Women & the golden age of Mexican cinema

1 – 7 May 2015
Cinema 2


A season of classic Mexican films from the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s featuring female stars of the era including Delores del Rio and María Félix. Glorious musicals, comedies and dramas, including work by leading director Emilio Fernández and world-renowned cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa, will be presented in beautiful new prints and digital restorations.

This golden age of Mexican cinema saw Mexico’s film industry become one of the most productive in the world; its films dominated all of the Spanish speaking markets in Central and South America, as well as the Hispanic populations in the United States, where Mexican films also achieved a number of box office successes across the board.

The Barbican Cinema’s programme is presented in partnership with the Mexican Film Institute (IMCINE) and the Embassy of Mexico London and will be accompanied by an exhibition of lavish photographs of the Mexican superstar of the golden age, María Félix in the Cinema Café & Bar.

Enamorada (A Woman in Love)

Adventurera (The Adventuress) (Mexico 1950 Dir Alberto Gout 101 min)

Fri 1 May 6.30pm, Cinema 2

The opening night film is a fantastic introduction to the joys of Mexican cinema’s Golden Age; a seriously overheated and outrageous melodrama with an intriguing feminist subtext, liberal doses of sex, and high camp song-and-dance numbers. Adventurera stars Cuban-born actress Ninón Sevilla, a world-famous rumba dancer, described by Variety as a cross between Rita Hayworth and Carmen Miranda. Sevilla was the brightest star of the Mexican ‘cabaretera’ genre – a hothouse hybrid of film noir, ‘women’s pictures’, soap opera and Hollywood musical – with stories set in the whorehouses, cheap bars and dingy backstreets of Mexico’s ‘sin towns’ among the fallen singers and dancers of the cabaret nightclubs. In this, a masterpiece of the genre, Sevilla plays a young, middle-class woman in Chihuahua whose sheltered life collapses in an instant, and who winds up shanghaied into a Ciudad Juarez cabaret run by crime queenpin Andrea Palmer and is expected to work as a dancer and escort.

La Mujer del Puerto (The Woman of the Port) (Mexico 1934 Dir Arcady Boytler 76 min)

Sat 2 May 4pm, Cinema 2

Following the death of her father and the shattering revelation that her boyfriend has been unfaithful, Rosario (Andrea Palmer) resigns herself to a bleak fate of selling love to sailors in the port of Veracruz. When she is rescued from the clutches of a drunken sailor by kindly Alberto, the two spend a passionate night together, but their love is threatened by a dark secret from the past. A box office success in its day, and today sometimes cited as the film that kicked off the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema, this outrageous melodrama fuses overwrought emotions with highly-stylised Expressionist images recalling the work of FW Murnau and Soviet-style montage.

Enamorada (A Woman in Love) (12A*) (Mexico 1947 Dir Emilio Fernández DP Gabriel Figueroa 99 min)

Sat 2 May 6pm, Cinema 2

This witty and deliriously romantic reworking of the Taming of the Shrew, set in picturesque Cholula during the Mexican revolution, is a key work of the Golden Age, and one of the most influential Mexican films of all time. Having captured Cholula, General Reyes (Armendáriz) sets about seizing the monies of its land-owning colonial bourgeoisie, but is tripped up by the smouldering beauty of spitfire-senorita Beatriz (María Félix), daughter of one of the town’s richest men. It’s love at first sight for our macho hero, but, with a mischievous glint in her eye, fiery Beatriz rebuffs his advances: does she really not care for his attentions – or is she just playing hard-to-get? One of Mexico’s biggest hit films of the decade, Enamorada swept the Ariels (the Mexican Oscars) with awards for Best Picture, Director, Actress, Screenplay and Cinematography, among others.

