La mujer de todos [Everybody's Woman]

Media Type: Film

Year: 1946

Who wrote / made it : Julio Bracho

Plot summary: Set in 1912 during the brief presidency of Francisco I Madero (1911-1913), the Revolution does not feature in the plot. However, it casts a shadow as it is centred around military men. María Félix gets first billing as María alongside Armando Calvo as Jorge. The story is a love triangle between María (‘la mujer más bella de Europa’), Jorge, and Juan Antonio (Alberto Galán), his older half-brother. María and Juan Antonio meet in Spain. It is implied that she is a courtesan and we are shown that she has a cruel sense of humour. A tragic suicide impels her to leave and go with Juan Antonio to Mexico as his lover. On arrival, she meets Jorge by chance whilst on her way to the house Juan Antonio has set up for her. After some flirtation and chance encounters, Jorge and María fall in love. Both Juan Antonio and Jorge’s fiancée, Angélica (Patricia Morán), find out and are heartbroken. At first, Jorge nobly leaves Mexico City for Veracruz unhappy, but unwilling to interpose between María and Juan Antonio. María travels to Jorge and declares her love for him and they become a couple. Shortly after his return to Mexico City, Juan Antonio challenges Jorge to a duel. María tries various ruses to avoid either being killed. She fails, loses the love of both men and leaves Mexico.

Various modes of transport feature in this film: boat, rail, and carriage. The railway is of particular significance to the Revolution and has been written about largely in relation to literature of the Revolution. Unlike the usual film of the Revolution, the train is a convenient and high-class mode of transport in this film.

As this is set in a period during which there was relative peace much could be made of the high society and wealth of the characters. Perhaps with reference to the source text and to underline how the characters belong to a historic past, the costume has more in common with late-Nineteenth Century Mexico than the 1910s. The film is adapted from a play by Alexandre Dumas fils. The script was written by Robert Thoeren (it’s absent from this list: http://www.bfi.org.uk/films-tv-people/4ce2ba9ef1523) with dialogue by the Mexican poet, Xavier Villarutia. It is a neglected text and is of interest to me as a film starring Félix, but could also serve as a good example of the transnational flows in narrative and source texts as well as an alternative representation of the bellicose period of the Revolution.

Cinco de mayo, la batalla [The Battle]

Media Type: Film

Year: 2013

Who wrote / made it : Rafa Lara

Plot summary: Cinco de mayo, la batalla [The Battle] deals with the run up to and the battle on the fifth of May/cinco de mayo, when the Mexican army defeated the invading (mostly) French army. When it was made, it was the most expensive Mexican film. The story is concerned with the leaders on both sides, particularly the military men but also with a budding relationship between a soldadera, Citlali (Liz Gallardo) and an infantry soldier, Juan Osorno (Christian Vazquez). The film’s dual narrative concerns shows a lack of faith in the great historical leaders as focus of the plot and tries to humanise the event by having these lowlier figures as its emotional core. The film does not quite work, for this reason, but also because it is so concerned with fidelity to the historical sources that the great men of the narrative simply declaim lines attributed to them. The battle sequences are obviously where a lot of the film’s budget went. Nearly half of the film is made up of these, but they are poorly choreographed and are a curious mix of dull and gratuitous. It has some merits, but fails to deliver on its promise.

La Generala

Media Type: Film

Year: 1966

Who wrote / made it : Juan Ibáñez

Plot summary: María Félix’s last Revolutionary film, La Generala, was a disaster on a lot of fronts, particularly financially and aesthetically. The plot is absurd. It includes an incestuous relationship, a love triangle representing the class struggle, a bizarre surrealistic dream sequence, and Félix dressed in late 1960s-style leather outfits. Other characters include a screaming madwoman and a mute dwarf sidekick, all set amidst brutally violent plot elements. Unlike her other films, which are about a heightened, more glamorous representation of reality, La Generala brought surrealism into a genre removed from the brutal, bloody and oppositional reality of war in the films made by the generation of filmmakers of the nuevo cine group.

