Landeta, Matilde Soto 1910-1999
LANDETA, Matilde Soto 1910-1999
Born September 20, 1910, in Mexico City, Mexico; died January 26, 1999; married Martín Toscano (a colonel in the Mexican army), 1933 (divorced 1942). Education: Attended Colegio de las Damas del Sagrado Corazón.
Film director. Continuity person for several film producers in Mexico, including Films Mundiales, 1933-45; assistant to film directors, including Emilio Fernández, Mauricio Magdaleno, Julio Bracho, and Alfredo Crevena, 1945-48; from 1950s through 1970s, taught screenwriting, wrote scripts, ran a movie theater, worked as a government liaison on foreign films shot in Mexico, and worked in television, including as a director of children's television programs. Directed films include Lola Casanova, 1948, La negra Augustias, 1949, Trotacalles, 1951, Islas revillagigedo, 1990, and Noctoruno a Rosario, 1991.
Ariel Prize for best screenplay, Mexican Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 1956, for Los caminos de la vida; Lifetime Achievement award, Mexican Film Institute, 1992.
Los caminos de la vida (screenplay), 1956.
Siempre estaré contigo (screenplay), 1957.
Also contributor of articles to periodicals, including World Press Reviews.
The only woman to have broken into the male-dominated Mexican film industry during its "golden age" of the 1930 through the 1950s, Matilde Soto Landeta directed three successful movies before being forced to give up her career because of male bias. Estranged from filmmaking for forty years, she was rediscovered as a pioneer woman filmmaker in the 1970s and 1980s and finally received national tributes and many international acknowledgments at festivals in such locations as Havana, London, Tokyo, Barcelona, Créteil, Buenos Aires, and San Francisco.
Born into a distinguished family the same year that the Mexican revolution broke out, Landeta was orphaned early in life, and she and her brother Eduardo were raised in the family's grand ancestral home in San Luis Potosí by their maternal grandmother. Eventually—but separately—both were sent to the United States to study, but Landeta and her brother were reunited in Mexico City in the 1930s, a time of great post-revolutionary upheaval in the arts and culture. Eduardo became a film actor, and Landeta, although still a student, decided that she also wanted a career in the movies. Despite her family's protests, she became a "script girl" (continuity person) and went on to work with some of the Mexican cinema's greatest directors and stars. After working on more than seventy-five feature films, she fought her way through the professional hierarchy of the Mexican film-workers union to become an assistant director, working on fourteen films. She eventually succeeded in becoming the first recognized woman director in the Mexican film industry—and the first female in Latin America to direct within a studio-based production system—though she had to attend a union meeting dressed as a man in order to get the promotion.
Working in a highly competitive industrial system, Landeta co-scripted, produced, and directed three feature films before hostile producers and distributors blocked her from the industry. All of her three films adopt a clear woman-centered perspective and simultaneously work within and against the predominant genres of the Mexican industry at the time. Each film invokes a distinct moment in Mexican history—the Spanish colony in Lola Casanova, the Mexican revolution in La negra Augustias, ("The Black Angustias"), and modern urbanization in Trotacalles ("Streetwalker")—with narratives centered upon a conflicted heroine who assumes a conflictive social position.
In Lola Casanova, for example, a tale of Creole gentry captured by Indians, the captured heroine does not attempt to either civilize the Indians or escape, choosing instead to remain with them and adapt to their ways. In the revolutionary melodrama La negra Angustias the mulatta Angustias, an outcast in her own village, redefines the role of women in the Mexican revolution not as a soldadera (camp follower), but as a powerful leader of men in battle. The film addresses not only questions of gender but also the tensions produced by racial and class differences. Trotacalles works within the fichera, or prostitute, melodrama subgenre. The narrative focuses on the parallel stories of two sisters, María, a prostitute who is exploited and abused by her pimp, Rodolfo, and Elena, the pampered wife of a rich older businessman who begins an affair with Rodolfo unaware of his relationship to her sister. In a clear reversal of the prevailing bourgeois morals, Landeta positions the married woman as the real prostitute, both within and outside her marriage.
In the 1950s Landeta had a fourth film in the works, a script she had long nurtured titled Tribunal de menores; a duplicitous producer, however, tricked her into ceding him the rights to the script and it was filmed by Alfonso Corona Blake as Los caminos de la vida. Landeta had to sue to get her name included in the credits, and the Ariel prize (the Mexican equivalent of the Oscar) she won for the script was a bittersweet triumph. As a result of her confrontations with the director of the National Cinema Bank, she was effectively barred from the industry.
Although eagerly awaited, her 1990s comeback films Islas Revillagigedo and Noctoruno a Rosario were not as well received by critics as her earlier work. The evocation of end-of-the-nineteenth-century romanticism through the failed love affair between a poet and a powerful and seductive older woman in Noctoruno a Rosario failed to impress even Landeta's most ardent supporters.
Landeta died on January 26, 1999.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Women Filmmakers and Their Films, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1998.*