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FILMS ON THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLES OF MEXICO
Part Two:
The Films of Emilio "El Indio" Fernández



Janitzio

JANITZIO
Director:Carlos Navarro
Writers:Luis Márquez, Robert Quigley
Cinematography:Lauron Draper
Music:Francisco Domínguez
Year/length:1934. 62 minutes.
Setting:Lago Patzcuaro, Michoacán
Language:Spanish
Indian Content:medium
Release:none
Rating: lousy ok good

Janitzio (pronounced "Janicho" in the film) is an island in Lago Patzcuaro in the southern state of Michoacán. It is occupied by Indians (the P'urépecha, but called by the Spanish name Tarascans in this film) who make their living by fishing, and selling their fish to the local buyer, Don Pablo, who gives them good prices for their fish. After Don Pablo sells his business, the new buyer, Don Manuel, greatly reduces the prices he gives for fish. When the fishers object, he whips one of them. In comes Sirahuén (played by Emilio Fernández), who defends the other fisher and attacks Manuel with a knife. Sirahuén is arrested, and while he is in jail, Manuel kidnaps Sirahuén's wife, Eréndira (Teresa Orozco), and takes her to the city. When Sirahuén is released from jail, he rescues his wife and kills Manuel. And yet he still feels compelled to obey the Tarascan law that demands that his wife be stoned for succumbing to a white man. Torn between love of his wife and fidelity to tradition, he seeks out the retired Don Pablo, who advises him to forgive his wife, since she was taken against her will. The couple return to Janitzio to resume their old life, but the rest of the community decides that Eréndira must be punished, and they stone her to death.

Janitzio is crudely made, with overly dramatic music and embarassingly un-dramatic knife fights. It is most famous for featuring Emilio Fernández in his first acting role, before he went on to become one of Mexico's greatest directors. Emilio remade this film in the forties as Maria Candelaria and a few years later remade it again as Maclovia. I don't know why Janitzio is not available on DVD, but it does turn up on Spanish television now and then. No subtitles, but the slow, clear dialogue makes it ideal for people learning Spanish.

Sinopsis en español:
Unos extraños llegan a pescar al lago de Janitizio, en Michoacán, México, y Sirahuén, quien tiene la exclusividad de la pesca, luchará para evitar que lo sigan haciendo. Manuel, otro extraño y especulador, intriga para que Zirahuen sea encarcelado, y le ofrecerá a su novia Eréndira la libertad de su amado si acepta pasar con él unos días en Pátzcuaro. Un particular universo en el que confluyen mitos, costumbres, usos y tradiciones indígenas. Una cinta de la que se dice muchos intervinieron para que por fin se filmara, y que dejaría sentir su influencia en María Candelaria y Maclovia.

    

    

    



MARÍA CANDELARIA
(Xochimilco)
Director:Emilio "El Indio" Fernández
Writer:Mauricio Magdaleno
Cinematography:Gabriel Figueroa
Music:Francisco Domínguez, Rodolfo Halffter
Year/length:1943. 101 minutes.
Setting:Xochimilco (a town in Mexico's Federal District), 1909
Language:Spanish
Indian Content:medium
Release:DVD (no subtitles)
Rating: lousy ok good

Maria Candelaria (Dolores del Río) and Lorenzo Rafael (Pedro Armendáriz) are a poor Indian couple waiting to get married. The couple and their pet pig endure hostility from their neighbors because Maria Candelaria's mother allegedly brought shame upon their community. Don Damián, the shop owner, is particularly malevolent towards them, and shoots their pet pig when Lorenzo can't pay the 15 pesos he owes him. When Maria falls ill from a mosquito bite, Lorenzo breaks into Don Damián's store to get quinine to relieve her fever, and while he's there he also swipes a dress for their wedding. Maria Candelaria recovers, but Lorenzo is sentenced to a year in jail. Destitute without Lorenzo's support, Maria reluctantly accepts a painter's offer to paint her portrait. When the painter tries to persuade her to pose nude, she runs away, but the painter completes a nude portrait anyway using one of his servants as a model. One of Maria Candelaria's hostile neighbors sees the nude portrait and initiates a lynching, complete with torches and rocks and church bells. Beautifully filmed and acted, this well-meaning movie expresses plenty of sympathy for the Indians, but doesn't show much of their culture. We do see a bendición de los animales and professional rivalry between an aguacera (medicine woman) and a white doctor. Maria Candelaria won both the Grand Prize and the Best Cinematography award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1946. The film is also known as Xochimilco, the section of Mexico's Federal District where the story unfolds.