La Cucuracha

Media Type: Film

Year: 1958

Who wrote / made it : Ismael Rodríguez

Plot summary: The opening sequence of La Cucuracha (Ismael Rodríguez, 1958) follows a grand mass of people moving through the mountains, the music is reminiscent of that of a US Western. Over this movement of people is written: “…Y abandonaron sus casas y cruzaron los desiertos, llevando a sus hijos sobre sus espaldas….y con sus hombres hicieron La Revolución mexicana” […and they abandoned their houses and crossed the deserts, carrying their children on their backs...and with their men they fought the Mexican Revolution] (elipsis in original). Consequently, from the outset women are the chief characters of this film. The film then moves to focus on the stories of individual characters, in particular, La Cucuracha (Félix), who we are told has slept with many of the soldiers, particularly high-ranking officers. She is dressed in combat clothing, traditionally seen as male attire, and has fought in battle. For her, the Revolution is “los avances y el trago” [battles and drink]. Early on in the film she refers to herself as a “soldado” [soldier]. She uses the masculine noun, by which she means that she is a combatant, rather than the feminine noun, “soldadera”. In La Cucuracha, the word refers to the women who follow behind their men, to carry their guns and extra ammunition. The soldaderas are their sexual partners, feed and nurse them, and mind the children they bear. The transition between these roles, perceived as either end of the spectrum of masculinity and femininity is witnessed in the evolution of Félix’s character in this film.

La Cucuracha and Isabel (Dolores del Río) fight over the love of Colonel Zeta (Emilio ‘el Indio’ Fernández). The two characters are highly differentiated: one is marked as submissive and passive (del Río) who must learn to fight alongside the others and the other is violent and active (Félix), who learns to conform to certain ideas about femininity.

Interestingly, it is the seemingly ‘good’ Isabel who steals Zeta from La Cucuracha. La Cucuracha’s tools of seduction are unusual. She belittles Zeta, laughs at him, mock his military skill and resists his advances. In the film, La Cucuracha’s performative style switches from ‘masculine’ to ‘feminine’, while Isabel’s is always to be read as ‘feminine’. Cunning and deceit are repeatedly shown to be normal female characteristics.

After La Cucuracha is seduced by Zeta, she dresses in ‘feminine’ apparel. However, despite her attempts at performing femininity, La Cucuracha cannot win Zeta’s love and keep him from seducing Isabel. La Cucuracha may temporarily wear female garments, but, the implicit message of the film is, since she never completely submits to Zeta’s powers, she can never be the object of his affections. Meanwhile, Isabel joins the ranks and learns to fight with the men, in soldadera attire, wearing a dress, a visual contrast with La Cucuracha’s riding trousers and shirt.

La Cucuracha’s inability to convince as a feminine woman is shown when Isabel does submit to Zeta’s advances and they become an established couple, much to La Cucuracha’s chagrin. This happens despite an earlier scene where both the camera and the other characters draw attention to La Cucuracha’s transformation into a markedly ‘feminine’ woman. The camera lingers over her bare ankles, neck, décolletage and long flowing hair. But this is shown merely to be an act when she returns to fight in her usual attire, much to Zeta’s disappointment. As an apparent punishment for her misdeeds, La Cucuracha realizes that she is pregnant with Zeta’s child, and, consequently, without the protection of a man and, since now she is vulnerable as a pregnant woman, she leaves her battalion. Her pregnancy speaks as a reminder to the audience that she may drink, fight and swear like a man, but that there is no escaping biology. Thereby bringing us from what is a radical gender performance to essentialism. The film ends with Colonel Zeta dead, and both women (and the child) joining forces to fight for the Revolution.

It is another of Félix’s gender b(l)ending roles where she performs both masculine and feminine roles, which are negotiated through the plot. For the majority of the film she is a powerful woman who cannot be tamed and, even after she becomes a mother, she is shown to have considerable strengths that are to be celebrated.  This is another film which makes reference to a corrido, a traditional folk song that is closely associated with the Revolution.

