Cinematheque – Mexican Film Fiesta

Cinematheque – Mexican Film Fiesta

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– 21-30 Sept 2008 –

Beginning on Sunday evening, Hanoi Cinémathèque is pleased to present an exciting series of classic and contemporary Mexican films.  Mexico has had one of the most active and interesting film industries for many decades, although international distribution of most of their movies has been erratic.

Our retrospective features ten masterpieces of Mexican cinema from 1933 to 2007.  And during this series, our courtyard CinéCafé will be serving a selection of Tequila and Kahlúa cocktails at reduced prices.

SCHEDULE (Note Sunday opening)


21 Sunday

22 Monday

23 Tuesday
19:00    THE VIOLIN
21:00    EL

24 Wednesday
19:00    EL
21:00    DANZÓN

25 Thursday
19:00    DANZÓN
21:00    MIDAQ ALLEY

26 Friday
18:00    MIDAQ ALLEY

27 Saturday
21:30    FRIDA

28 Sunday
19:00    FRIDA

29 Monday
21:00    DUCK SEASON

30 Tuesday
19:00    DUCK SEASON
21:00    THE VIOLIN


1933     Directed by Arcady Boytler     76 minutes
Spanish with English subtitles and Vietnamese audio option

Ranked among the top ten greatest Mexican films of all time.

A cowardly murder, a dark mystery, and an illicit romance combine in a dark and atmospheric melodrama that’s also an all-time classic of Mexican cinema. After the death of her father and betrayal by her fiancé, a woman becomes a prostitute, living above a cabaret and working “to please the men who come from the sea.” Her romance with a lonely sailor begins to blossom, but the revelation of a shocking secret shatters their only chance at happiness. Inspired by stories by Guy de Maupassant and Leo Tolstoy.

1944     Directed by Emilio Fernández     100 minutes
Spanish with English subtitles and Vietnamese audio option

A milestone in Mexican Film History and winner of the Grand Prix and Best Cinematography at the Cannes Film Festival in 1946.

This was one of the highest peaks in the careers of the great director Emilio Fernández and legendary cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa. The movie depicts one of the director’s passions: the injustice and prejudice at poor and innocent people. In this film, Hollywood star Dolores del Rio is paired with one of the best Mexican actors, Pedro Armendáriz. The chemistry between them is remarkable, and the result is a deeply engrossing drama that remains as fresh today, as when it was originally released.

Dolores del Rio was a Hollywood star who refused to play stereotypes in any of the films in which she appeared in Hollywood. She was a woman of sophistication and good taste, but at almost 40, the actress realized it was time to reinvent herself, packed her Louis Vuitton trunks and left for her native land. There, she became the absolute queen of anything of quality filmed in Mexico. In a way, it is ironic her best film in Mexico she plays an Indian woman, something she wouldn’t have agreed to do for the American cinema. She worked extensively on the screen and in the theater until her death in 1983.

This is an Emilio Fernandez and Gabriel Figueroa masterpiece!
2006     Directed by Francisco Vargas     98 minutes
Spanish with English subtitles and Vietnamese audio option

Don Plutarco, his son Genaro and his grandson Lucio live a double life: on one hand they are musicians and humble farmers, on the other they support the campesina peasant guerilla movement’s armed efforts against the oppressive government. When the military seizes the village, the rebels flee to the sierra hills, forced to leave behind their stock of ammunition. While the guerillas organize a counter-attack, old Plutarco executes his own plan. He plays up his appearance as a harmless violin player, in order to get into the village and recover the ammunition hidden his corn field. His violin playing charms the army captain, who orders Plutarco to come back daily. Arms and music play a tenuous game of cat-and-mouse which ultimately results in painful betrayal.

“The Violin is filmmaking in its purest form. The debut film by Francisco Vargas moves us with its lyricism and shakes us with its honesty. A film that’s moving, urgent and necessary.”

– Guillermo del Toro, Director of  the Academy Award? Nominated Pan’s Labyrinth

From review by Justin Chang, Variety:

“The old saying that music can soothe the savage beast is both celebrated and challenged in THE VIOLIN the finely crafted writing-directing debut of Mexican filmmaker Francisco Vargas. Stark but absorbing drama follows an aging musician, beautifully played by Don Angel Tavira, who fiddles his way into the front lines of Mexico’s peasant revolts during the 1970s.

