Let’s Go with Pancho Villa (“Vámonos con Pancho Villa!)
Directed by Fernando de Fuentes
Written by Fernando de Fuentes and Xavier Villaurrutia based on a novel by Rafael F. Muñoz
Cinematographia Latino Americana S. A.
Don’t let it end like this. Tell them I said something. [Last words] — Pancho Villa
I do not understand why this was selected as the best Mexican film of all time by a prestigious poll. Perhaps if I had a better knowledge of Mexican history I would.
A group of comrades from the village of San Pablo decides to join up with Pancho Villa’s army during the Mexican Revolution. They fight so valiantly they become known as “The Lions of San Pablo.” However as the struggle goes on and one after another of their number is killed, they become disillusioned by the cruelty of war.
This is a kind of Mexican All Quiet on the Western Front or would be if it were not marred by constant comic relief. The battle scenes are pretty good but there are a couple of puzzling sequences that I suppose are meant to show the meaninglessness of war. In one, a group of thirteen soldiers sitting around a table decides that this is an evil omen portending death for one of them. So they turn off the lights and shoot a gun in the air at midnight so that the most cowardly will die??? (See clip below.) There’s also a weird scene where a soldier is asked to burn his friend alive (!) because he has smallpox. These things just do not compute for me and I could not get behind the film.
La Mujer del Puerto (“The Woman of the Port”) (1934)
Directed by Arcady Boytler and Raphael J. Sevilla
You just never know when you are going to find that special film! I had never heard of this one until I was gathering films for this exercise. Rosario (Andrea Palma) lives in poverty with her aging father and is in love with a neighbor who says he will marry her when he has more money. Her father dies and her lover proves unfaithful so Rosario becomes a prostitute on the docks in another town. One night she meets a client who defends her from a drunk and her fate takes an even more tragic turn. (I will not spoil the ending but I was shocked.)
The plot and acting in this are secondary to some exceptionally beautiful images. In terms of the story, the film is uneven with certain parts moving at a very leisurely pace and the final fifteen minutes unnaturally rushed. Some of the acting is a bit overdone. However, the composition of the shots and some of the editing are just masterful. There is a scene where Rosario is escorting her father’s coffin through a group of carnival revelers that is breathtaking. The whole movie is bathed in gorgeous expressionist lighting. Well, well worth seeing.
Director Arcady Boytler was born in Moscow and directed silent films in the USSR and Europe before arriving in Mexico and meeting Sergei Eisenstein at the time of the filming of Qué viva Mexico! (1932). He made several other films during Mexico’s Golden Age of cinema but it looks like this is the one that is most readily available on DVD.
Excerpts with song “Vendo Placer” (Pleasure I Sell) as background