Río Escondido (Emilio Fernández / Mexico, 1948):

The young Godard included it along Russian rousers in his Cahiers salvo "Towards a Political Cinema," and indeed Eisenstein is the foundation of Emilio Fernández's frescos, in which historical monuments have voices of their own. The peasant-heroine (María Félix) is a teacher, sickly but iron-willed, posed against the dwarfing, cinematic Diego Rivera murals lining the presidential palace; the new President needs the people's help, the venerated silhouette gives Félix her mission ("Mexico needs water"), a tear rolling down her cheek sparkles like a diamond. A country in crisis is visualized as pale flatlands with a single cactus on the right (The Grapes of Wrath), Fernández's next shot cuts off the ground to frame the small, struggling figure silhouetted against enormous clouds. Her destination is Río Escondido, a pueblo reduced to gnarled trees, scattered graves, and crumbling colonial architecture; the brutal landowner (Carlos López Moctezuma) runs it like his own private saloon, Félix joins a doctor (Fernando Fernández) and a priest (Agustín Isunza) in a regenerative trifecta. Surely the facing-the-camera didacticism of a dolled-up movie star filibusting to a classroom of children struck the future maker of La Gai Savoir and Ici et Ailleurs, her speech before Juárez's portrait ("Sometimes a little barbarism is necessary") even more so. The villain wants this politicized Madonna as his mistress, rejected he guns down the boy who tries to take water from his well -- the rest follows with mélo flares turned up, Moctezuma tries to violate Félix but she comes out blazing like La Davis in The Letter, insurrection is triggered, the President has the final word. A government pamphlet, but Fernández carves it out of jagged rock, striking indigenous faces, and Gabriel Figueroa's sheltering skies. With Manuel Dondé and Eduardo Arozamena. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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