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May 3 - May 14, 2002

Urban Environs: Mexico City on Film

This spring, The David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University launched a series of conferences focused on Mexico City. Entitled “Entornos Urbanos” (Urban Environs), these events highlight ongoing research at Harvard in the areas of public health, environment, and urban design, using Mexico City as a case study. Parallel to the conference, the Center and Harvard Film Archive have organized the following selection of films that feature Mexico City as their locale or theme. Contrasting two films from the 1950s by Luis Buñuel with a trio of contemporary works, we attempt to shed some cinematic light on issues—both enduring and altered—that the city has faced across the last half century. 

This series is co-sponsored by the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University. We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Professor David Carrasco, Guillermo De la Mora, Neida Jimenez, and Steve Reifenberg.

May 3 (Friday) 7 pm
May 12 (Sunday) 7:30 pm

Violet Perfume (Perfume de violetas, nadie te oye)

Directed by Marysa Sistach
Mexico 2001, 35mm, color, 90 min.
With Ximena Ayala, Nancy Gutiérrez, Arcelia Ramírez
Spanish with English subtitles

Based on a true incident, Violet Perfume is a coming-of-age story and a damning cultural critique. Yessica is an impulsive tomboy with a difficult home life. Miriam is a childlike, sheltered innocent. Though drastically different, the two girls form a close, idealized bond that contrasts sharply with the realities of life in their violent Mexico City neighborhood. Silenced by fear and shame, Yessica fails to seek help when she is sexually assaulted by her stepbrother’s coworker, confiding only in her young friend. It is a fearful silence that leads to tragic consequences. Avoiding both sensationalism and melodrama, director Marysa Sistach offers a direct and compelling critique of machismo and sexism in Latino culture. 

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May 3 (Friday) 9 pm
May 14 (Tuesday) 7 pm

Los Olvidados (Dni zatmeniya)

Directed by Luis Buñuel
Mexico 1950, 35mm, b/w, 85 min.
With Alfonso Mejía, Estela Inda, Roberto Cobo
Spanish with English subtitles

An unflinching and emotionally devastating vision of poverty and human depravation, Los Olvidados depicts the descent of a street urchin from petty delinquent to accomplice in murder under the unwanted tutelage of Jaibo, a member of his street gang recently released from detention. Made nearly twenty years after his early surreal masterpieces, Los Olvidados marked Buñuel’s return to filmmaking. Using hard-edged, neorealist observational techniques supplemented by Hollywood closeups and soft focus, Buñuel’s film is a bold and courageous cinematic experiment unique in the era for its strong social concerns.

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May 5 (Sunday) 7:30 pm

Midaq Alley (El Callejón de los milagros)

Directed by Jorge Fons
Mexico 1995, 35mm, color, 140 min.
With Ernesto Gómez Cruz, María Rojo, Salma Hayek
Spanish with English subtitles

Since the earliest days of cinema, filmmakers have woven together separate tales in the service of a theme. Jorge Fons’s Midaq Alley employs this multiple-story framework to tell the complex tales of four separate characters in search of their dreams. Transposing the Nobel Prize–winning novel by Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz from 1940s Cairo to a contemporary Mexico City neighborhood, the film depicts the intertwining lives of the characters and their connection to Don Ru, the owner of the pub where the locals play dominoes. One of the most successful Mexican films of the 90s, Midaq Alley is a film of observant depth and frankness. 

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May 6 (Monday) 9:30 pm
May 7 (Tuesday) 7 pm

Streeters (De la calle)

Directed by Gerardo Tort
Mexico 2001, 35mm, color, 85 min.
With Luis Fernando Peña, Maya Zapata, Armando Hernández
Spanish with English subtitles

A textured portrait of a poor Mexico City neighborhood, Streeters depicts a day in the life of a restless teen (Peña) as he picks up odd jobs, runs drugs, and meets up with his girlfriend. Similar in subject to Buñuel’s classic Los Olvidados, a study of the hopelessness of abject poverty among adolescents, this contemporary film suggests that little has changed in the last fifty years. Rejecting simple moralizing and sentiment, director Tort evokes an uncomfortable mix of pathos and outrage in his depiction of the these lethal innocents. While comparisons to last year’s Amores Perros are perhaps inevitable, Streeters is neither hip nor glamorous but an authentic and committed product of the independent Mexican cinema.

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May 7 (Tuesday) 8:45 pm
May 14 (Tuesday) 8:45 pm

Illusion Travels By Streetcar (La ilusión viaja en tranvía)

Directed by Luis Buñuel
Mexico 1953, 35mm, b/w, 90 min.
With Lilia Prado, Carlos Navarro, Fernando Soto
Spanish with English subtitles

Set in Mexico City, Illusion Travels by Streetcar tells the tale of two tram repairmen whose favorite car is about to be retired and dismantled. After protesting in vain to the management, the men decide to take the car on a drunken spree around the city for one last run. The two drive all night, picking up an eclectic group of characters along the way and then attempting to return the beloved vehicle to the depot before they are discovered. One of Buñuel’s broadest and most underrated comedies, Illusion Travels by Streetcar is a biting satire of bourgeois values that takes aim at the director’s favorite targets: Church and state.

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