Directed by soviet cinematic master Sergei Eisenstein (best known for his masterwork BATTLESHIP POTEMPKIN) and bankrolled by lefty American novelist Upton Sinclair, this remarkable montage film was meant to cover Mexican life, from culture to economics and politics, from the early native civilizations up through the modern Mexican revolution.
Beset with budgetary problems and filming setbacks, the project was eventually abandoned, and the raw footage disseminated from place to place through time. When documentarians managed to pull together all the material, there were so many astonishing images that editor Grigori Aleksandrov had to piece it together into this partial effort, that plays as a kind of homage to a great film that never was. The missing chapter on the Mexican revolution seems to have been pivotal to the concept, but all we get here are historical stills of the event, giving an impression of what the great director envisioned for the sequence. Nonetheless, what exists and survives is breathtaking!
Perfectly lit shots of unforgettable faces abound, melding with a vivid score, stark vistas, in high-contrast images that are sharp and clear despite the passage of years.
The images often appear highly posed in a simple, artificial way, the framing carefully composed, as from a painter’s perspective.
From a dreamlike parade of flower-draped boats, moving lazily through an almost surreal lagoon to the kinetic wooziness of the Day of the Dead celebrations, ¡QUE VIVA MEXICO! is packed with gasp-inducing black-and-white visions of wonderment, many of them infused with a brilliant intentional overexposure that makes you almost feel the relentless Mexican heat.
Despite the posed, static nature of the shots, they are edited with a modern verve and style that still feels contemporary, reminding me of the stunning gothic grandeur of IVAN THE TERRIBLE (1944 & 1958) and THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC (1928). The only thing robbing this film of the last half star that made these other two films absolute classics: the letdown of the final coda, hinting at the film that might have been, if only money had not trumped art.
I first saw this film in May of 2013, and I have not been able to get it out off my head since! I think of it, perhaps more than any other film I only saw once. I happily discovered my local library has it, so I have little doubt I’ll get around to viewing it again and again. The stunning artistry of the Day of the Dead sequence and the lazy, languid ease of the nautical parade bearing the blissful wedding party was ravishing to behold. Unforgettable! It is thus with many, many images in this almost-classic non-film. See it! Marvel.
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