Pierre Rissient presents “Imaginary Mexico” at the 13th FICMBy: Gabriel Andrade Espinosa, reportero (@gabolonio)
Special invited guest of FICM who is renowned in world cinema, Pierre Rissient presented Salt of the Earth (1954) by Herbert J. Biberman, at the 13th FICM. The film is part of the Imaginary Mexico program, which is offered each year following the idea of Bertrand Tavernier, Guest of Honor at the 5th FICM. This year, Pierre Rissient was responsible for curating the program, which consists of Salt of the Earth and The Wonderful Country (1959) by Robert Parrish.
Screening of Salt of the Earth:
Salt of the Earth was directed by Herbert J. Biberman, who was a member of the Hollywood Ten, a group of filmmakers who were called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) accused of being communists. The director created this project as a haven for blacklisted film artists unable to work elsewhere. Part of the cast of Salt of the Earth was Mexican actress and dancer Rosaura Revueltas, sister of José, Fermín and Silvestre Revueltas – all protagonists of Mexican cultural life of the 20th century. Rosaura was deported before the end of the shoot, so the last scene was filmed on the outskirts of Mexico City. The screenwriter of the film, Michael Wilson, is one of the most important writers in the history of Hollywood. His filmography as a screenwriter includes Che! (1969), Planet of the Apes (1968) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962), to name a few.
The screening was attended by Pierre Rissient and Daniela Michel, general director of FICM. Following are comments by Pierre Rissient:
On the Hollywood Ten:
“The director Herbert J. Biberman is one of the Hollywood Ten, which is a group that in 1947 was suspected of being communists. The ten went to prison just because they were suspected communists. Producer Paul Jarrico was not part of the Hollywood Ten, but he was also blacklisted as well as screenwriter Michael Wilson, who you should know very well. To me, he is very important because once he was no longer blacklisted he was one of the screenwriters who made the most money in Hollywood. I’m not praising him for making a lot of money, but he is truly one of the best screenwriters in Hollywood. And we must also mention the musical composer, Sol Kaplan, who was also blacklisted.”
On the change of director:
“First, both Herbert Biberman and Paul Jarrico wanted the film to be made by another director, who could not do it for political reasons. Biberman then had to take over as director of the film.”
On the conditions in which they film was made:
“It was made under very difficult conditions because outside where it was being shot was the FBI looking for any pretext to stop the shooting of the film. Actress Rosaura Revueltas was deported to Mexico before the film was completed.”
On the difficulties of exhibiting the film:
“The film has never been screened in theaters in a normal way. No one wanted to exhibit it. However, it managed to be presented in a small, very prestigious theater in France in 1955. It received rave reviews and it had an exclusive screening which lasted 18 months in that small theater.”
Screening of The Wonderful Country:
The Wonderful Country, directed by Robert Parrish and starring Robert Mitchum, tells the story of Martin Brady, a gun-for-hire who works for Don Cipriano Castro (Pedro Armendáriz), a powerful patriarch in the state of Durango. As an adolescent, Brady avenged the death of his father killing his murderer and then he fled south of the border, where he lived several years until Don Cipriano sends him north to buy guns. As a result of that trip, the unraveling of Brady’s identity begins, as some see him as Mexican and others as gringo. The story is based on a novel written by Texan Tom Lea.
The screening was attended by Daniela Michel, general director of FICM, and Pierre Rissient, who said:
On the perceived relationship between Robert Mitchum and Mexico:
“I’ve seen other movies made here involving Robert Mitchum. I don’t know if it’s my imagination, but I think there is a very strong link between Robert Mitchum and Mexico. What I perceive as a foreigner is that this affection is due to a romanticism of both Robert Mitchum and Mexico.”
On the title of Imaginary Mexico:
“It was a great idea of my friend Bertrand Travernier to suggest this program of Imaginary Mexico. But despite the esteem I have for Bertrand, I disagree with the title because many of the movies that have been screened not only show an imaginary Mexico, but also a real Mexico, perhaps even more real than the Mexico described in Mexican films. When I watched The Wonderful Country again I saw that the best scene occurs between Pedro Armendáriz and Carlos Moctezuma. This dialogue that takes place between the two brothers is much more real and true than what was seen with the characters in Mexico.”
On the failure of the film:
“Even considering that this film has great qualities, I understand why it was a failure at that moment. The relationship between Robert Mitchum and Julie London is not exhausted, it is only outlined and that’s why this film failed.”
During the presentation, the commemorative theater seat bearing the name of Pierre Rissient was unveiled.