Directors: Fred Zinnemann and Emilio Gómez Muriel
Production: Secretaria de Educación Púlica, Mexico; black and white, 35mm; running time: 65 minutes. Released 1936. Filmed beginning 9 April 1934, in natural settings in Alvarado, Tlacotalpan, and the mouth of the Papaloapan River. Cost: 55,000 pesos.
Producers: Carlos Chávez and Narciso Bassols; scenario: Agustín Velázquez Chávez and Paul Strand, adapted by Emilio Gómez Muriel, Fred Zinnemann, and Henwar Rodakiewicz; photography: Paul Strand; editors: Emilio Gómez Muriel with Gunther von Fritsch; sound: Roberto and Joselito Rodriguez; music: Silvestre Revueltas.
Cast: Silvio Hernández (Miro); David Valle González (The packer); Rafael Hinojosa (The politician); Antonio Lara (El Zurdo); Miguel Figueroa; and native fishermen.
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A progenitor of the classical Mexican visual style, Los Redes is also one of the very few instances of genuine social criticism in the history of Mexican cinema. The fact that Los Redes was directed and photographed by foreigners is ironic as well as illustrative of a neo-colonial tendency in Mexican films. Los Redes was born out the collaboration of Paul Strand, a photographer from New York who had come to Mexico to do a book of photos on the country, and two Mexicans: Carlos Chávez, the noted composer who occupied a government post at the time, and Narciso Bassols, a Marxist who was then the Secretary of Public Education. 1930–40 was the decade in which the social ideals of the Mexican Revolution (1910–17) achieved their greatest artistic and political expression. Many of the important murals were painted during this period, which was also the time of the expropriation of foreign oil companies and extensive land distribution by President Lazaro Cardenas. Bassols and Chávez desired to participate in this revolutionary process by financing films, which were to be "with the people for the people," with government funds. In addition to Paul Strand, they hired a young Austrian, Fred Zinnemann (who later went on to a long distinguished career in Hollywood), to direct the film which was to portray life and struggle in a fishing village.
Los Redes combines many of the elements which were afterward to make up the classical Mexican film style. The excellent photography focuses on the beauty of natural and famous forms: rolling masses of luminous clouds, swirling eddies of water, fishermen's nets draped out on lines to dry, palm fronds against thatched huts, stoic native faces set off by white shirts or dark rebozos, their sinuous arms entwined with ropes. Both the images and the dialectical montage of the editing appear to be influenced by the work of Sergei Eisenstein, who had filmed the never-released Que Viva Mexico several years earlier. Equally important, however, must have been Paul Strand's background in the National Film and Photo League, many of whose photographers went on to produce the extraordinary documentation of the depression in the United States under the auspices of the Farm Security Administration.
These radical influences from abroad fused with the evolutionary experience of Mexico to produce a work of penetrating social criticism. Incredibly exploited by the packer's monopoly, the fishermen attempt to form a union under the leadership of Miro, whose young son has died for lack of medicine. Miro is killed by the politician who has been paid by the packer, but the other fishermen continue the struggle. The film not only lays bare a situation of exploitation, it also criticizes religion, reformist politics, and anarchism by indicating that none of these provide as effective an answer as does organized resistance. The use of non-professional actors adds to the film's realism, and the intelligent employment of montage and music keeps the actors from being overwhelmed by the demands made upon them.
Although the film was an economic failure, critics both inside and outside Mexico have since perceived it to be an important work. Within Mexico, Los Redes and Que Viva Mexico are seen as the precursors of the style later made internationally known in the films of Emilio Fernández and the cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa. Outside Mexico, several writers have stated that it may well have been a major influence on Italian neo-realism. Whatever its effects, Los Redes is an interesting example of socially committed art and a key film in the history of Mexican cinema.