Nationality: Mexican. Born: Mexico City, 11 March 1942. Education: Studied architecture and theatre, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México; attended Institut des hautes études cinématographiques (IDHEC), Paris, 1965–66. Career: Film critic in Mexico, early 1960s; worked for French TV, then returned to Mexico, 1967.
Films as Director:
Comunicados del comité nacional de huelga (3 shorts)
Parto psicoprofiláctico (doc short)
Reed: México insurgente (Reed: Insurgent Mexico)
Sur, sureste 2604 (short); El mar
Bach y sus intérpretes
Etnocidio: notas sobre el Mezquital; Estudios para un retrato (Francis Bacon) (doc short); Puebla hoy (doc); Monjas coronadas (doc short)
Historias prohibidas de Pulgarcito
Complot petrolero; La cabeza de la hidra
Como ves? (Whaddya Think?)
Frida: Naturaleza vita (Frida)
Los Animales 1850–1950
By LEDUC: articles—
Interview with Nelson Carro, in Imagenes (Mexico City), October 1979.
Interview with Enrique Pineda Barnet, in Cine Cubano (Havana), no. 104, 1983.
"Caminar por el continente," in Cine Cubano (Havana), no. 105, 1983.
Interview with Dennis West, in Cineaste (New York), vol. 26, no. 4, 1988.
"Nuevo cine latinoamericano: Dramaturgia y autocrítica," in Pantalla (Mexico City), August 1985.
Interview with Dennis West, in Cineaste (New York), vol. 16, no. 4, 1988.
On LEDUC: books—
Blanco, Jorge Ayala, La búsqueda del cine mexicano, Mexico City, 1974.
Sánchez, Alberto Ruy, Mitologia de un cine en crisis, Mexico City, 1981.
Mora, Carl, Mexican Cinema: Reflections of a Society, 1896–1980, Berkeley, 1982.
Blanco, Jorge Ayala, La condicíon del cine mexicano, Mexico City, 1986.
Costa, Paola, La "aperatura" cinematográfica, Puebla, 1988.
Ramirez Berg, Charles, Cinema of Solitude: A Critical Study ofMexican Film, 1967–1983, Austin, 1992.
Paranagua, Paulo Antonio, editor, Mexican Cinema, British Film Institute, 1996.
On LEDUC: articles—
Espinasa, José María, "El cine mexicano hoy," in Hojas de cine (Mexico City), vol. 2, 1988.
Bejar, Ruth, "Frida," in American Historical Review, October 1989.
Koivunen, A. "Myytti Naisesta jaa Elamaan," in Filmihullu (Helsinki), no. 5, 1989.
Pick, Z. M., "Territories of Representation," in Iris (Paris), Summer 1991.
Kieffer, A., "Baroque mexicain et revolution: Paul Leduc," in JeuneCinema, January/February 1992.
Mauro, S., "Latino Bar," in Segnocinema (Italy), July/August, 1992.
Palant, V., "Latino Bar," in Revista del Cinmetografo (Rome), July/August 1992.
Pezzuto, A., "Latino Bar," in Film (Italy), no. 4, 1992.
Gill, J. A., "Latino Bar," in Positif (Paris), September 1992.
Haïm, Monica, "Amérique autre et même," in 24 Images (Montreal), December-January 1994–1995.
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Generally acknowledged as the most talented and socially conscious of contemporary Mexican directors, Paul Leduc has been forced to make his films on the margins of commercial cinema. Leduc began his career in a university department of film studies, an initiation increasingly prevalent among the younger generation of Mexican filmmakers. His first films were documentaries, a typical beginning for directors of the "New Latin American Cinema." Then Leduc was able to take some advantage of a novel situation: during the reign of President Luis Echeverria (1970–76) the Mexican government actively intervened as a producer of cinema, the only time since the 1930s (e.g., Redes) that it has attempted to create some sort of alternative to the wretched fare provided by the country's commercial film industry. The government paid for the amplification of Reed: Insurgent Mexico to 35mm and co-produced Mezquital with the Canadian National Film Board. Since that time, however, Leduc has funded his films independently, through universities and unions, and with collective efforts.
