02 · 12 · 18

Mexican Film Noir Program curated by the FICM, at the Toute la Mémoire du Monde festival

By: Chloë Roddick

A selection of eight Mexican film noir movies, filmed between 1943 and 1953, will be presented in Paris by the Morelia International Film Festival (FICM), at the 6th Toute la Mémoire du Monde International Restored Film Festival, organized by La Cinémathèque française. The festival will be held from March 7 to 11, 2018. This program was created in collaboration with the Cineteca Nacional, the Filmoteca de la UNAM and Fundación Televisa.

Chloë Roddick, FICM programmer, details the characteristics of this program and explains the context in which this type of cinema was developed.

While much of the world was reeling from the effects of the Second World War, the 1940s saw the beginning of a long period of uninterrupted economic growth for Mexico, one that would last well into the 1960s. With industrialization and modernization came the development of urban spaces and a concurrent spike in city populations, which brought with them a series of important socio-economic and cinematographic developments.

Urban growth saw the development of a new, wealthy middle-class of merchants, craftsmen and skilled workers who identified as modern cosmopolitans and rejected the disappointed ideals of the post-Revolutionary period. Under the government of Miguel Alemán (1946-1952) this new social group burgeoned, bolstered by fantasies of unlimited wealth and unhindered social progress. But, at the same time, a criminal underworld began to develop: barrios bajos sprung up across a city that couldn’t offer wealth and prosperity to all citizens, and within these neighborhoods flourished a seedy nightlife of cabarets and bars, scantily-clad dancers and gangsters; an underworld where money talked and morality was increasingly redundant.

If in the 1930s the dominant cinematic genres in Mexico were the revolutionary film (epitomized by Fernando de Fuentes’ revolutionary trilogy, which included The prisioner and El compadre Mendoza in 1933, and Let’s Go with Pancho Villa! in 1935), the comedia ranchera (Allá en el rancho grande, also by de Fuentes, 1936) and the melodrama, by the 1940s—a boom period for the Mexican cinematographic industry—some Mexican films were beginning to reflect a new preoccupation with the urban man, terrorized by criminality, psychosis and overt female sexuality.

This selection of films includes work from some of the most significant directors from the Golden Age (Julio Bracho, Roberto Gavaldón, Alejandro Galindo and Tito Davison), scripts from some of its most important authors—most notably the left-wing José Revueltas, who penned five of the eight films in the program, the journalist and director Luis Spota and the poet/playwright Xavier Villaurrutia—and some of its most well-known stars (María Félix, Dolores del Río, Arturo de Córdova, Pedro Armendáriz and Gloria Marín).

The program offers viewers a window onto Mexican noir, with its undertones of melodrama and detective cinema and its central preoccupations with moral and spiritual decline, criminality, neurosis, duplicity, doubling, sordid back-alleys, clandestine spaces and the cold, seductive femme fatale.

Shot by masterful photographers like Gabriel Figueroa, Alex Phillips, Jack Draper and Agustín Jiménez, the tones are lugubrious and moody, with echoes of German Expressionism and an assured use of chiaroscuro and low, skewed camera angles, that combine to create a dark and distorted cinematic universe.

The following films made up the Mexican film noir program:

Crepúsculo (1945, dir. Julio Bracho)

La diosa arrodillada (1947, dir. Roberto Gavaldón)

Los dineros del diablo (1945, dir. Alejandro Galindo)

Distinto amanecer (1943, dir. Julio Bracho)

The Other One (1946, dir. Roberto Gavaldón)

In the Palm of Your Hand (1950, dir. Roberto Gavaldón)

Night Falls (1953, dir. Roberto Gavaldón)

May God Forgive Me (1947, dir. Tito Davison)