The retrospective of the San Sebastian Festival’s 67th edition will see the screening of twenty feature films directed by the Mexican Roberto Gavaldón between 1945 and 1974. The cycle, organised with Filmoteca Española, will be accompanied by a monographic book dedicated to the filmmaker.
The publication will be coordinated by Quim Casas and Ana Cristina Iriarte and will include articles by Mirito Torreiro, Nuria Vidal, Dolores Tierney, Marina Díaz, Casas himself, and some of Mexico’s greatest experts on Gavaldón’s work: Rosario Vidal Bonifaz, Carlos Bonfil, Eduardo de la Vega, Fernando Mino, Viviana García Besné, Héctor Orozco, Rafael Aviña and Paula Astorga, former director of the Cineteca Nacional de México. Roberto Gavaldón Arbide, the filmmaker’s son, will participate in the presentation of the book.
The cycle has the collaboration of the Filmoteca Vasca and the San Telmo Museum and will, following its screening at the San Sebastian Festival, travel to Filmoteca Española in Madrid, where it can be seen in the months of October and November. Some of the titles programmed have been restored by the Cineteca Nacional de México and by the Filmoteca UNAM.
Roberto Gavaldón (1909-1986) is considered to have been one of Mexican cinema’s most important directors in the fifties and sixties. Born in Jiménez, in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, in 1909, he took his first steps in the medium working as an extra, actor, assistant director and scriptwriter. After a few jobs as co-director, he made his solo debut in 1945 with La barraca (The Plot of Land), adaptation of the novel by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, with a production team including several Spanish technicians who had gone into exile in Mexico after the Civil War.
Already from that first feature film, Gavaldón made his mark with a highly sober, classic and realist style, benefitting from the collaboration with directors of photography such as Gabriel Figueroa, Alex Phillips and Jack Draper. He generally dealt with melodramatic topics. Both his style and the chosen storylines would later make him clash with the younger crop of critics and directors who questioned his predilection for national cinema.
Macario (1960), based on a story by Ben Traven – a writer who also gave John Huston his inspiration for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and whom Gavaldón would adapt once again in Rosa blanca (1961) and Días de otoño (Autumn Days,1963) – is one of his most important films: it participated in the Cannes Festival and was the first Mexican film to land an Academy Award nomination for best foreign language film. Its lead man, Ignacio López Tarso (one of the actors in Buñuel’s Nazarín), was one of the stars of Mexican cinema in those years. Gavaldón also worked with other big names of Mexican cinema, such as María Félix, Dolores del Río, Arturo de Córdova and Pedro Armendáriz, as well as with Argentina’s star of melodrama, Libertad Lamarque.
For years he was the leading representative of his country’s cinema at the big international festivals. He competed several times in Cannes, Venice and Berlin, presenting Acuérdate de vivir (Remember To Live) at the first edition of the San Sebastian Festival in 1953. He won eight Ariel awards, the accolades given from 1947 by the Mexican Academy of Film Arts and Sciences: the first Ariel Award for best film went to La barraca.
Although he mainly cultivated melodrama, he touched on numerous genres including crime, musical, fantasy and rural drama, also producing a western series with Antonio Aguilar. Outstanding among his films are titles such as Macario, La otra (The Other One, 1946) – a criminal drama about twin sisters embodied by Dolores del Río, reproduced in a Hollywood remake starring Bette Davis, Dead Ringer (1964) – La diosa arrodillada (The Kneeling Goddess,1947), En la palma de tu mano (In the Palm of Your Hand,1951), La noche avanza (Night Falls,1952) – starring an unscrupulous Basque pelota champion –, El rebozo de Soledad (Soledad’s Shawl, 1952), El niño y la niebla (The Boy and the Fog,1953), Camelia (1954), Sombra verde (Untouched, 1954), La escondida (The Hidden One,1956) and Miércoles de ceniza (Ash Wednesday,1958). In 1955 he was chosen by the Disney studios to direct one of its productions filmed in Mexico, The Littlest Outlaw.
In the early sixties he turned his attention to other topics, revealing an obvious preference for social and political issues. However, Rosa blanca, about the expropriation of petrol in Mexico, was forbidden and had its release delayed until 1972. In Días de otoño, starring the same couple as Macario, Ignacio López Tarso and the actress discovered by Gavaldón, Pina Pellicer, narrates the dark tale of a woman abandoned by her fiancé who tells everyone she has married the man and is pregnant with his child. Next he collaborated with Gabriel García Márquez and Carlos Fuentes on the screenplay of El gallo de oro (The Golden Cockerel, 1964), a parable about a fighting cock according to a story by Juan Rulfo.
In the first half of the seventies he produced three films in Spain: Don Quijote cabalga de nuevo (Don Quixote Rides Again,1973), with Fernando Fernán Gómez and Cantinflas in the parts of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, and two dramas starring Amparo Rivelles, La madrastra (The Stepmother, 1974) and La playa vacía (1977). He continued to work until 1979, when he directed his last film, Cuando tejen las arañas, a drama about a young girl and her sexual repression. He died in Mexico City in 1986.