06 · 11 · 18

Dos monjes, by Juan Bustillo Oro, Pioneer of Mexican Gothic Cinema

By: Chloë Roddick

The 32nd edition of Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna, Italy, will screen Enamorada, by Emilio “El Indio” Fernández, and Rosauro Castro, by Roberto Gavaldón, thank to the invaluable support of the Cineteca Nacional and the UNAM Film Library.

During the previous edition of Il Cinema Ritrovato, Daniela Michel, founder and general director of the Morelia International Film Festival (FICM), presented in the company of the writer and producer Olivia Harrison, the film Dos monjes (1934) by Juan Bustillo Oro , which was rescued and restored by The Film Foundation and the Film Library of the UNAM.

About this film, Chloë Roddick, FICM programmer, wrote a text that talks about the importance of Dos Monjes in the development of the so-called Mexican Gothic Cinema.

DOS MONJES de Juan Bustillo Oro, pionera del Cine gótico mexicano

Dos monjes (1934, dir. Juan Bustillo Oro)

The beginnings of sound cinema in Mexico in the early 1930s saw the birth of a strange new genre that might reasonably be called “Mexican Gothic”. Arguably, in part, a more subtle and obscure response to the violence had been imprinted on the collective psyche by the Revolution, films like the Spanish-language remake of Tod Browning´s Drácula, (1931), Ramón Peón´s La llorona (1933), Fernando de Fuentes´ El fantasma del convento (1934) or, indeed, Juan Bustillo Oro´s Dos monjes paved the way for a new type of cinema, which dealt with paranoia and repressed fear through films that broke with established norms. The genre went on to take flight in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, with directors like Fernando Méndez, Rogelio A, González and, later, Carlos Enrique Taboada and Juan López Moctezuma. Bustillo Oro´s own career spanned 38 years, both as a director/producer/screenwriter, and also as an author of crime and noir short stories.

Dos monjes remains one of the most significant and representative early works of the genre. The film tells the story of two monks who are embroiled in a complex psychological struggle for the love of the same woman, and of their eventual unravelling. The influence of German expressionism is again evident in the film´s moody, nuanced use of black and white, and the photography of celebrated Mexican photographer Agustín Jiménez, which together create a strange, distorted atmosphere. French surrealist and writer André Bretón was reportedly taken with the film, which he saw during a visit to Mexico, dubbing it a “bold and unusual experiment.”