Sinopsis en español:
En 1909, María Candelaria y Lorenzo Rafael, pareja nativa de Xochimilco, desean casarse a pesar de que las circunstancias les son totalmente adversas. La gente del pueblo hostiliza a María Candelaria por ser hija de una prostituta y la pareja debe enfrentar la avaricia del tendero don Damián, quien en secreto desea a la joven. Cuando María Candelaria enferma de paludismo, Lorenzo Rafael roba quinina y un vestido en la tienda de don Damián. El robo desencadena la tragedia para la joven pareja de enamorados.



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Rio Escondido DVD RIO ESCONDIDO
(Hidden River)
Director:Emilio "El Indio" Fernández
Writer:Mauricio Magdaleno (script), Emilio Fernandez (plot)
Cinematography:Gabriel Figueroa
Music:Francisco Dominguez, Luis Sandi
Year/length:1947. 96 minutes.
Setting:Rio Escondido (small fictional town)
Language:Spanish
Indian Content:medium
Release:DVD (no subtitles)
Rating: lousy ok good very good

Rosaura Salazar, a young, idealistic teacher played by Maria Felix, is summoned to the National Palace by the President himself (presumably Miguel Alemán, president from 1946 to 1952, though he is not shown). The president assigns Rosaura the task of bringing education to tiny town of Rio Escondido (apparently a fictional place). Upon arriving Rosaura finds the town to be desolate and hostile. She comes across a pregnant woman dying of typhus and watches as the doctor delivers the baby. The mother dies, and Rosaura takes in the baby and the two older children. Rosaura finds the school occupied by the mayor's horses, and also learns that the horses get the best water in town while the peasants suffer from a draught. The mayor (or presidente municipal), played by Carlos López Moctezuma, is violent and arrogant, and constantly surrounded by lackeys to sustain his tyranny over the town. When the mayor falls ill himself, the doctor, who has befriended Rosaura, extracts two promises before he will treat him: to remove the horses from the school and allow Rosaura to teach there; and to provide him with the necessary medicine to treat the people of Rio Escondido. The mayor agrees both promises, and Rosaura begins teaching a roomful of children, starting her lesson with Benito Juarez, whose portrait hangs on the wall, and whom Rosaura describes as "un indio como ustedes." In time the mayor falls in love with Rosaura and proposes marriage, and she rejects him haughtily and even condemns him in front of her class. The mayor then becomes more tyrannical, and when the well dries up he refuses to share the water reserved for his horses. The boy whom Rosaura adopted sneaks in to steal water, and the mayor shoots him, leading to the final confrontation between teacher and mayor.

Rio Escondido is one of Fernandez's most overtly didactic films. Beginning with the narrator's history lesson at the National Palace, the film is almost a parody of the director's own style. Many critics dismissed the film as propaganda for the government, and also objected to Rosaura's saint-like perfection. However, the film features some of Gabriel Figueroa's finest cinematography, stark, iconic images that cast that mysteriously timeless quality upon every story he films. Adding to the visual feast is a series of woodcuts among the opening credits by the great revolutionary artist Leopoldo Méndez (1902-1969).

Sinopsis en español:
Por encargo del propio presidente de la república y a pesar de que está enferma del corazón, la maestra rural Rosaura Salazar sale rumbo al pueblo de Río Escondido para encargarse de la escuela que lleva meses cerrada. Tras su llegada, Rosaura debe enfrentar al cacique Regino Sandoval, quien explota y niega el agua a los campesinos y ha clausurado la escuela.




LA PERLA
(The Pearl)
Director:Emilio "El Indio" Fernández
Writer:John Steinbeck, Emilio Fernández, Jack Wagner
Cinematography:Gabriel Figueroa
Music:Antonio Díaz Conde
Year/length:1947. 85 minutes.
Setting:unnamed fishing village
Language:Spanish
Indian Content:medium
Release:DVD (no subtitles)
Rating: lousy ok good very good

In a poor fishing village, an Indian couple living in a straw hut find their baby bitten by a scorpion. The white doctor refuses to treat the poor couple, but a curandera helps the child. Later the father, Quino (Pedro Armendáriz), finds a large pearl in the ocean that may be worth millions. Suddenly everyone wants to be friends with the poor couple, including the pearl-collecting doctor. As greed and frenzy inflame the village, Quino and his wife (María Elena Marqués) must flee, and eventually they are hunted like animals. La perla is one of Emilio Fernandez's greatest films, from his most successful period. Based on a short novel by John Steinbeck (who also wrote the screenplay). Steinbeck's fable-like tale works perfectly with the Fernandez-Figueroa style (too bad they didn't collaborate more often!). Available on its own DVD or paired with another Armendariz classic, Distinto amanecer (neither version is subtitled).

