Parent Category: Blogs
Category: Jack Angstreich
Published on Sunday, 23 August 2009 03:56
Written by Jack Angstreich
In the past several years, various venues in New York — all with consistently poor projection — have undertaken major retrospectives of such masters as Mikio Naruse, Luis Bunuel, Kon Ichikawa, Manoël de Oliveira, Jacques Rivette, amongst others. At the Film Society of Lincoln Center, with its Walter Reade Theatre, one of the best viewing options in the city for its great projection, large screen, and banked seating, we were instead offered a selection of the work of the resolutely minor Mexican director, Roberto Gavaldón. That said, I am still grateful to the Film Society for bringing such relatively obscure works to light, especially in the mostly excellent prints they unearthed for this series. However, with no explanation, the earliest film in the series, La Barraca, was shown in a 16-millimeter print, described as in "fair condition". Possibly, this is the only print which exists in the world; possibly not. Either way, we have no way of knowing because programmers don't seem to feel any compunction to provide such information.
The Other One, with Dolores del Rio in a dual role, proved to be among the most entertaining of the Gavaldón features screened here, with its wild soap-opera plot and exquisite high-contrast photography by Alex Phillips; it was presented in a beautiful UCLA print. The Hollywood influence of something like Robert Siodmak's The Dark Mirror on a film like this proved salutary.
As a whole, Gavaldón's earlier films tended to be better — less heavy-handed, more inspired, and more energetic. Rosauro Castro may be the strongest of those screened, with an excellent performance by Pedro Armendariz, a classical actor in excelsis. The film was slightly limited by an occasionally bombastic score that obtruded upon the atmospheric, Western imagery which was among the film's strong-points.
Night Falls, an imitation noir — also with Armendariz, in fine form — was enjoyable too, particularly for its genre mechanics. Soledad's Shawl, with Arturo de Cordova and, once again, Pedro Armendariz in his trademark role, was magnificently photographed by the extraordinary Gabriel Figueroa and succeeds as a melodrama. Both films were screened in excellent new prints, although possibly too dark.
The later films by Gavaldón were generally more pedestrian. The Littlest Outlaw, a children's film produced by Disney Studios, was almost wholly uninteresting, despite the presence of Armendariz and photography by Phillips. At least the film was screened in a very good IB Technicolor print.
Macario, Gavaldón's most famous film, based on a B. Traven story, is not without some merits, but scarcely an authentic classic, despite being photographed by Figueroa. La Rosa Blanca, a political film based on a Traven novel, ultimately sustained little narrative interest.
A partial exception among the later films was Autumn Days, also based on a Traven story and photographed by Figueroa; it features a moving performance by Ignacio Lopes Tarso who starred in several Gavaldón films. This film has something of the mysterious atmosphere of films like Leopoldo Torre Nilsson's Hand in the Trap or Joseph Losey's The Ceremony. One appealing aspect was the perspective on young working-class women the film offers, contrasting, interestingly, in its warmth with Claude Chabrol's Les Bonnes Femmes, for example.
One would have thought that a film based on a Juan Rulfo short story, and co-scripted partly by both Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Carlos Fuentes, would be more absorbing, at least narratively, than the tedious The Golden Cockerel appears to be. The story was effectively retold by Arturo Ripstein as The Realm of Fortune in 1986. The film was presented in an excellent, new color print.