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The River and Death (1954)

El río y la muerte (original title)
A useless and bloody vendetta has been going on for ages between two families in this mexican village. Men, sons, have killed each other for generations, for a so-called conception of honor... See full synopsis »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Felipe Anguiano
Gerardo Anguiano
Jaime Fernández ...
Romulo Menchaca
Polo Menchaca
José Elías Moreno ...
Don Nemesio
Carlos Martínez Baena ...
Padre Julián
Alfredo Varela ...
Chinelas (as Alfredo Varela Jr.)
Miguel Manzano ...
don Anselmo
Zósimo Anguiano
Jorge Arriaga ...
Filegonio Menchaca
Roberto Meyer ...
Chel López ...
Compadre asesino
José Muñoz ...
don Honorio


A useless and bloody vendetta has been going on for ages between two families in this mexican village. Men, sons, have killed each other for generations, for a so-called conception of honor in a revenge that never ends since it is also triggered by people of the village.

Now, today, there are only two sons left, one in each family. One has become a doctor in the big city and his culture is modern. The other last one - of the other family - hasn't left the village and is waiting for the doctor to come "home" as he plans to kill him, to settle this war on this matter of honor once and for all. And the people of the village want blood.

When the doctor finally comes to the village, because of his mother influenced by the villagers, he faces the other son who challenges his courage. First he refuses, but they have this fight on the island across the river. Just wounds. Finally the doctor convinces his opponent to make peace in front of the whole village and not listen to the opinion of the ...

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Release Date:

30 June 1955 (Mexico)  »

Also Known As:

The River and Death  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Referenced in Buñuel y la mesa del rey Salomón (2001) See more »

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User Reviews

THE RIVER AND DEATH (Luis Bunuel, 1955) ***

I had first watched this in January 2007 as part of the Bunuel retrospective held at London's National Film Theatre. Incidentally, being the closest the Spanish Surrealist master ever came to the traditional Western formula, I was also surprised by the fact that the narrative (dealing as it does with a long-running blood feud) pretty much duplicated that of a historical book about the Old West my twin brother and I had intended adapting as a script years before I ever came across the Bunuel picture! Obviously, his intentions here were far from paying tribute to that most American of film genres but rather (avid gun collector that he was) to tackle the age-old Mexican tradition of defending one's honor through gunplay! Actually, Bunuel himself had dismissed the film as a failure but, now that I have re-acquainted myself with it, I feel I must contradict him and maintain that this devotee of the Western found it to be a thoroughly enjoyable excursion.

One of the things that really make the film is its depiction of various religious customs (or, more precisely, the peculiar rituals at their center) such as those involving the processions of a village patron saint and a funeral interrupted by numerous reverent pauses; this element is as much a part of Mexican folklore (a remnant of Spanish Colonialism) as it is of my own country (the European island of Malta). Other reverent situations that come under fire here are baptism (one such celebration being suddenly interrupted by the cold-blooded knifing

  • in full view of the guests - which kick-starts the narrative!),
motherhood (a woman has to bear one humiliation after another because of her 'spineless' crippled son) and sickness (the latter being himself 'attacked' by his current nemesis when most vulnerable i.e. undergoing treatment inside an 'iron lung' at the hospital!).

The film's lack of a proper reputation may have something to do with the fact that the cast is largely made up of unfamiliar faces; the only name that stood out for me was that of Jaime Fernandez - if only because he had played Friday in Bunuel's own ROBINSON CRUSOE (1952). That said, though it was obviously made on a tight budget, THE RIVER AND DEATH still managed to receive three nods at that year's Ariel Awards, the Mexican equivalent of the Oscar - for Cinematography, Sound and Music (even emerging victorious in the latter category!). That said, it was submitted to the Venice Film Festival (in favor of the much superior CRUSOE, whose release had been delayed for two years) without success. Anyway, the movie under review has an atypically complex narrative structure for a genre film: the aforementioned opening sequence, for instance, is set neither in the present nor in the flashback (taking in several generations of casualties in the deep-seated enmity between the two central families) which occupies much of the running-time but actually falls somewhere in between!

Bunuel shows up the feud as trivial, yet the participants take it with the utmost seriousness: even the Parish Priest cannot afford to go around without a gun! Yet, they have the decency (if not the common sense to see it all the way through) to attend the interment of an eminent citizen who had tried his best to act as mediator between the parties concerned; this is preceded by a beautifully done sequence in which the two enemies follow one another at a distance on their way to town but, eventually, meet up to share a few words and some cigarettes! Still, the director quashes expectations here too - in this case of Latin American machismo - by making the hero of the modern part of the story altruistic, thus a conscientious objector (rather than a coward, as would have been the obvious Hollywood route)...not to mention a polio survivor! The latter eventually provokes his hot-headed antagonist into shooting him in the back, after which he defiantly splashes the other's face with blood from his wounded hand.

The whole, then, culminates in a rushed and unconvincing – if admittedly poignant – happy ending that was apparently forced on Bunuel by the author of the novel on which the film was based! In conclusion, the title (sometimes also referred to as DEATH AND THE RIVER) is very fitting since the river here actually symbolizes death: the killer crosses it to go in perpetual hiding (interestingly, each faction has its own exclusive haven on the other side!), while the victim is carried by canoe to be buried.

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