s
first film, is precisely one example of this rare phenomenon: it is
praised and much-awarded film in prestigious circles that at the same
time was the year 2000’s top box-office hit, showing that good returns
can be achieved by a two-and-a-half hour drama with a complex narrative
structure. This AltaVista Films Production showed that although the
public prefers light comedies, it can also be interested in other

    In 2001, the same premise was proven by two urban dramas about
marginalized young people: Streeters (De la calle), the debut of
director Gerardo Tort, and Violet Perfume-No One Hears You (Perfume de
violetas.Nadie te oye)Maryse Sistach’sfifth full-length feature film.
This is a hyper-realistic adaptation by prominent dramatist Gonzalez
Davila that draws a picture of the nocturnal, violently sordid world of
some Mexican city teenagers with an urgency that is never morbid. The
constantly moving camera and the sudden cuts of the editing reinforce
that strategy to bring the audience a sense of the immediate.

  Although Violet Perfume focuses on the specific problem of the
growing number of rapes in Mexico, the film avoids sermonizing by
situating the conflict in a broader context, that of the interrupted
friendship between two lower-class teenage girls; this gives the plot
its emotional force. The director tells her story with the
verisimilitude of a documentary, allowing it to develop with the
naturalness of daily life, even at times when it could have succumbed
to melodrama.

    The existence of a large number of women directors in a country
known for its macho image is noteworthy.2002 saw the release of work by
Marcela Arteaga with her documentary Memories(Recuerdos);Marcela
Fernandez Violante,with her Snake Skin(Piel de vibora);Dana
Rotberg,with Otilia Rauda;Eva Lopez-Sanchez, with Which Side are you
on?(De que lado estas?,)and Guita Schyfter,with Faces of the Moon(Las
caras de la luna)The time when Fernandez Violante was the only active
woman film maker seems very far away indeed.

        Without a doubt, comedy is the king of Mexican cinema, whether
it be a satirical look at Mexican life or as a friendly illusion to
certain neuroses of Mexico City’s middle class. Released after
audaciously eluding the threat of censorship, Herod’s Law (La ley de
Herodes) (Luis Estrada, 2000) was of capital importance for showing
that the Industrial Revolutionary Party and other sacred cows had
stopped being untouchable. Although the satire on institutionalized
corruption was a crude caricature, the excess was necessary to make
effective its virulent critique of a system that was about to come to
an end in the year it was being shown.

    Other satires have been more moderate in their attacks.Gimme Power
(Todo el poder) (Fernando Sarinana, 2000) posits a superficial
denunciation of urban crime associated with police corruption and even
has a happy ending .In the Country Where Nothing Happens (En el pais de
no pasa nada) (Maria del Carmen de Lara, 2000) makes pleasant fun of
the figure of the dishonest Salinas-administration politician from a
woman’s point of view, while A Strange World(Un mundo raro)(Armando
Casas,2001)focuses on the murky world of commercial television to
establish the moral differences between common criminals and the amoral
television personalities they admire.

    In contrast, Mexico City comedies have centered in general on the
crisis of the couple. The extraordinary success of Sex, Shame and Tears
had a precedent in Coriander and Parsley (Cilantro y perejil)(Rafael
Montero,1996)one of the few good films that came out during the
industry’s dry period. Also well received by the viewers, although
panned by the critics, was Second Chance (El Segundo aire)by Fernando
Sarinana(2001),another attempt at presenting infidelity as a system of
generational malaise.

      Certainly, the most unexpected incursion into this genre was
Living Kills (Vivir mata)(2002),by Nicolas Echevarria,previously a
director of documentaries and of the epic-mystical Cabeza de vaca,one
of the most highly acclaimed prize-winning films of the 1980’s.Living
Kills tries to bring together two story-lines of today’s Mexico City
comedies: the search for a partner in love and the city has the
testimony of just how uninhabitable the city has become. But sadly
instead of transcending mere realism, Living Kills is content with
being whimsically picturesque.

      The preoccupation with love relationships in Mexico City found
its teenage version in The Second Time (La segunda vez)(Alejandro
Gamboa,1999)whose best feature is its lack of pretension and the honest
with which it treats its female characters. Teen love was also the
pretext for existential exploration on trips to the provinces, the
subject of the irregular Dust to Dust(Por la libre)(Juan Carlos de
Llaca,2000),the incoherent Green Stones(Piedras verdes)(Angel Flores
Torres,2001)and ,of course, And Your Mother, Too)(Alfonso
Cuaron,2001),the film with the largest viewing audience in 2001 in

    Winner of 2001’s Venice Film Festival, And Your Mother, Too(Y tu
mama tambien),a film that marks Curon’s return to Mexican cinema, is a

Combination of road movie and adolescent comedy centered on a ménage a
trios among a Spanish woman and two teenage boys obsessed with sex. The
movie slyly suggests a critical view: while the protagonists throw
themselves into directionless hedonism, the audience catches glimpses
of real problem in the national situation, ignored by these privileged
teens. The film ends with guilt and punishment for partying, a
moralizing discourse.

    The most interesting recent contribution from a novel film maker is
Fairy Tale to Lull Crocodiles to Sleep (Cuento de hadas para dormer a
los cocodrilos), the second feature film by Ignacio Ortiz Cruz.Despite
its pretentious title, this film takes an untraveled road.It is not a
comedy, although it has dashes of homour; and the action does not take
in Mexico City, but in the beautiful arid countryside of Oaxaca. This
history of a family curse over time (a heritage of insomnia and
fratricide) escapes the literary conceits of magical realism to find
its own language. This is the kind of production-audacious and
rigorously personal-that has kept Mexican Cinema Alive.

      The success of Mexican Cinema in recent years lies in the fact
that the films combine the artistic, the entertaining and commercial in
an appealing manner. The contemporary Mexican film makers give equal
importance to all these elements. Comedy is their forte and the past
few years saw the rise of some highly successful satirical and
adolescent comedies. Maybe Assamese filmmakers can take some lessons
from these Mexican movies rather than those produced by Bollywood. 


                              The End 

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