Nonprofessional cast is uniformly strong, but the 81-year-old Tavira, in his acting debut, inspires real affection with his enormously dignified, mildly dyspeptic characterization. His mouth perpetually downturned, his face as weathered and ruggedly expressive as the outdoor locales, Tavira’s creation of a mischievously heroic figure disguised as a harmless-looking old man is the tale’s chief satisfaction.

In a very real sense, Vargas seems to have tailored the picture specifically for Tavira, himself a lifelong violinist.”

Review by Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times:

“THE VIOLIN, it’s been reliably reported, has won over 40 international awards,and it’s not hard to see why. The debut dramatic feature by Mexican director Francisco Vargas is a quintessential film festival film, a potent work made with confidence and skill that effectively melds aesthetic and thematic concerns within an involving dramatic framework.

As written by Vargas, who won the Mexican Ariel for best screenplay as well as for best first feature, the story of THE VIOLIN has the simplicity of a fable, albeit one that is drawn to darkness more than light.  Making this story effective is a performance of enormous gravity and presence by 80-something Tavira, a legendary traditional musician whom filmmaker Vargas made the subject of an earlier documentary feature. Vargas also has a background as a director of photography, and he has given THE VIOLIN a stunning look that highlights cinematographer Martin Boege’s sparking black-and-white imagery.

But one thing that makes this film distinctive is that its visual beauty doesn’t keep it from emphasizing the bleak reality of the impoverished lives of its characters. Poverty is written on the faces of many of its participants, and the squalid aspects of existence are not shied away from.

More than anything, however, THE VIOLIN emphasizes the timeless necessity and even inevitability of rebellion on the part of the disenfranchised. The poor may be overmatched, but, as one character says,”our destiny is to fight” because “the land is ours.”

A message this political has rarely been delivered in so poetic a form.”

1953     Directed by Louis Buñuel     92 minutes
Spanish with English subtitles and Vietnamese audio option

In EL, director Luis Buñuel provides a plethora of societal and psychological mediations on his usual themes of sexually, the selfishness of the upper class, macho trappings and religious hypocrisy.
One of his excursions to these themes, EL provides a weird but fascinating mediation on the thread which binds religion, the bourgeoisie and sexuality together. It oscillates between comedy and tragedy, remaining thus faithful to the true style of Buñuel, and presents again an exceptional mixture of psychological and sociological insights.
A young boy in church views a ritualistic adorning of a foot. Not unlike the strong effect of Rosebud on Citizen Kane, this event has a long-lasting effect of his life as he sexually matures.
Francisco is a wealthy, bachelor of the highest moral standards, as evidenced by the repeated declarations of his pastor. Unfortunately, his glaring weaknesses of insecurity, jealousy, paranoia and presumed manhood get the better of his life.

1991     Directed by Maria Novaro     120 minutes
Spanish with English subtitles and Vietnamese audio option

Julia (Rojo) is a phone operator in Mexico City who divides her time between her job, her daughter and the danzon: a cuban dance very popular in Mexico and Central America. Every wednesday Julia does the danzon with Carmelo (Rergis) in the old “Salon Colonia”. They’ve danced for years but barely know each other. One night Carmelo disappears without a trace. Feeling lonely and sad, Julia takes a train to Veracruz, where she knows Carmelo has a brother. That sudden trip will change Julia’s life forever.

From review by Hal Hinson, Washington Post:

“In Mexican director Maria Novaro’s lovely new film DANZON, dance isn’t merely a metaphor for romance; it is the formalization of love’s language and rituals, the choreography of dreams. The central dreamer is a fortyish Mexico City telephone operator named Julia (Maria Rojo), who lives for the nights when she can toss away her daily worries and, with others like her, dance a stylized ballroom box step called the danzon.

The moves of the danzon have the same peacock eroticism of the tango; the partners must follow strict rules of deportment and technique. And Julia is a stickler for the rules. The hands must be in just the right position, the eyes unfocused and roving, only occasionally making contact with those of your partner.

Most dancers are not as disciplined or expert as Julia, whose whole emotional life seems to begin and end with the danzon. For six years she has danced with one partner, Carmelo (Daniel Rergis), a tall, silent man with gentle eyes, and together they have won a number of competitions. But she and Carmelo have spoken barely a word to each other off the dance floor. They’re silent partners, each living lives that the other knows nothing about.

Then one Wednesday night, Carmelo fails to show up; he’s vanished, and suddenly, Julia realizes just how important he’s become in her life. Determined to find her friend, she sets off for Vera Cruz, where he is supposedly a cook.