Reed: Insurgent Mexico is perhaps Leduc's most accomplished fiction film, and was the first really distinctive work of the "New Cinema" movement in Mexico. Although the film was shot on a minuscule budget in 16mm, it has an exquisite sepia tone which reproduces the ambience of antique revolutionary photographs. Deliberately undramatic, Reed demystified the Mexican revolution (1910–17) in a way that had not been seen since Fernando De Fuentes's masterpieces of 1933–35. One Mexican critic, Jorge Ayala Blanco, described Reed as "raging against, incinerating, and annihilating the spider web that had been knitted over the once-living image of the revolution, while briefly illuminating the nocturnal ruins of our temporal and cultural distance from the men who participated in that upheaval." The film is a dramatization of John Reed's famous account of the revolution, Insurgent Mexico, with Reed as the main protagonist. Although the film is a beautiful and important work, it does not really rise above the level of a vignette (perhaps too greatly influenced by the book's form), nor does it achieve the heights of De Fuentes's films.
Leduc's subsequent works reflected his concern for actuality. Etnocidio: notas sobre el Mezquital is probably the best documentary on the extermination of the native peoples in Latin America, allowing the Otomi Indians of the Mezquital region in Mexico to relate their experiences with "civilization." The film is an interesting example of collaborative effort, for the "script" was written by Roger Bartra, Mexico's leading rural sociologist, who based it on his years of research in the area. Historias prohibidas is a flawed work that Leduc made in a collective, but it does contain a lively analysis of El Salvador's history. Complot petrolero is a made-for-TV thriller about an attempt by right-wing elements (including the CIA and anti-Castro Cubans) to take over the oil and uranium resources of Mexico. Actually a mini-series totaling three-and-one-half hours, it has never been shown on Mexican television, which is largely dominated by series and made-for-TV movies imported from the United States. Just when it appeared that Leduc was firmly settled in the aesthetic of realism, he directed a highly expressionist, lyrical work on the painter Frida Kahlo, Frida: Naturaleza viva. An experimental film which keeps words, whether spoken or written, to an absolute minimum, the movie has been most controversial. And, while one must admire Leduc for risking a break with traditional cinematographic styles, the absence of dialogue reduces pivotal figures of history and culture such as Diego Rivera, León Trotsky, David Alfaro Siqueiros, André Breton, and Frida Kahlo to caricatures of themselves. Instead of using the film to develop these characters in political or personal terms, Leduc takes the easy way out, allowing them to remain at the lowest common denominator of the popular stereotypes fomented in mass culture.
Other critical views of Leduc's Frida, however, suggest a different reading: objects such as Frida's dress become political iconography that proposes "a self-conscious affirmation of a mestizo identity but also a specifically Mexican rearrangement of the indigenous. From this perspective, as Pick observes, "the 'alternative modernism' . . . intimated by Frida Kahlo's dress, its effect as representation and self-representation, embodies a distinctly Latin American way to affirm cultural identity." It is exactly in such a retainment of "the political problematic that has characterized the last three decades of Latin American filmmaking." Leduc's rejection of social realism may thus be viewed as a step forward, towards a realm of expressionism that crystallizes the political by ways of, according to Jean Franco, "a struggle over meanings and the history of meanings, histories that have been acquired and stored with unofficial institutions."
In general, Mexico has proven to be a difficult context for Leduc, who appropriately describes cinema there as "a perfect disaster, composed of churros—vulgar, cheap, and badly made films." Dominated by the "fastbuck" mentality typical of dependent capitalism, Mexican commercial cinema has offered few opportunities for Leduc to direct the kind of films which interest him.
—John Mraz, updated by Guo-Juin Hong