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[whitespace] Strike Up the Contraband

MACLA's Cinema Contrabandista series showcases films from Mexico

By Richard von Busack

AMONG THE EARLIEST Mexican movies were documentaries starring dictator Porfirio Diaz. A short film titled, roughly, Gen. Diaz Goes on Horseback to Chapultepec played in Mexico City theaters for a year, back in the late 1800s. It was Diaz who famously pointed out that Mexico was very far from God and very close to the U.S.

The influence of American movies has also had a strong pull on the 100-year-old destiny of the Mexican movie industry. Unfortunately, today, as at the beginning, this industry favors the lords of the country. Only a handful of movies are made in Mexico every year. However, Mexican cinema seems ready to burst the categories of sheer entertainment or sheer protest.

The local center for Latino arts, MACLA (Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana), co-presenting with Washington United Youth Center, is hosting Cinema Contrabandista, a series of Mexican films, through the end of February. This Tuesday, Jan. 30, features the only one of the five films in the series subtitled in English. The international hit Danzón (1992) tells of a single mom (Maria Rojo) who goes on a search through the fading dance halls of Veracruz and Mexico City for her mysterious partner.

Only recently did another Mexican film make it to Cannes, where Danzón was a success: Amores Perros (2000), which was also this year's Oscar submission from Mexico. The film will be screened Feb. 6. The word "Dog" in the title of this 153-minute-long film, which could be translated as "Love's A Bitch," signifies its relation to Reservoir Dogs and other Tarantino work. Ex-music video director Alejandro González Iñárritu chronicles a bunch of different characters making an illegal living in the Mexico City slums. Chief among the crooks is Octavio (Gaël García Bernal) a semi-pro dogfighter who needs to raise money quick--he's impregnated his brother's wife and needs to leave town with her fast. Explicit dogfighting is chronicled here, so it's not for the sensitive.

February 13's film is the political satire La Ley de Herodes/Herodes' Law (2000). In 1949, a janitor becomes the vigilante mayor of a town deep in the Sonoran desert, thanks to the one-party rule of the PRI. La Ley de Herodes has an especial rep for having mentioned the PRI by name--no political satire in Mexico had been that bold previously. By contrast, the 1999 film Santitos (playing Feb 20) is a magical realist tragi-comedy, about a Mexican widow who has learned of the death of her only daughter in America. One day, the old lady's favorite saint appears at the dirty glass window of her oven, telling her to head north to find her child.

The series wraps with Todo El Poder (All the Power) (1999) a story about one man's fight against the seemingly unbreakable collusion between the cops and the criminals in Mexico City. This handful of films, together with the cheaper digital equipment available now, suggests a future in which more films can be made about the strife, corruption and unkillable decency in modern day Mexico.

The Cinema Contrabandista series plays every Tuesday thru Feb 27 at Washington United Youth Center, 921 S. First St in San Jose, behind the Biblioteca Latinoamericana All films start at 7:30pm; admission is $3 for adults and free for kids 12 and under. For more information call 408.998.ARTE.

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From the January 25-31, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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