She never finds him (at least not in Vera Cruz), but she does find herself. Novaro’s direction is as romantic and restrained as the danzon itself. Julia’s journey of self-discovery — she makes new friends and has a brief affair with a very young, very handsome sailor — is filtered through Novaro’s distinctly feminine sensibility. The emphasis is on the emotional core of every scene, and the subtle give and take — the emotional partnering — of her characters.

Love is the crux of DANZON. Julia becomes a woman for all ages, a nearly classical heroine, looking out over the seas for the man of her dreams. Rojo is perfect for her role; she’s old enough to have earned the world-weary lines around her eyes, yet still young and sexy enough to turn men’s heads.”

MIDAQ ALLEY (El Callejón de los milagros)
1995     Directed by George Fons   140 minutes
Spanish with English subtitles and Vietnamese audio option

MIDAQ ALLEY is the most awarded film in Mexican history, accumulating 49 International Awards, including Audience Choice Award at 1995 Chicago International Film Festival.

Based on Egyptian Naguib Mahfouz’s Nobel Prize Winning novel, the story has been translated from Cairo to Mexico City’s downtown. It narrates the life of the members of the neighborhood and the connection between them. One of those people is played by Salma Hayek, the beauty who has since carved out a significant career north of the border in films like FRIDA and TRAFFIC.

There are four stories in the film. Each deals with what happened to that particular character while all have points in which they connect with the others. The film shows that when Mexican filmmakers want to tell interesting human stories, such as the ones depicted in the film, they can match the best of world cinema. This is clearly a movie that will survive because of its universal themes.

2000    Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu            154 minutes
Spanish with English subtitles and Vietnamese audio option

A horrific car accident connects three stories, each involving characters dealing with loss, regret, and life’s harsh realities – all in the name of love.

AMORES PERROS (which roughly translates as ‘Love’s a bitch’) was the feature debut of Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, who later went Hollywood with the gritty gloom of 21 GRAMS, and the spectacular BABEL. The film earned a great deal of praise from critics around the world, as well as picking up awards at numerous festivals, including Cannes and Venice.

AMORES PERROS launched the film career of Gael García Bernal, and received an Oscar nomination in the ‘Best Foreign Film’ category, year 2000.

From review by Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times:

AMORES PERROS arrives from Mexico trailing clouds of glory–it was one of this year’s Oscar nominees–and generating excitement on the Internet, where the fanboys don’t usually flip for foreign films. It tells three interlinked stories that span the social classes in Mexico City, from rich TV people to the working class to the homeless, and it circles through those stories with a nod to Quentin Tarantino, whose PULP FICTION had a magnetic influence on young filmmakers.??Many are influenced but few are chosen: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, making his feature debut, borrows what he can use, but is an original, dynamic director.

The title, loosely translated in English, is “Love’s a Bitch”, and all three of his stories involve dogs who become as important as the human characters. The film opens with a disclaimer promising that no animals were harmed in the making of the film. That notice usually appears at the ends of films, but putting it first in AMORES PERROS is wise, since the first sequence involves dog fights and all three will be painful for soft-hearted animal lovers to sit through.

AMORES PERROS at 154 minutes is heavy on story–too heavy, some will say–and rich with character and atmosphere. It is the work of a born filmmaker, and you can sense Gonzalez Inarritu’s passion as he plunges into melodrama, coincidence, sensation and violence. His characters are not the bland, amoral totems of so much modern Hollywood violence, but people with feelings and motives. They want love, money and revenge. They not only love their dogs but desperately depend on them. And it is clear that the lower classes are better at survival than the wealthy, whose confidence comes from their possessions, not their mettle”

ADVISORY: This film contains graphic violence.

2002     Directed by Julie Taymor     123 minutes
Spanish with English subtitles and Vietnamese audio option

Nominated for six 2002 Academy Awards®, including Salma Hayek for Best Actress, FRIDA tells the story of an extraordinary life. Frida Kahlo (Salma Hayek), born of a German Jewish father and a Mexican mother, grew up in Mexico City at a time when it was a hotbed of exile and intrigue. As a student, she goes to see the great muralist Diego Rivera at work, boldly calls him “fat” and knows that he is the man for her.

Then Frida is almost mortally injured in a trolley crash that shatters her back and pierces her body with a steel rod. She was never to be free of pain again in her life and for long periods had to wear a body cast. Taymor uses the materials of magic realism to suggest how Frida was able to overcome pain with art and imagination. Also starring Antonio Banderas, Ashley Judd, Edward Norton, and Geoffrey Rush (as Leon Trotsky).

