Arlecchino Cinema > 18:30


Roberto Gavaldón
Introduced by

Kristen Merola (The Film Foundation)


Film Notes

In the mid-1950s, Gavaldón began to collaborate with different writers and new stars, moving away from urban noir and embracing a style of magical realism, as well as even more blistering social protest. He made a series of adap- tations of stories by B. Traven, the mys- terious writer best known for penning the source material for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre… Macario, adapted from a short story by Traven, became the first Mexican film to be nominated for an Academy Award, as well as Mexico’s entry in the 1960 Cannes Film Festival. By this point in his career, Gavaldón had begun a collaboration with the great cin- ematographer Gabriel Figueroa – whom Diego Rivera ranked alongside Mexico’s greatest muralists – and together they created a dark, unsentimental vision of peasant life that nonetheless leaves room for the poetic and the fantastic.
Death and its rituals are a constant refrain in Gavaldón’s films, from the fu- nerals in The Other One and Rosauro Castro to onscreen murders and suicides, and it is often juxtaposed with carniva- lesque revelry. Macario finally goes to the source of this motif, depicting Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebration, which fills streets with raucous dancing skeletons and ornamented sugar skulls.
The film is a haunting, folkloric fairy tale peppered with sharp observations about inequality. “They’re so pretentious, even with their dead,” a poor wife says of a rich family, which lays on a lavish spread of food as offerings for their ances- tors while her large family goes hungry. Her husband, Macario, is a woodcutter so tired of sacrificing his meager portions of beans and tortillas to his ravenous brood that he goes on a hunger strike, announcing that he will never eat again until he can devour a roast turkey all by himself. His wife, a laundress, steals a fowl from her customers to fulfil this wish, but when Macario sits down to enjoy his solitary feast in the forest, he is approached by three figures – the Devil, God, and Death – who each beg for a piece of it…
The simplicity of the film’s effects adds to its emotional power, and it culminates in one of the greatest achievements of Ga- valdón and Figueroa: a scene set in a vast cave carpeted with hundreds of dripping wax candles. It looks like a city at night seen from an airplane, or a galaxy of fall- en stars flickering and guttering.

Imogen Sara Smith, Heat of the Night, “Film Comment”, vol. 55, n. 3, May-June 2019

Cast and Credits

og.: dal racconto omonimo (1950) di B. Traven. Scen.:Emilio Carballido, Roberto Gavaldón. F.: Gabriel Figueroa. M.: Gloria Schoemann. Scgf.: Manuel Fontanals. Mus.: Raúl Lavista. Int.: Ignacio López Tarso (Macario), Pina Pellicer (moglie di Macario), Enrique Lucero (la Morte), José Gálvez (il Diavolo), José Luis Jiménez (Dios), Mario Alberto Rodríguez (Don Ramiro), Consuelo Frank (Virreina). Prod.: Armando Orive Alba per Clasa Films Mundiales. DCP. D.: 91’. Bn.