Vamanos con Pancho Villa (1936), Directed by Fernando de Fuentes
The re-released Vamanos with Pancho Villa, is an unusual sort of classic. Mexicans hold it in great esteem; their fellow Americans north of the border find it somewhat less worthy. In this case the idea that “the language of film is universal”, doesn’t hold water. Vamanos is a statement by a Mexican to Mexicans, about a civil war, fought on their soil, made when the wounds were still fresh.
The story centers on six villagers, who weary of abuse from the ruling party’s soldiers, join the revolutionary forces of General Villa. Blindly enthusiastic, they pledge their loyalty to Villa. Otherwise they join battle without any particular political ideology. Besides a fascination with the general, their only inspiration springs from periodic challenges to their machismo.
Apart from film aficionado observations on Fuentes cinematic style, the most obvious value for those not immersed in Mexican history, is a poignant statement on the arbitrary nature of armed conflict.
Muriel (1963), Directed by Alain Resnais
Resnais’ Muriel is a similar classic to Vamanos, evocative of a France riven by wars with Europe and Algeria-- a culture into which the director weaves a very complicated and very French story.
Helene, now widowed, invites a former beau, Alphonse, once a source of unrequited love, to come for a visit. He arrives with a woman young enough to be his daughter, introduced as his niece, but obviously his lover. He finds Helene living with her son, who is struggling through what now might be termed post-traumatic syndrome after serving in Algeria.
Attempting to resurrect something that never quite was, as they face the prospect of aging alone, they can neither let go nor grasp whatever they’re looking for. Neither they nor their country is what it once was. With Muriel, Renais masterfully holds together a story line as fragile as the lives it depicts. This film is a delicacy.
Stolen, Directed by Rebecca Dreyfus
PBS, March 20
With the expansion of cable, mini-documentaries of true and unusual crime are painfully commonplace. As such it takes a certain degree of virtuosity to distinguish oneself in this genre which has been exploited by every narrative devise. Thankfully undeterred, PBS’ Independent Lens presents Stolen, which airs on March 20.
Stolen chronicles the 1990 art theft from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and the effort to recover the stolen paintings. In the process we’re given a lesson in art history and the fascinating underworld that trades in these priceless commodities.
At the turn of the last century, the privileged and moneyed Ms. Gardner displayed an audacity and visibility considered most inappropriate for Boston women. Traveling Europe (she especially loved Venice) she procured paintings of the masters, bringing them back to the US. She designed and underwrote the construction of a museum that carries her name and in which the masterpieces were hung for the enrichment of the public.
In the wee hours following St. Patrick’s Day, thieves disguised as policemen, entered the poorly secured museum and pulled off the largest art heist in modern history. Among the 13 pieces taken was Vermeer’s The Concert, that according to the focus of the documentary, was the crown jewel of the collection.
Investigating the case is the venerable art detective, Harold Smith. A man of great poise and presence, his character is made all the more intriguing by a bowler hat, an eye patch, and a visage scarred by skin cancer. Following a trail that touches on the IRA, Sen. Edward Kennedy, organized crime, and a host of colorful characters, Stolen boasts a serpentine plot rivaling an Agatha Christie mystery.
Reviews by Lester Gray, Arts Editor
For copy of actual issue, go to https://www.realchangenews.org/2007/03/14/mar-14-2007-entire-issue