María Candelaria (Portrait of Maria) (Mexico 1943 Dir Emilio Fernández DP Gabriel Figueroa 97 min)

Sun 3 May 4pm, Cinema 2

The first Mexican film screened at Cannes, and the first Latin American film awarded the Gran Prix, María Candelaria was the film that brought the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema to the world stage. Coming off a great run of films in Hollywood, Dolores del Rio exchanged furs and diamonds for a shawl and bare feet for the titular role in this full-blown melodrama of love and intolerance, set among the indigenous people of Xochimilco, in 1909. Dolores plays lowly flower-seller, María. As the daughter of a prostitute, she is shunned by her fellow villagers, and her romance with hard-working peasant Lorenzo is cruelly obstructed by brutish rival suitor, Mestizo shopkeeper Don Damian. Her decision – out of necessity – to sit for a painter, scandalizes further the local populace with tragic consequences.

Distinto Amanecer (Another Dawn) (Mexico 1943 Dir Julio Bracho 108 min)

Sun 3 May 6pm, Cinema 2

Set over the course of one single, sweaty night this stylish film noir is set among the shabby cinemas, nightclubs and dingy backstreets of Mexico City – all captured by the lens of famed cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa. Octavio is a union activist searching for documents that prove governmental corruption. Pursued by the law, he encounters an old university classmate, Julieta (a sultry, chain-smoking Andrea Palmer), who hides him in the squalid flat she shares with her husband. As he considers rekindling his romance with Julieta – now a fichitera (female escort) at the cabaret Club Tabu – the clock is ticking, and the government men draw ever closer. For Julieta the question becomes: where do her true loyalties lie?

Salón México (Mexico 1948 Dir Emilio Fernández DP Gabriel Figueroa 95 min)

Mon 4 May 6.30pm, Cinema 2

In the Salón México cabaret, women are sold as dance partners – and more. Mercedes (Marga López) is one of them, living in a shanty atop a run-down apartment block, and working nights to pay for her younger sister’s schooling. Torn between two rival suitors – the kind-hearted, widowed policeman, Lupe and macho thug Paco – Mercedes gets along by clawing pesos from her clients. But when she tries to steal from her pimp, an upcoming ‘danzón’ contest offers the only hope of salvation. Director Emilio Fernández and cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa’s first ‘cabaretera’ (noir-tinged, cabaret-set melodrama) is a stylish look at Mexico’s urban underworld, complete with a night-time chase across the roof-tops, and a climactic face-off in the moonlight.

La Diosa Arrodillada (12A*) (Mexico 1947 Dir Roberto Gavaldón 107min)

Mon 4 May 8.20pm, Cinema 2

In the 1940s, a string of roles defined María Félix’s on-screen persona as a femme fatale who leads men on a rollercoaster ride of torment and ecstasy, often leading to their deaths and/or moral collapse. Here she stars as Raquel, a part-time prostitute, nude model, and mistress to a wealthy industrial chemist. Antonio splits with Raquel to care for his ailing wife, but her hold on him is such that he immediately rushes out to buy a life-sized replica of her, in faux-Greek mythological style, as a kneeling goddess to decorate the garden at home. When misfortune strikes his wife, Antonio is racked with guilt and both inflamed and disgusted by his obsession with Raquel.

Considered one of the very best examples of Mexican film noir, the film has a plot filled with pleasing twists and a dashing matinee idol in Arturo de Córdova.

About the Barbican

A world-class arts and learning organisation, the Barbican pushes the boundaries of all major art forms including dance, film, music, theatre and visual arts. Our creative learning programme further underpins everything we do. Over 1.5 million people pass through our doors annually, hundreds of artists and performers are featured, and more than 300 staff work onsite. Our architecturally renowned centre opened in 1982 and comprises the Barbican Hall, the Barbican Theatre, the Pit, Cinema One plus Cinemas 2 & 3 on Beech Street, Barbican Art Gallery, a second gallery The Curve, foyers and public spaces, a library, Lakeside Terrace, a glasshouse conservatory, conference facilities and three restaurants.

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