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The City’s Laughter: the complexity of metropolis

An enthusiastic and young filmmaker and screenwriter who was rejected 16 times by the STPC (Union of Cinematographic Production Technicians) and its absurd closed doors policies for young people, Gilberto Gazcón de Anda (1929-2013) seemed determined to follow in Ismael Rodríguez’s footsteps with his themes and popular neighborhood characters, taken from the most affected sectors of society and the growing metropolis, as demonstrated through: El boxeador, Los desarraigados, Suerte te de Dios or Cielo rojo.

Later on, in 1962, inspired on an argument by himself and the actor Pancho Córdova, Gazcón directed his first great film: an ode to the complex city "Distrito Federal" and its lively and pulsating characters. La risa de la ciudad begins in the Mundet nursing home, where Don Tencho (José Elías Moreno) lives. Don Tencho has finally succeeded locating Beto (Joaquín Cordero), a street swindler and orphan whose circus clown parents and died in a fire. Tencho turns out to be Beto's estranged grandfather, who rejected Beto's mother in the past. Determined to make up for his youthful mistake, he decides to help his grandson –who lives in a lost city– by blending in with the locals and hiding his true identity.

La risa de la ciudad (1963) - Filmaffinity

Despite a certain moralistic and didactic discourse on education and the eradication of ignorance and the exacerbated exaltation of poverty, La risa de la ciudad is one of the most successful popular stories of the capital city at the time. A time in which the construction of new settlements and popular department stores began.  Like Aurrerá Universidad, which had a luminous sign that could be seen from the bottom of a field in a nearby property and which today, 60 years later, is one of the areas with the highest capital gain. The film tells a story of contrasts: wealthy neighborhoods such as Polanco and Las Lomas, and those where hundreds of irregular invaders ended up, as it happens at the end of the film on Calle Los Cipreses, presumably in Iztapalapa.

In this, his city scene of abandonment and struggle for daily survival, home to clowns, fire eaters and wandering circus kids like Beto, played masterfully by the chameleon that was actor Joaquín Cordero, who manages to become a man when he bravely assumes the role of paternity. With him, drunks like Adalberto Martínez Resortes (characters he played like a charm as can be seen in Los Fernández de Peralvillo (1953) or Tacos al Carbon (1971), both by Alejandro Galindo) or the then-child, Valentín Trujillo, who begins an awkward and precipitated career as a thief with tears in his eyes, while singing “Sorry” by Pedro Flores on a truck – backed by his older brother and protector Polo (Julio Alemán).  “I've seen you steal. You taught me to be a thief. It was you..." he complains. To which Polo replies, "You're right little bro. I did. But I swear to you that I will never steal a pin or a penny again, even if I starve."

As well as rhw “strong man”, played by a shaved-headed David Silva in black leggings and a sleeveless shirt, a member of that traveling caravan. They are also joined by Beto's girlfriend, Lety, played by the beautiful Alma Delia Fuentes. Lety is harassed by a bad boss and landlord, played by Carlos López Moctezuma.

The laughter of the city today is, above all, a kind of documentary about that Mexican city in 1962: the tours of the Zócalo and Pino Suárez; the scenes in the Basilica of Guadalupe with those gringos taking pictures and José Elías Moreno demanding that they don't capture grotesque images of the citizens; Lincoln Park in Polanco; even the exterior of the Ciudad Universitaria Stadium.

Populism and honesty have never been so united, with phrases such as: “The government wants us to do everything. Why won't they build our multi-family homes?" Or “You go right to the touching,” Alma Delia Fuentes complains to Joaquín Cordero. "She wants to live, not to just be meat. She has a heart, feelings," Don Tencho explains to Beto.

By the way, the fictional lost city, located on a campus on Avenida Universidad, was set on fire without permission from the authorities to give the film more realism. Consequently, its director Gilberto Gazcón was detained for almost a day. Francisco Pina, Spanish essayist, and film critic exiled in Mexico and author of books such as Praxinoscopio, wrote about La risa de la ciudad in La Cultura en México on Siempre! Magazine, on May 29, 1963: "Something in it reveals - as far as the director and the performers are concerned - a certain intuition of the popular and the possibility of achieving more important and persistent works in the future." The film opened on April 25, 1963, at the Alameda theater.