‘Roberto Gavaldón: Night Falls in Mexico’
“The Golden Age of Mexican cinema began soon after the arrival of sound in the early 1930s and ended sometime between the mid-1950s and the early 1960s, depending on who’s telling the story,” writes Will Noah. “Here in the United States, the story isn’t told much at all, and when it is, the details are usually hazy. The signature achievements of the Western hemisphere’s second-most-robust film industry in the decades surrounding World War II are rarely screened in American repertory cinemas, and they remain largely absent from the DVD and streaming markets.
Diligent auteurists may have a couple of points of reference: the Spaniard-in-exile Luis Buñuel (Los olvidados, The Exterminating Angel) and the cinematic muralist Emilio Fernández (María Candelaria, Río Escondido). But who were the other major artists of Mexican cinema among their contemporaries? The surrealist Buñuel represents a comet of European modernism come to land in Mexican terrain, while Fernández’s lyricism stands for a nationalist vanguard in Mexican filmmaking, and one might reasonably expect a vast aesthetic geography to lie between these two poles.
Camped out somewhere in that landscape is Roberto Gavaldón, the subject of a thirteen-film retrospective now playing at MoMA. Best known for directing urban melodramas that borrowed freely from their northern film noir cousins, Gavaldón was a highly accomplished craftsman. He applied himself assiduously to whatever projects came his way, rising quickly to the top ranks of his profession. Though his films are too varied to reduce to a single authorial signature, the best among them often focus on characters with hidden desires and split personalities that cut them off from society and isolate them within their obsessions.
Yet even at its most psychologically intricate, his work is far from hermetic. The fate of Mexico and its people recurs as a more or less explicit thematic refrain, defined, as his characters are, by the jagged fault lines—between town and country, rich and poor, sacred and profane—that divided the country. This is especially true of the films that the director made early in his career with José Revueltas, a vital collaborator who helped Gavaldón shape his characters against the grain of archetype.”‘
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