From review by Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune:

“FRIDA takes the fervent life of Mexican painter and revolutionary Frida Kahlo and turns it into a wildly colorful fever-dream of a movie that whips and whirls the already extraordinary events of her biography – the crippling adolescent accident, her lifelong alliance with fellow painter Diego Rivera and her audacious autobiographical paintings. The film is a mad mix of staid PBS bio-drama, flamboyant musical comedy and surreal cartoon nightmare.

By now, Kahlo is something of a feminist cultural icon, but director Julie Taymor and star/producer Salma Hayek don’t play it safe or stolid. They’re not in the religious or political relic business. Their movie is prodigiously detailed and reverent toward Frida and her legend – and surprisingly sympathetic to her promiscuous, faithless husband Diego – but it’s also playful and imaginative. Audiences who approach “Frida” in a reverential mood are likely to be a little shocked by the torrent of imagery and emotion Taymor throws onto the screen as she carries us through Frida’s life.

Her star, Hayek, has made this film a decade-long labor of love, and she approaches the role of Kahlo with almost intimidating resolve and real bravery. Hayek is a movie sex goddess who here deliberately transforms herself into the image of Kahlo’s shaggier, more unorthodox looks: the crippled limbs, the hairy uni-brow. But her Kahlo is sexy and passionate anyway, full of anguish and courage, life and appetite.”

2002    Directed by Carlos Carrera    118 minutes
Spanish with English subtitles and Vietnamese audio option

The most controversial and the biggest box-office success in the history of Mexican cinema, THE CRIME OF PADRE AMARO tells the story of a newly ordained priest (Gael García Bernal) that sees its force of will tested by temptation. Torn between the divine and the carnal, the righteous and the unjust, Father Amaro must summon his strength to choose which life he will lead.

THE CRIME OF PADRE AMARO was nominated for an Academy Award in 2002 for Best Foreign-language Film. The movie also unleashed the wrath of some religious groups that tried without success to prevent its exhibition.

Mark Kermode, The London Observer:

“The Mexican melodrama CRIME OF PADRE AMARO caused a money-spinning scandal in some Catholic countries where images of confessional kisses and sexualised Santa Maria robes were considered shocking. In fact, this passionate, if overwrought, parable of the relationship between church and gangsters, priests and virgins, guerrillas and citizens, throws more rocks at politics than religion, counterposing the genuine devotion of mountain-dwelling ‘rebel’ Father Natalio with the seeping township duplicity which corrupts Amaro, excellently played by Gael García Bernal.”

Edward Guthmann, San Francisco Chronicle:

“The source material for EL CRIMEN DE PADRE AMARO, a Mexican film about an errant priest, is a Portuguese novel published in 1875. Given that said priest falls in love with a 16-year-old girl, impregnates her and then sullies himself with various levels of church corruption, it couldn’t be more contemporary.

THE CRIME OF PADRE AMARO which broke box-office records in Mexico with its steamy brew of forbidden passion, stars Gael Garcia Bernal, the gifted young star of “Y Tu Mama Tambien.” Bernal plays Padre Amaro, a newly ordained priest, just 24, who reports for duty in a Mexican village and discovers a parish built on corruption.

This is basically high-class melodrama — Mexican soap opera on a Cadillac budget — but Bernal is subtly effective as Amaro, a man so idealistic that his own weakness comes as a surprise to him. Director Carlos Carrera also understands the fierce power of the Catholic Church in Mexico and conveys the character of this tiny, insular community through richness of detail.

2005    Directed by Fernando Eimbcke    90 minutes
Spanish with English subtitles and Vietnamese audio option

No special effects, or frenetic, head-spinning editing here – just a simple story about a day in the lives of two 14-year-old Mexican boys that turns out to be anything but typical.

DUCK SEASON is the first feature film by talented writer and director, Fernando Eimbcke, a former director of music videos. This funny, black&white movie captures the apathy of the young Mexican generation with poignant wit and subtle poetry.

The film chronicles the misadventures of a lazy Sunday in a high-rise apartment, as two young boys are home alone and pass the time eating junk food and playing video games. A flirtatious neighbor girl has stopped by to use the oven, the pizza man won’t leave, and the power keeps going out, as director Eimbcke films all of this with an understated deadpan brilliance.

