Another Dawn: The Agony of LightBy: Alonso Díaz de la Vega @diazdelavega1
Among the many films directed by Julio Bracho, Another Dawn (1943) remains among the most singular. One of the first film noirs in Mexican cinema —and in film history—, this piece tells the story of the reunion between a woman and the love of her life: a union man hunted by a corrupt governor’s men. Pulled together by fate, both will have to make unbearable decisions when facing the gravitational force of corruption and inequality, which sucks them into a black hole where light disappears forever. With its attack on the country’s political conditions, Another Dawn found its place among films like Fernando de Fuentes’ Revolution Trilogy and Luis Buñuel’s social dramas, yet its peculiar ability to convey darkness turn its cinematic style into a historic event and a symbol of Mexico’s struggles to emerge as a developed nation.
After the opening credits, a title card claims that Another Dawn is a universal story which could happen anywhere. This is similar to the words at the beginning of Let’s Go with Pancho Villa! (1936, dir. Fernando de Fuentes), which contradict the film’s content by saying that the plot is an homage to the men who fought in the Mexican Revolution. Considering that the film includes a scene in which a character kills himself in order to prove his manhood and that an alternate ending shows Villa killing the main character and his family, it’s evident that the filmmakers were only trying to reduce the film’s effects, rather critical of Mexico’s recent history. Years after the release of Another Dawn, Luis Buñuel would use a prologue about the universal presence of poverty in The Young and the Damned (1950), but in these three films the contrivance would merely work as a distraction meant to satisfy their censors and make them overlook the hard socio-political contents in each.
In Another Dawn Octavio (Pedro Armendáriz) always carries an envelope with information on the murder of a union leader. This is the reason why he’s being followed by a diabolical man who wears dark glasses that shape his eyes as black holes. His frail voice opposes his merciless skill as a spy and assassin. By the end of the film the corrupt governor makes his appearance along with his entourage. They look like gangsters. The hoodlums are formed behind their boss. Their tipped hats, the lit cigarettes in their mouths and their pinstriped suits turn the suggestion of criminality into an accusation.
The plot and the characters’ traits would seem to be enough to express an endless night, yet Bracho and cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa employed a radical technique for their time: total darkness. One just has to compare the lighting of interiors in Another Dawn’s contemporaries to notice the difference: in most of them a candle casts a light potent enough to help us see the details of an entire room. Many films still do the same —albeit in a more subtle way—, thus disrespecting physics in favor of clarity. In his book The Classical Mexican Cinema, professor Charles Ramirez Berg suggests that Figueroa was perhaps inspired by a scene lit with just a candle in John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath (1940) or by Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941). Both films were shot by Figueroa’s mentor, Gregg Toland. There aren’t any sources to confirm this influence but, nevertheless, with Another Dawn the disciple bettered the master.
In most of the film’s scenes a darkness which seems to devour the characters prevails. At the beginning Octavio walks in Mexico City and we cannot see anything but his figure. Inside his beloved Julieta’s (Andrea Palma) apartment the characters’ features are barely discernible. Not even Double Inmenmity (1944), Billy Wilder’s classic film credited as film noir’s model, had such low-key lighting. One would have to turn to Roberto Rossellini’s neorealist films to find a darkness similar to Another Dawn’s. The coincidences among these films, both formal and thematic —the moral corruption, the burden of women, forced to sell themselves—, are enough to think that Bracho’s work is not merely an important piece in the mosaic of Mexican film history but a definitive moment for world cinema.