Posts Tagged ‘Cantinflas’

Today I took my mother to see the new movie: “Cantinflas“.  The movie is a biopic of Mario Fortino Alfonso Moreno Reyes, who is perhaps the greatest film star in Mexican film history.
First a little background.  For the first six years of my life, we spent a lot of time around my Hispanic (Mexican) relatives.  Basically, my Tia Socorro looked after my sister, brother (as well as her own five kids) and me while my mom was working.  This was the period when I had the most exposure to my Mexican heritage/culture.  After that time, we moved to a different part of the city and they subsequently moved out of San Francisco.  We still occasionally got together for birthdays and holidays, but I lost what little Spanish I may have understood / spoken.  Anyway, sometime between five and ten years of age my mom took us to the Mission Theater and we watched a couple of movies starring Cantinflas (Mario Moreno’s theatrical name).  I don’t remember anything specific about the movies, but I definitely remember the character.  I remember being entertained even though I can’t possibly have understood much (if any of the language).  I still don’t speak Spanish.  What I do remember was the character was very Jerry Lewis / Groucho Marx / Three Stooges kind of funny to me as a young child.
About a month ago, I was walking into the theater to see “Guardians of the Galaxy” and I saw the big cardboard add for “Cantinflas“.  I immediately flashed back to being a small child with my mom and brother.  The next day I asked my mom if she wanted to go see it with me when it came out.  Of course, she said yes.  Well, at long last, this was the first weekend of release, so off we went to the local cinema.
The movie is actually about two periods in Mr. Moreno’s life: the 1930’s / 1940’s when he is beginning his rise to fame and then the mid-1950’s when he is an established star and being sought to play a part in an American film adaptation of Jules Verne’s “Around the World in 80 Days“.  The movie is split about 60 / 40 between the time periods and is similarly split in Spanish and English.  This may be a problem for those who don’t like to deal with sub-titles.  The other “problem” is Cantinfas speaks so quickly, some of the sub-titles are barely on the screen long enough to read them (some, not long enough).  Having said this, I was able to “get” most of what was being said.
Of course, for me, the more significant problem was I don’t know enough about Mexican culture / history / politics to really follow all of what the movie was “trying” to show.  I also don’t know enough about American film history to appreciate much of what was going on when the film was actually in English – except what was actually being said / portrayed.  For example, the movie starts with an introduction narrative about major motion pictures and shows a lot of “beautiful” people, but unless you know about cinematic history (I don’t) the narrative did little to draw me in, and the actors didn’t really look enough like the people they were playing for me to say, “Oh, that’s supposed to be so-and-so.”
Was the movie “funny”?  No, not to me, although the predominantly Hispanic audience laughed repeatedly (and loudly).  Obviously, there was something being lost in the sub-title translations.  Was the movie entertaining?  Yes.  It brought back the old memories of my childhood.  There is a bull-fight scene which I particularly remember (or felt I did) from my childhood.  Having said this, you should understand Cantinflas is famous for his bull-fighting scenes and one was written into “80 Days” just to show Cantinflas doing this for the American / North American audience.  Since I know I saw that movie in my childhood, it is certainly possible that is the memory I actually have, and not the one shown in the film.  (And the scene in the film is not the one from one of his actual movies.)
Did I “understand” the movie?  I’m not sure I did and I’m not at all convinced anyone else in the theater “understood” all of it either.  The audience looked mostly like family types and I doubt all but a few were old enough to actually remember Moreno as more than a legendary figure in recent Mexican history.  He died in 1993 – 20+ years ago.  It was only after coming home and reviewing Wikipedia did I start to get a better understanding of what was probably trying to be portrayed in the film.  The audience would have to be in their mid-60’s to have had any actual memories of Moreno in his prime.
My final review is mixed.  It is a good, entertaining, and interesting movie which portrays a poor man struggling against circumstance and achieving a great amount of fame and a substantial fortune.  He struggles with both work and his personal life and in the end is presented in fairly typical Hollywood terms as overcoming them (the challenges) to become a good husband and cultural icon.  And therein, lies my challenge as a reviewer…  I think the movie is “adult” fare.  It has moments of levity and moments of pathos.  It is well “crafted” (the poor look poor, the rich look rich; the past seems mostly black and white, while the “present” – the 1950’s – is in color), but I definitely felt like large chunks of the story were not explained sufficiently.  In then end, I recommend the movie, but I feel the recommendation is based on my memories and not on the actual movie I watched.   I guess I’ll have to see it again (in DVD or on TV), before I can make a more definitive recommendation.  If any of my followers are Spanish speaking, I’d be very interested in your reactions to the movie…
On This Day In:
2013 Children Will Judge
2012 Liar, n.
2011 Freedom To Doubt

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