A New Era in Mexican Cinema: Francisco Vargas
One of the things I most looked forward to when moving to Mexico was exploring Mexican cinema, from its very first silent movies to the current, and very much resurgent, era. Over the last decade, Mexico has witnessed unprecedented international success with Academy-Award nominated films like Amores Perros, The Crime of Father Amaro, Pan’s Labyrinth and Y Tu Mama Tambien. Without taking away anything from those movies (Y Tu Mama Tambien, in particular, is one of my all-time favorites) I wanted to bring attention to four filmmakers whose films didn’t quite receive the attention of the aforementioned titles. These filmmakers, however, could very well represent the birth of a bright, artistic period in the future of Mexican cinema..
First off, Francisco Vargas. Of the four directors I will be covering ,he is the only one to have made no more than one feature-length film over the course of the decade. That film, 2005’s The Violin (El violin), is such a poignant, assured debut that he absolutely had to be included here nonetheless.
The Violin, which screened and won the “Un Certain Regard” (Best Actor for Don Angel Tavira) award at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, follows a family as they fight an oppressive government in an unnamed Latin American peasant town. When the local village is seized by the military, local guerrilla rebels flee to the hills, leaving their ammunition behind. While the rest of the guerilla plots its own counter-attack, Don Plutarco uses his image as a harmless violin player to infiltrate the village and recover the ammunition he keeps hidden in his corn fields. Over time, he is able to gain the army captain’s trust and is ordered to go back daily to play. A cat-and-mouse game ensues as Plutarco tries to successfully accomplish his mission while keeping his motives hidden. The suspense that builds up as you await the final outcome is considerably greater than any summer blockbuster could promise to deliver.
Part of the reason this lyrical film works so well is its unspecified locale and time. The oppressive government could be one of many and puts a face to human suffering around the world, past or present. The crisp, monochrome photography used only adds to the timelessness of the film. Recalling films like I Am Cuba, albeit without the technical innovations of that film, The Violin is less-than-subtle in its revolutionary spirit. In spite of this, it avoids portraying heroes and villains, instead focusing on human beings, each doing the best they can with what life has handed them.
The casting of non-actor Tavira as our protagonist is perfect. The character is not allowed to say much throughout the film. He doesn’t need to. His weathered face says more than one thousand words.
After a century of a political system that has failed to bring about change, The Violin could, in theory, stand as a metaphor for Mexico’s political history in an ultra-condensed version. Perhaps the most poignant aspect of the film is the way it portrays generations and ways in which each one deals with the problems it inherited from the last. You’ll, of course, have to see the movie for yourselves to see this play out.
And, once you do, come back to read on as I continue with three more up-and-coming Mexican directors.