Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|La Sombra Del Caudillo|
Actors: Luis Aragon, Salvador Arriola, Lupe Carriles, Aída Casablanca, Jorge Chesterking
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
A Persecuted Classic of Mexican Cinema
Curtis Allan | Seattle, WA | 08/29/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"La Sombra del Caudillo is a film which requires quite a bit of knowledge of both the history of the Mexican Revolution and also the Spanish language in order to fully appreciate. After my first viewing, I might have only given it 3 stars, but I do feel that if I had a better understanding of the events I could have given it 5.
The film is based on a 1929 novel of the same name by Martin Luis Guzman, published in 1929 in Spain and originally suppressed in Mexico. It is set during the tumultuous years of 1920-30, when the remaining warlords came together in an uneasy peace to create the "modern" governing system of the PRI. One would be well served by first reading some book on the Mexican Revolution before watching this film. For orientation, the caudillo (played by Miguel Angel Ferriz) represents Alvaro Obregon, former president of Mexico. Jiminez (Ingancio Lopez Tarso from Macario) represents Plutarco Elías Calles, and finally the central role of Ignacio Aguirre (Tito Junco) represents a combination of Adolfo de la Huerta and General Francisco Serrano. And of course the party referred to represents the PRI (partido revolucionario institucional). Whew! That's a lot of homework.
As far as the cinematography, La Sombra del Caudillo achieves high marks for actually turning the camera upon the city of Mexico: we see the famous buildings of the zocalo, the inner halls of government, quaint tree-lined parks where men play checkers, grassy suburban streets, and the great Mexican volcanoes in the distance (including Ajusco south of town). With so much to see, it is inconceivable to me that it took someone so long to figure this out: old Mexico was the most charming supporting character available. Even Tlaloc gets an uncredited cameo role, reminding us of his existence as he frequently still does on cloudy chilango summer days. And the closer scenes are well filmed with frequently moving cameras which appear to pull us off the street and inside near to the seats of corruption.
Regarding the acting, I thought Barbara Gil was a standout performer. Tito Junco is solid, and Lopez Tarso was steady and not too annoying (I found him intolerable in Nazarin; a mixture of Gomer Pyle and Cheech Marin). Carlos Lopez Moctezuma (Maclovia, Campeon sin Corona) and Roberto Canedo (another Emilio Fernandez regular) are also good in support.
Regarding the story and direction, Again, the lack of subtitles on the DVD really impaired my understanding. I speak Spanish well, but for some reason I had trouble with this film. The street scenes seemed a little empty of life and therefore just a little stagy. The ending was OK but perhaps a bit anticlimactic. On the more positive side, the late vintage B&W cinematography gave the film a retro feel which reminded me of John Ford's Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). Also, La Sombra del Caudillo did succeed in creating a wonderful gangland 20s atmosphere which really foreshadowed that of The Godfather twelve years later (only some of the cars looked more 40s than 20s). Perhaps the implications of this, basically portraying the ruling party's forefathers as warlord gangsters, is what got the film banned in Mexico.
Director Julio Bracho (Distinto Amanecer) is really the unsung hero of Mexican cinema. The film was banned by Mexico's government and Bracho went to his grave in 1978 without seeing it widely released. Only in 1990 under the regime of Carlos Salinas de Gortari did the film finally get its Mexican premiere. In this sense La Sombra del Caudillo has much in common with La Ley de Herodes (2000), which it also certainly influenced.
Regarding the DVD, the picture quality is quite poor for a film of this late vintage. That is explained, however, by the earlier persecution of the film. It appears that even during its belated 1990 theatrical release, the exhibitors were forced to use a poor quality 16mm negative for film prints. It is quite possible that the original 35mm film was destroyed by the same types of political forces which set the great Aztec libraries to the torch. Given this, one should appreciate just being able to see the film as it is. As previously stated, the lack of any subtitles (English or Spanish) was a definite minus for me. Apart from that it's still a great value DVD.