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El Violin opening film of the LACMA Latin Cinema Review

The opening film of the Latin Cinema Review ongoing currently at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) was "El Violin", a sensational first feature shot in stark Black and White by Mexican director, Francisco Vargas. The story deals with a peasant uprising somewhere in an unamed Latin country (but obviously Mexico) at an unspecified time (but it could be the present or the recent past), which is brutally supressed by the "federales", which is the terrm used in Mexico for the regular army.

"The Violin" was shown this year at Cannes and won a Best Actor award for elderly non-actor Angel Tavira, in the role of the aged violinist, "Don Plutarco", of the title. Other key roles in this gripping drama were Gerardo Taracena as "Genaro" a young village revolutionary militant, and Dagoberto Gama as "el Capitan", the cruel wily leader of the federal soldiers, who seems to be so enthralled by Don Plutarco's country fiddling that he wants to take a few lessons to break up the motony of military duty.

"El Vioin" is an independent production which could not have been too pleasing to the current Mexican government as echoes of a similar peasant insurrection in the southern state of Chiapas are still very much in the air, but since the media in Mexico are basically uncensored, it managed to "escape" into public view and was widely seen in Mexico playing to SRO audiences, although in a limited distribution with only 20 copies of the film in circulation. It is now out on the festival circuit and seems headed for some kind of notoriety of the kind that Bunuel's films used to incite in the fifties and sixties.

The film opens with a scene of excruciating violence mixed in with the opening credits, but from there on most of the violence is implied rather than shown. However, seeing what these murderously brutal soldiers are capable of at the very outset, the tension which builds as we follow ancient loveable Don Plutarco around in the very eye of the storm -- he's a regular visitor to El capitan's camp, from where he is smuggling munitions out to the rebels in his violin case -- becomes almost unbearable. When is Plutarco gonna get it? -- and how much grisliness are we going to have to witness when he does ... "El Violin" is quite a fantastic first feature, one with which Spanish maestro Luis Bunuel would undoubtedly have been quite pleased himself.

Actor Gerardo Taracena with his incredibly indigenous facial architecture comes across as a smoldering Aztec volcano and is a striking presence throughhout. Although it was the old man, Angel Tavira, who got the 'best actor' award at Cannes, in my view it could easily have been a tandem award with Taracena sharing the honors, fifty-fifty. This one of those pictures where who is the "main" actor and who the "supporting" actor, is blurred out into meaninglessness. Both Angel and Gerardo are superb -- and unforgettable. Gerardo Taracena also had an important role in Mel Gibson's Mayan Language epic, "Apocalypto" which was on view here in Los Angeles earlier this year.

Mr. Tracena was on hand at the screening in the vast LACMA theater to introduce the film and field questions from the audience. As he took the stage when the curtain went down he was greeted by a standing ovation from a highly appreciative audience, about half of which were Latinos, fully able to appreciate the many nuances of the Mexican dialogue -- partially lost in subtitle-translation to the Gringos in the hall. Although Taracena speaks more than passable English the Q. A. Session was conducted in Spanish with the delectably luscious Mexican-American movie star, Yareli Arizmenda, adroitly and fetchingly handling the translation chores. Yareli is best known for her role in "Like water For Chocolate", (Como Agua Para
Chocolate") 1992.
On the morning after I was able to interview actor Gerardo Taracena at his hotel near the Museum the results of which will be published in a separate 'Latino Film in LA" report.

Alex. LA
Sat. August 25.

Other films seen:
"Memories of Underdevelopment", Cuba, '63 Ripstein, '78 Tango Document, 2005

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