The young cast is exceptionally good, and when things reach a hilarious crescendo as the group of slackers mistakenly ingests a pan of pot brownies, the film takes on a deeper subtext. An almost Hawksian scenario develops as our newly formed group struggles in their drug induced state to shut out and rebel against the outside world of maturity. Even though this film is from Mexico, the message it carries about what it means to be young and on the brink of adulthood should resonate worldwide. A modest gem.

Review by Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times:

“Sometimes a film about nothing can be a film about everything; a film without overwhelmingly dramatic events can delight you more than an outsized epic. The sly and disarming DUCK SEASON is such a film.

A major success in Mexico, where it won an unprecedented 11 Ariels, the local version of the Oscars, DUCK SEASON has traveled exceptionally well. The film has screened in more than 70 festivals, been distributed in more than 30 countries, lighted up Critic’s Week at Cannes, won the grand jury prize at AFI Fest and got a best foreign film nomination from the Independent Spirit awards. Better than average for an 85-minute black-and-white film about the laziest of lazy Sundays for two 14-year-old Mexico City boys.

DUCK SEASON is in fact so whimsical and idiosyncratic, so reluctant to rush its narrative, that viewers will be forgiven for wondering in the early going if this unhurried, seemingly uneventful film is the same one that collected all those honors.

But writer-director Fernando Eimbcke, working on his first feature after a successful series of shorts, absolutely knows what he is doing. As the Sunday in question spirals delicately but unmistakably out of control, Eimbcke’s quiet but steely assurance asserts itself and causes all the film’s disparate strands to come wonderfully together.

The Sunday in question takes place in the Mexico City apartment of 14-year-old Flama (Daniel Miranda). He and best friend Moko (Diego Cataño), delighted to be left alone by Flama’s mother, are preparing for an afternoon of carefully poured king-sized Cokes and Xbox video games.

So intent are they on deciding who should be Bin Laden and who Bush, the boys barely care that Flama’s 16-year-old neighbor, the fetching Rita (Danny Perea), is so determined to bake a cake that she has talked Flama into letting her use the family kitchen.

Though she looks angelic, Rita turns out to be a creature without boundaries who is as interested in snooping around and sampling everything as she is in baking, someone who amusingly treats Flama’s kitchen as if it were her own. Then the apartment’s power goes out and the boys are so bored that, for diversion as much as food, they order a pizza from Telepizza, which guarantees 30-minute delivery.

But when Moko decides that the pizza is 11 seconds late and Flama refuses to pay, wacky deliveryman Ulises (Enrique Arreola) refuses to leave without his money, adding the fourth and final loose cannon to the apartment mix.

The things that happen among these four are in one sense too inconsequential to describe, events that sound uninvolving in words but win us over on screen. Secrets are exchanged, confidences are shared and a painting of ducks on the wing takes on almost mystical significance. Taken together, what we see bonds these people to one another, and to us, changing lives irrevocably in an unassuming if not necessarily quiet way. (We’re talking teenage boys here, after all.)

DUCK SEASON has a great sense of what it really feels like to be 14, a much different thing than what the movies usually insist it is. In this world of no more than the most nominal adults, this quartet turns itself into an off-the-cuff family, listening intently to one another as they work through questions of sexuality, identity, what to do about bad jobs and impending divorce. What we are watching in DUCK SEASON, the source of all its success, is something very human, with all the surprise and wonder that that condition implies.”

Wendy Ide, London Times:
“There is not a whole lot going on in DUCK SEASON, a low-budget black-and-white Mexican film about two teenage boys, their cake-obsessed neighbour, a pizza delivery man, computer games and a painting of some ducks.
Brief vignettes capture the characters in seemingly banal activities for a few seconds at a time. They make a cursory attempt at French kissing in the kitchen. They all get stoned on hash brownies and giggle a lot. They sleep.
Determined audience members will learn that DUCK SEASON is actually about broken homes, suppressed urges and thwarted dreams, but this is not a film that hands you anything on a plate.”

Hanoi’s unique ‘art-house cinema’, is a members-only film society.
Memberships are available at the box office for only 100,000VND per year.
Members receive regular emails with detailed schedules and reviews of the films.
Tickets to the films are by donation.

22A Hai Ba Trung Street
(at the end of the alley leading to Artist’s Hotel)
Tel: 936 2648 (14:00 – 20:00)
Fax: 936 2649
Email: [email protected]
from 17:00 weekdays and from 13:30 weekends.


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