The best Mexican movies of the Day of the Dead

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While in the world death is synonymous with fear and bad omens, in our country it is part of our roots and is the guest of honor in that important celebration in which we remember those who only remain with us in spirit. Here are the best Mexican movies of the Day of the Dead that show us that in our country we carry death in our entrails.

  • Macario (1959)

In the caves of Cacahuamilpa, in Taxco, Guerrero, the filmmaker Roberto Gavaldón lit thousands of candles and showed us Ignacio López Tarso and Enrique Lucero (as Macario and Death) philosophizing about life. “Welcome to my grotto,” says the Grim Reaper to the peasant. “Look, this is humanity,” he affirms, pointing to the flames around them. “Here you see lives burn quietly. Sometimes the winds of war and plague blow, and lives are turned off by thousands at random. The tall ones, the small ones, the right ones, the crooked ones… ”. The beauty of this dialogue –created by Emilio Carballido and Gavaldón himself, based on the homonymous novel by B. Traven– was combined with the privileged gaze of Gabriel Figueroa. The result, seen from a distance, is still shocking. Macario He showed the fragility of life and how useless it is to continue extending our stay in this world. Thanks to this, the film remained in theaters for 14 weeks, something unusual for a film without a Golden Age celebrity. It also competed for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival where Figueroa won Best Cinematography and became the first Oscar-nominated Mexican film. But the greatest triumph of Macario is that his story, and this sequence, became the quintessential portrait of death, as well as one of the most beautiful and iconic scenes in Mexican cinema.

Best Mexican Movies of the Day of the Dead

Photo: Courtesy of the UNAM Film Library

  • Pedro Paramo (1966)

There are three adaptations of Juan Rulfo’s masterpiece, one of the most transcendent in Mexican literature. And while it would be difficult to select the best, what was done by then-rookie Carlos Velo in the mid-1960s stands out. The film is the result of a work that included names like John Gavin and Ignacio López Tarso in the performance; Gabriel Figueroa in photography and, above all, Manuel Barbachano Ponce and Carlos Fuentes –in addition to Velo himself– as those responsible for the script. Thus, this film that represented Mexico at the Cannes Film Festival the year after its premiere, managed to take the most elemental of that town of Comala, as well as the fascinating thing about its inhabitants: death. Bittersweet death, the one that is celebrated but that also hurts. One that makes us smile but that, at the same time, fills us with melancholy. Rulfo wrote well in one of his immortal lines: “Each sigh is like a sip of life that one gets rid of”, as if our existence were gradually crumbling because of sadness …

Best Mexican Movies of the Day of the Dead

Photo: Courtesy of the UNAM Film Library

  • Down to the bone (2001)

What would be frightening to die if, on the other side, a great party awaited us enlivened by the powerful voice of Eugenia León and where people danced to the rhythm of Café Tacuba? In 2001, the Mexican René Castillo made Down to the bone, a short film that would earn a place among the best of our cinematography. Beyond the international awards it obtained and the budget it managed –although there are no official figures, there is talk of millions of pesos–, the greatness of this work lies in the stop-motion with which it was created. Here, for 12 minutes, incredible skulls created with plasticine show us the last moments of life of a man who arrives terrified in the world of the dead. However, that suffering is gradually transformed by realizing that death is full of good times and a lot of fun. This is how a very elegant Catrina lets him know who, with the aforementioned musical talent of Eugenia, sings in his ear a shocking version of “Llorona”, capable of moving the living and the dead. If this is how death is lived, we have nothing to fear …

Best Mexican Movies of the Day of the Dead

Photo: Courtesy of IMCINE

  • Hurray Mexico! (1930-1932)

Impressed by learning about the engravings of José Guadalupe Posada, the legendary Soviet filmmaker Sergei M. Eisenstein traveled to Mexico with the fervent interest of capturing our essence on celluloid. With the support of the American producer Upton Sinclair, Sergei stayed in our country for more than two years. His long stay caused this project, the most ambitious of his career, to be canceled. But the legend of what the director of The battleship Potemkin (1925) had filmed in Mexico and had already spread throughout the world, so there were several attempts to rescue – decades later – what had been done. It was until 1972 when the also Soviet filmmaker Grigori Aleksandrov managed to assemble the most accepted version of Hurray Mexico!, featuring the four originally planned episodes: Sandunga, Maguey, Fiesta, and Soldadera, as well as a prologue and an epilogue. Of the latter, I would highlight Eisenstein’s special interest in the Day of the Dead and Posada’s engravings. There he would capture the millenary tradition mixed with the modernity of the time. And it is that the Soviet saw how those engravings that he admired so much became reality; and he witnessed cemeteries and streets flooded with skulls – not bone but sugar or chocolate – that showed how deeply rooted we carry our traditions here.

Best Mexican Movies of the Day of the Dead

Photo: Courtesy of the UNAM Film Library

  • All Souls Day (The children of the guava) (1987)

If a Soviet managed to immortalize the culture of our nation, a Spaniard would be able to capture the idiosyncrasy of the Mexicans. After being the head scriptwriter for Luis Buñuel –and writing his most famous tapes–, Luis Alcoriza began directing his own stories. This is how he created films like Tlayucan (1961), Sharks (1962) or National Mechanics (1971), in which he managed to dig into the soul of Mexicans to show it as it was: full of chiaroscuro and contradictions. Yes OK Day of the dead It does not have the unforgettable frenzy of the last mentioned film (nor is it one of his best works), Alcoriza relied on the same formula to gather a group of strangers, now in a pantheon, regarding the Day of the Dead. There, the marigold flowers and the offerings full of food and photographs are a witness of how they gradually break apart until they discover that, beyond social classes, we are all united by the same weaknesses, conflicts, desires and purposes. It is all a family drama, then, one of those that only we Mexicans know how to create.

Best Mexican Movies of the Day of the Dead

Photo: Courtesy of the UNAM Film Library

The entry The best Mexican movies on the Day of the Dead was first published in Cine PREMIERE.

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