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Adrián García Bogliano
They build myths, light passions, and practically never speak. In this documentary they'll complete with their words, the iconographic world of one of the most legendary cinematographers of all times, Gabriel Figueroa. This film is an immersion into some of the most symbolic and iconic images from Mexican cinematography, along with the commentaries of the greatest directors of photography today. Written by
Gabriel Figueroa is widely regarded as one of the greatest cinematographers to work in black and white. He was also one of the first Mexican technicians to attract the attention of filmmakers from Hollywood and beyond, yet Figueroa never abandoned Mexico or the Mexican film industry. While this decision may have limited his international profile, it meant that he became an extremely powerful figure in his own national cinema -- a status that few other cinematographers have been able equal. In fact, apart from Diego Rivera, Figueroa may have exerted more influence over the image we have of 20th-century Mexico than just about any other artist. Back in 1994, for instance, SOMOS magazine compiled a list of the 100 greatest Mexican films, and it's impressive to note just how many entries on that list Figueroa photographed.
This documentary pays tribute to Figueroa's legacy, but it doesn't do so in a typical way. Basically, the documentary alternate between thematic montages of Figueroa's work and interviews with some of the greatest living cinematographers: Vittorio Storaro, Christopher Doyle, Haskell Wexler, Raoul Coutard, etc. While it's very interesting to hear them comment on Figueroa's legacy, the documentary is less successful when it tries to follow some of the digressions they introduce. For example, several of them talk about the future of cinematography in our digital era. This, too, is interesting, but it seems out of place here. And at 96 minutes or so, the documentary seems a bit long and repetitive. Frankly, I'd have preferred a few interludes with more traditional material. We don't hear much about Figueroa's background or about his methods. Surely, some of the people who worked with Figueroa in the 1970s and 1980s are still alive. It would be interesting to hear from them. It would also be interesting to hear more about Figueroa's working relationships. There's a section dedicated to his seven films with Luis Bunuel, which is appropriate, but Figueroa also worked with Eisenstein, Ford, and Huston. And then there's Emilio "El Indio" Fernandez, with whom Figueroa collaborated around two dozen times. Fernandez is almost as celebrated in Mexico as Bunuel is, yet he barely gets a mention here.
When the documentary is showcasing Figueroa's work, however, it's extraordinary. I once had the pleasure of seeing "Macario" projected in 35 mm, and Figueroa's cinematography has a tendency to wash over you. At its best, this documentary replicates that experience, so I highly recommend checking it out in a theater if you can. (Michael Nyman's accompanying score is also effective at these moments.)
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