de Fuentes, Fernando
DE FUENTES, Fernando
Nationality: Mexican. Born: Veracruz, 13 December 1894. Career: Film editor and assistant director, 1920s; first Mexican offered opportunity to direct by Compañia Nacional Productora de Peliculas, 1932; producer and director for newly formed Grovas production company, 1942; co-founder, Diana Films, 1945. Died: 4 July 1958.
Films as Director:
El prisionero trece; La calandria; El tigre de Yautepec; El compadre Mendoza
El fantasma del convento; Cruz diablo
Vámonos con Pancho Villa; La familia Dressel
Las mujeres mandan; Allá en el rancho grande
Bajo el cielo de Mexico; La Zandunga
La casa del ogro
Allá en el tropico; El jefe maximo; Creo en Dios
La gallina clueca
Asi se quiere en Jalisco
Doña Barbara; La mujer sin alma
El rey se divierte
Hasta que perdio Jalisco; La selva de fuego
Jalisco canta en Sevilla
Hipolito el de Santa
Por la puerta falsa; Crimen y castigo
Los hijos de Maria Morales; Cancion de cuna
Tres citas con el destino
On DE FUENTES: books—
Riera, Emilio Garcia, Historia documental del cine mexicano, vols. 1–6, Mexico City, 1969–74.
Blanco, Jorge Ayala, La aventura del cine mexicano, Mexico City, 1979.
Mora, Carl, Mexican Cinema: Reflections of a Society, 1896–1980, Berkeley, 1982.
Riera, Emilio Garcia, Fernando de Fuentes, Mexico City, 1984.
De los Reyes, Aurelio, Medio siglo de cine mexicano (1894–1958), Mexico City, 1987.
On DE FUENTES: articles—
De la Vega, Eduardo, "Fernando de Fuentes: La mirada critica sobre la Revolucion Mexicana," in Filmoteca (Mexico City), no. 1, 1979.
Paranagua, P.A., "Cannes 82: Homanaje a dos maestros del cine latinoamericano," in Contracampo (Madrid), August-September 1982.
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The first Mexican cineaste of note, Fernando De Fuentes is still considered the director whose interpretations of the Mexican revolution and whose contributions to typical Mexican genres have not been surpassed. Early sound film production in Mexico was dominated by foreigners: Russians who accompanied Eisenstein in the making of Que Viva México, Spaniards who passed through Hollywood, Cubans, and U.S. citizens who somehow ended up there. De Fuentes was one of the first Mexicans to be given a chance to direct sound films in his country. After several false starts with "grey and theatrical melodramas," De Fuentes indicated first in Prisionero trece that his métier was the "revolutionary tragedy." During 1910–17, Mexico passed through a cataclysmic social revolution the cultural expression of which resounded principally in the extraordinary murals of Diego Rivera, David Siquieros, and José Orozco. Fiction films did not examine this watershed event seriously until 1933 when De Fuentes made El compadre Mendoza. Far from the epic monumentality of revolutionary transformation painted on the walls by Rivera or Siquieros, El compadre Mendoza recreates the revolution from a perspective similar to Orozco's vision of individual tragedies and private pain.
Rosalio Mendoza is the owner of a large hacienda which is constantly threatened by the conflict's warring factions. In order to appease them, Mendoza pretends to support whichever group is currently visiting him—something he accomplishes by wining and dining his guests in a room conspicuously decorated with a portrait of the appropriate leader. Eventually, Mendoza and General Nieto (a follower of Emiliano Zapata's agrarian revolt) become close friends. Mendoza names his son after Nieto and asks him to be the compadre (godfather). But after Mendoza is ruined economically, he betrays Nieto in order to flee to Mexico City. The emphasis on fraternal bloodletting, the corruption of ideals, and disillusion in the aftermath of the revolution is powerfully conveyed in both El compadre Mendoza and Vámonos con Pancho Villa. They remain even today the best cinematic treatments of the Mexican revolution.
De Fuentes's work in traditional Mexican genres is also important. Allá en el Rancho Grande is the progenitor of the charro genre. The Mexican singing cowboy received his cinematic introduction to Mexico and the rest of Latin America in this immensely popular film. The attraction of such nostalgia for a never-existent Arcadia can be seen in the fact that in the year following the release of Rancho Grande, more than half of the Mexican films produced were similar pastoral fantasies, and these have continued to be a staple of Mexican cinema.
The charro genre's domination of Mexican cinema is almost matched by films about the Mexican mother. De Fuentes directed perhaps the most palatable of such works, La gallina clueca. This film starred Sara García, the character actress who is the national paradigm of the sainted, long-suffering, self-sacrificing mother. In De Fuentes's hands the overworked Oedipal melodrama is denied its usual histrionics and becomes an interesting work as well as the definitive film of this sub-genre.
His better films demonstrate De Fuentes's strong narrative style, noted for its consistency and humor. They do not seem particularly dated, and De Fuentes utilizes visual techniques such as the rack focus or the dissolve particularly effectively and unobtrusively. He also makes telling use of overlay montages, à la Eisenstein or Vertov, to convey moods or concepts. In regard to singing—one of the banes of Mexican cinema—De Fuentes has been uneven. For example, in his two films on the revolution, restraint is shown and songs function well in relation to the story line. Unfortunately, Allá en el Rancho Grande and its various sequels are characteristically glutted with songs.
De Fuentes's career as a director went from the sublime to the ridiculous. In one year he plummeted from the heights of Vámonos con Pancho Villa to the depths of Allá en el Rancho Grande. The enormous commercial success of the latter film throughout Latin America sealed De Fuentes's fate. It was popular because De Fuentes is a talented director; but the commercial rewards for those talents came at a high price. After Vámonos con Pancho Villa, De Fuentes settled into the repetition of mediocre and conventional formula films.