Reruns: Colored Mexico by Night through Five Film Noirs

“Distinto amanecer” (“A different dawn”, 1943), by Julio Bracho.

Sounding the kickoff of the summer of re-releases, a rain of nuggets falls on the repertoire rooms: a cycle of five Mexican noir films from the 1940s and 1950s, flamboyant jewels of local classicism and of a cinema of studio which was then running at full speed. In the world history of cinema that we go back to over the restorations, Mexico remains an under-represented territory, identified above all as the exile of Luis Buñuel (1900-1983) for the many films he shot there between 1947 and 1960. Now, in its classical age, Mexican cinema resembled a kind of miniature Hollywood pushed into the shadow of California, operating on the same system of genres, but more permissive and feverish, because devoid of the slightest self-censorship code.

The “black” genre, precise in terms of violence and pessimism, has therefore carved out a not inconsiderable part of it, as the cycle invites us to take stock of. We find the main ingredients: urban decor applied to Mexico City and its meanders, fatal slope of the story, call of the night, expressionist shadow play, underworld places and claw of the past. In Mexico as elsewhere, the “black” genre ritualizes tragedy, the modern individual discovering himself devoid of the least free will, like a trip without return into the back of things and the foundations of consciousness.

But the Mexican filmmakers of the golden age – whose cycle draws up a significant panel – do not appropriate it without injecting it with their own: a certain local color (accents, folklore, Afro-Caribbean music, social typologies), and above all a porosity maintained with this other ecstatic category that is melodrama, for an explosive mixture of genres favoring tortuous and unpredictable stories. All of them have this incredible panache of shattering the conventions they set up.

Dream Cloth

This ambivalence reaches its climax in the films of Julio Bracho (1909-1978), an unjustly forgotten filmmaker, which seem cut from the fabric of a dream, suspended between dream and reality. In Distinto amanecer (A different dawn, 1943), a union leader, on the eve of a strike, was pursued by the agents of a provincial governor. He finds refuge with a couple of intellectuals, former student comrades and militants of the revolutionary cause, overtaken by misery in a reduced depths of a Mexico City all in chiaroscuro (the brilliant cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa, subject matter expert).

The criminal scenario of the hunt is coupled with a much more intimate perspective: the reunion between the anarchist and his hostess, once loved, now a cabaret trainer. This long melancholic conversation cast in a night of anguish settles the accounts of the Mexican revolution led astray by the exercise of power.

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