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.

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