La Bandida

Media Type: Film

Year: 1962

Who wrote / made it : Roberto Rodríguez

Plot summary: In La Bandida María Félix plays a prostitute, María/La Bandida, represented as a ‘bad’ woman. The film focuses on a love triangle, which, at times, dwells more on the homosocial relationship between the two men. The film opens with two Revolutionary generals: Roberto Herrero (Pedro Armendáriz), a Villista, and Epigmenio Gómez (Emilio ‘Indio’ Fernández) a Zapatista, fighting one another, only to have their battle interrupted with the news that Madero has called for peace. They then lay down arms against each other. Over the course of the narrative, cockfights ensue, and the two opponents confront each other repeatedly, but with an evident mutual respect.

On being found in bed with another, La Bandida is abandoned by Roberto and she goes to work in a brothel. She leads a rebellion against the Spanish-born madam of the brothel ‘La Gallega’, and takes charge of it herself. This takeover is accompanied by “La marcha de Zacatecas”, a celebratory song which was also used in the final battle scene in Juana Gallo (Miguel Zacarías, 1960), a battle which marked a major victory for the Villistas.  The fight to organise the prostitutes is accompanied by taunts aimed at La Gallega’s Spanish nationality. This is reflective of an underlying theme of nationalism interspersed throughout the film.

Roberto visits the brothel, paying attention to other women to make La Bandida jealous and hurt her feelings. Maria/La Bandida repeatedly provokes Roberto, and flirts with Epigmenio, in an attempt to make Roberto jealous so that he will take her back. The sparring continues between the two men, and, in turn, between La Bandida and Roberto. There are three cockfights in La Bandida, where Epigmenio and Roberto spar their competing birds and the fights serve to reveal their evolving relationship. These cockfights have many layers of meaning. In part, they are another opportunity to indulge in a moment of nationalistic pride. Epigmenio’s treasured bird, which he carries everywhere and is the winner of the first bout, is ‘del país’ [Mexican], while Roberto’s is foreign bred. The origin of the cock has obvious resonances and is a heightened display of their masculinity and valour.

Unlike other films set during the Revolution, in this film, Félix is hyper-feminine to the point of campness. Her star text is heightened by use of key lighting which highlights the glamorous nature of her dresses. Corridos, traditional folk songs closely associated with the Mexican Revolution, are used at key moments in the film in ways that both advance the plot and explore thematic ideas about gender and the nation.

Juana Gallo

Media Type: Film

Year: 1960

Who wrote / made it : Miguel Zacarías

Plot summary: The protagonist, Ángela Ramos’ (María Félix) father and husband are killed by the Federal army. In revenge she changes her name to Juana Gallo, takes up arms and leads an army. In the first act, and nearly single-handedly, she defeats and rounds up the federal army and, in a rousing speech she convinces all but Captain Guillermo Velarde (Jorge Mistral) to join her in battle to fight for Mexico, concluding, “somos todos mexicanos” [we are all Mexicans], repeatedly, thereby making national identity co-terminous with the subsequent winning side. After several illegal moves by the federalists, and a key battle, Velarde decides to join Juana’s side. In a raid Juana is seriously wounded, and Velarde tends to her wounds, helping her to hide from the enemy. He tells her, “aguantarse como macho” [suck it up like a man], when he is removing the bullet, which she does by not shouting out when in pain. He nurses her back to health, which is, as I have previously mentioned, a role normally associated with soldaderas in the war. She changes from peasant to soldier, and he from soldier to the role of soldadera. Whilst they are in hiding it provides them with the opportunity to get romantically involved.  There are many moments of tension in their relationship, where jealousy and his feelings of inadequacy get in the way, leading ultimately to his demise on the battlefield. It is shot on an epic scale, like many of the films starring Félix, which involve dramatic battle and crowd scenes.  Unlike her more ‘serious’ roles,  such as Río escondido (Emilio Fernández, 1948), this film has been largely overlooked by critics.