Sinopsis en español:
Un pescador, Quino y su esposa sufren por que el doctor extranjero del pueblo se niega a tratar a su pequeño hijo, víctima de la picadura de un alacrán. Quino encuentra una valiosa perla en el mar que es fruto de la codicia del doctor y su hermano. Juana, su mujer, está convencida de que la posesión de esa perla solo les traerá dificultades y trata de convencer a su marido para que la devuelva al mar. El no la escucha y solo piensa en lo que podrán tener con lo que consigan de su venta. Acude a los traficantes del pueblo. Estos quieren pagarle mucho menos de su valor real, haciéndole creer que una perla tan grande no interesa a nadie. No acepta venderla al precio que le ofrecen y decide ir a venderla a la ciudad. Es asaltado por un desconocido, al que da muerte. Su hermano les ayuda en su huida y el matrimonio con su hijito parten de noche con destino a la ciudad. Pero son perseguidos y como se veía venir, los temores de Juana se cumplen.



Maclovia DVD

MACLOVIA
Director:Emilio "El Indio" Fernández
Writer:Mauricio Magdaleno
Cinematography:Gabriel Figueroa
Music:Antonio Díaz Conde
Year/length:1948. 105 minutes.
Setting:Janitzio (an island in Lake Patzcuaro in Michoacán), 1914
Language:Spanish
Indian Content:medium
Release:DVD (no subtitles)
Rating: lousy ok good very good
Based on a Michoacán legend told by Luis Márquez. José María (played by Pedro Armendariz) is a poor, illiterate fisherman in love with Maclovia (Maria Felix), daughter of the chief of the Indians on the island of Janitzio. When the chief forbids them from seeing each other, José María goes to school to learn to write, so he can send a letter to Maclovia. When a violent, corrupt sergeant desires Maclovia, the father relents, deciding it is better for Maclovia to marry José María to protect her from the sargeant. Beautifully filmed, if overly preachy. This movie probably reflects the mestizaje movement of the 1940s and 1950s, which sought to integrate Indians into mainstream Mexican society. This film is more-or-less a remake of Maria Candelaria.

Sinopsis en español:
El amor entre Maclovia y José María, joven pareja de la región de Janitzio, es amenazado por la brutal pasión que siente el sargento de la Garza hacia la bella mujer. Decidido a poseerla sin importar las consecuencias, el brutal militar encarcela a José María y ofrece a Maclovia la libertad de su amado a cambio de su honra.



Rebelion de los colgados

REBELIÓN DE LOS COLGADOS
(The Rebellion of the Hanged)
Director:Alfredo B. Crevenna, Emilio "El Indio" Fernández
Writers:John Bright (uncredited), B. Traven
Cinematography:Gabriel Figueroa
Music:Antonio Díaz Conde
Year/length:1954. 85 minutes.
Setting:Chiapas, 1910
Language:Spanish
Indian Content:medium
Release:DVD (no subtitles)
Rating: lousy ok good very good excellent
A chamula Indian (Pedro Armendariz) contracts himself to a logging company in order to pay for his wife's appendicitis. Although his wife dies before the operation, Candido is still legally bound to work as a semi-slave in the jungles of Chiapas with his two sons and his sister. Working under brutal conditions, the obreros are sometimes punished by hanging by their wrists all night long. When they can no longer stand such injustice, they rebel. Based on the 1936 novel by B. Traven, this film is quite explicit in its violence and must have shocked audiences in 1954. Nevertheless, it won four Silver Ariel awards. Juan Luis Buñuel remade the movie in 1986.

Sinopsis en español:
En el estado de Chiapas vivía un indio llamado Cándido con su esposa y sus dos hijos. Sin imaginar que su vida está por cambiar drásticamente cuando su esposa muere y él se ve obligado a trabajar en una montería de caoba, donde es explotado injustamente junto con otros indios igual de prisioneros que su familia. Cansados de los malos tratos de Don Félix el capataz, quien se ha obsesionado con Modesta, la hermana de Cándido, se unen para revelarse y deciden luchar para obtener su libertad.



See Also:

Part One: Historical Films on the Indigenous Peoples of Mexico

Part Three: Films on the Indigenous Peoples of Contemporary Mexico

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