Bowie: Cultural Icon and Latin American Film Buff

Photograph by Fernando Aceves

Photograph by Fernando Aceves

In tribute to the passing of the musician and icon David Bowie, Cinema Tropical remembers his demonstrated passion for Latin American cinema, as evidenced by his curatorial program for the 2007 High Line Festival, which comprised ten films.

The series titled “David Bowie Presents 10 Latin American and Spanish Films from the Last 100 Years” was co-presented by Cinema Tropical and featured one film from every decade. “It’s so exciting to dive headfirst into this world, such talent and great innovation going on,” Bowie said about coming up with his selections, adding, “I could call this selection, One-Hundred Years of ‘Look What I’ve Found.’”

The list of films screened at the Quad Cinema, in New York City, between May 11-17, 2007, is as follows:

El automóvil gris / The Grey Automobile

(Enrique Rosas Priego, Mexico, 1919, 120 min.)

Mexican director Claudio Valdés Kuri takes a silent film classic - one filled with gangsters, police chases and sumptuous costumes - and gives it a thoroughly modern soundtrack through the talents of his actors and pianist. Following the Japanese benshi tradition of silent film narration, the actors artfully render the voices and emotions of each of the film's characters, offer witty repartee and, at times, sing and dance on stage, as well. A two-hour theatrical production that blurs the boundaries of what is Mexican or Japanese, what is film versus theater, and what it means to understand language and the filtering effects of time.

Limite (pictured left)

(Mário Peixoto, Brazil, 1931, b&w, 115 min.)

Cast: Taciana Rei, Olga Breno, Raul Schnoor, Brutus Pedreira, Carmen Santos, Mário Peixoto.

Considered a legendary cult movie and voted as one of the best Brazilian films of all time, Limite is an avant-garde film that explores the visual possibilities of cinema. The film was made by Mário Peixoto when he was 21 years old and was the only film he ever directed.

El Prisionero 13

(Fernando de Fuentes, Mexico, 1933, b&w, 76 min.)

Cast: Alfredo del Diestro, Adela Sequeyro, Luis G. Barreiro.

The first film in Fernando de Fuentes’ celebrated trilogy on the Mexican revolution (along with El Compadre Mendoza and Vámonos con Pancho Villa) is a poignant critique on corruption in which a Colonel is bribed to free young man from his execution by a firing squad. There are thirteen prisoners on death row, fate will decide the 13th prisoner.

Dos Monjes

(Juan Bustillo Oro, Mexico, 1934, b&w, 85 min.)

Cast: Magda Haller, Víctor Urruchua, Carlos Villatoto, Emma Roldán, Manuel Noriega.

“Narrating a love triangle involving two monks, Fray Servando and Fray Javier, the film weaves together a story from the conflicting points of views of the two rivals. As Fray Javier gradually goes mad, those parts of the film told from his perspective take on the trappings of German Expressionism, including exaggerated make-up, skewed angles, deep shadows and a crooked, distorted sense of space. Masterfully photographed by Agustín Jiménez, the film was a belated effort to incorporate the styles of a European vanguard into Mexican commercial film.” – Jesse Lerner, Mexperimental Cinema.

Aventurera
(Alberto Gout, Mexico, 1949, b&w, 111 min.)

Cast: Ninón Sevilla, Tito Junco, Andrea Palma, Rubén Rojo, Miguel Inclán.

One of the most popular Mexican films ever made and a cult sensation during its recent U.S. theatrical revival, Aventurera is the most famous example of the curious hybrid of film noir and musical films known as cabareteras that were wildly popular in Mexico in the 40's and 50's. Starring the immortal Ninón Sevilla, who Variety called "a cross between Rita Hayworth and Carmen Miranda," it follows the melodramatic rise and fall of a popular nightclub star with a dark past.

Robinson Crusoe

(Luis Buñuel, Mexico, 1954, color, 90 min.)

Cast: Dan O’Herlihy, Jaime Fernández, Felipe de Alba, Chel López.

One of his less frequently screened films, Buñuel’s Robinson Crusoe is a fascinating adaptation of Daniel Defoe’s classic that offers a very personal reinterpretation of the Crusoe metaphor questioning man's relationship with God and morality. Dan’Oherlihy was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actor for his performance in the title role.

Memorias del subdesarrollo / Memories of Underdevelopment (pictured left)

(Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, Cuba, 1968, b&w, 110 min.)

Cast: Sergio Corrieri, Daisy Granados, Eslinda Núñez, Omar Valdés.

As the first film from post-revolutionary Cuba to be released in the U.S., this had a widespread impact unequaled in the history of Latin American cinema. Set in the early 1960s, the film centers on a Europeanized Cuban intellectual, too idealistic to leave for Miami, but too decadent to fit into the new society. A critique of revolutionary society, and a remarkable demonstration that artistic subtlety, political commitment and entertainment are not incompatible.

El espíritu de la colmena / The Spirit of the Beehive

(Víctor Erice, Spain, 1973, 99 min.)

Cast: Fernando Fernán Gómez, Teresa Gimpera, Ana Torrent, Isabel Tellera.

Víctor Erice’s spellbinding El Espíritu de la Colmena, widely regarded as the greatest Spanish film of the 1970s is set in a small Castilian village in 1940, in the wake of the country's devastating civil war. A six-year-old Ana attends a traveling movie show of Frankenstein and becomes possessed by the memory of it. Produced as Franco’s long regime was nearing its end, El Espíritu de la Colmena is a bewitching portrait of a child’s haunted inner life and one of the most visually arresting movies ever made.

Oriana (pictured right)

(Fina Torres, Venezuela/France, 1985, color, 88 min.)

Cast: Doris Wells, Daniela Silverio, Rafael Briceño, Mirtha Borges.

A taut, gothic, Latin American romance, winner of the Camera d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Marie returns to a rundown Venezuelan house in the jungle where she spent summers as a child. Her return ignites memories of a summer when her adolescent sexual curiosity led to a surprising encounter. "An exotic Jane Eyre set in a jungle-choked hacienda" (Seattle Weekly).

Los amantes del círculo polar / Lovers from the Arctic Circle

(Julio Medem, Spain/France, 1998, 152 min.)

Cast: Najwa Nimri, Fele Martínez, Nacho Novo, Maru Valvidieso, Sara Valiente.

Julio Medem, one of Spain’s most famous contemporary filmmakers (perhaps best known for his film Sex and Lucia) offers us this passionate love story told by each one of the sides. The story begins in 1980, Ana and Otto’s lives will become part of the same circle that will close 17 years later in Finland, right in the limits of the Artic Circle.

Machuca (pictured left)

(Andrés Wood, Chile/Spain/UK/France, 2004, 115 min.)

Cast: Ariel Mateluna, Matías Quer, Manuela Martelli, Ernesto Malbran.

Set in Chile, 1973, Machuca is an astonishingly intimate and painful coming-of-age story about a pair of 12-year-old boys from opposite extremes of society who form an unlikely friendship during the last days of President Allende and General Augusto Pinochet's military coup.