It is a film that plays with the boundaries of gendered behaviour and never resolves them, thereby allowing for spaces to carry out queer and feminist readings of the gender performances. Gallo is a powerful woman capable of leading an army successfully into battle.  It is based on a true story, but takes many liberties with biographical facts.

El compadre Mendoza

Media Type: Film

Year: 1933

Who wrote / made it : Fernando de Fuentes

Plot summary: This is one of a trilogy of the Revolutionby the director Fernando de Fuentes of which ¡Vámonos con Pancho Villa! is the best known. The other one is Prisionero 13 (1933) . El compadre Mendoza recounts the experiences of a hacendado during the Revolution, his shifting allegiances and eventual affiliation with the Zapatistas. El compadre Mendoza was “an explicit challenge to the ideological concoction which would soon come to dominate Mexican culture” (Mraz, 2009, 98). Darker than many of the films that would become standard fare of the studios, John Mraz compares the trilogy with José Clemente Orozco’s murals, “they emphasize the pain and torment, rather than the transformations; they exude a disenchantment with the revolution’s shortcomings instead of celebrating its achievements” (2009, 92).

Mraz, John. (2009), Looking for Mexico: Modern Visual Culture and National Identity. Durham & London: Duke University Press.

Prisonero 13

Media Type: Film

Year: 1933

Who wrote / made it : Fernando de Fuentes

Plot summary: It is one of the trilogy which also includes ¡Vámonos con Pancho Villa! (1936) and El compadre Mendoza (1933) by the director Fernando de Fuentes. Prisionero 13 tells the story of Colonel Julián Carrasco [Alfredo del Diestro], a Huertista, who is the embodiment of the Revolutionary disillusionment with Victoriano Huerta. Thus, de Fuentes started his trilogy with a very pessimistic vision of the Revolution.

¡Vámonos con Pancho Villa!

Media Type: Film

Year: 1936

Who wrote / made it : Fernando de Fuentes

Plot summary: ¡Vámonos con Pancho Villa! is the best known of a trilogy of films of the Revolution. The other two are Prisionero 13 (1933) and El compadre Mendoza (1933) by the director Fernando de Fuentes. He is best known as the director of Allá en el Rancho Grande (1936), a huge hit on its release that set in train a successful period in the Mexican film industry locally and internationally.
¡Vámonos con Pancho Villa! is an adaptation of 9 chapters of a popular novel by Rafael F. Muñoz (1931). It follows the story of a group of soldiers, ‘los leones’ [the lions], from a small village who join the Revolution pledging to protect one another. The film is episodic in structure recounting the incidents and battles which result in all but one of the men’s deaths, variously: in battles, in a game of Russian roulette, and killed under Villa’s orders when it is discovered he has smallpox, to prevent an epidemic. It is a pessimistic film, which challenged the glorification of the iconic leaders by the state, in particular Pancho Villa. It had little success on its initial release only to be taken up by the Nuevo cine group as a precursor to their work. It has been much written about, most recently by Zuzana M. Pick and Fernando Fabio Sánchez and Gerardo García Muñoz.

Cananea

Media Type: Film

Year: 1977

Who wrote / made it : Marcela Fernández Violante

Plot summary: Cananea is set in a clearly defined historical moment. The final titles tell us that four years and five months after the events portrayed in the film the Revolution begins. The film represents the experiences which moulded the anarchist, Esteban Baca Calderón’s (Carlos Bracho) political beliefs. The character is loosely based on Ricardo Flores Magón, one of the intellectual forces behind the Mexican Revolution. The central axis of the plot are the tensions between Baca Calderón and his attempts to lead the workers into a strike against the business interests of the US citizen, Colonel William Greene (Steve Wilensky), who, although he has an understanding of and some sympathy for Mexicans, is happy to exploit them for his enrichment. The mining company he establishes with the help of rich friends and the full support of the government of Porfirio Díaz makes him a wealthy man at the cost of the Mexican workers’ health and welfare.

Fernández Violante creates a nuanced, complicated and intelligent portrait of the conflict between these two men and how both exploit the workers for their own ends.