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Maria Candelaria
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Maria Candelaria

The years between 1935 and 1962 are considered the Golden Age of Mexican cinema, when influential and visionary Mexican filmmakers created films that were successful both at home and around the world. The Mexican film industry was producing between 20 and 40 films a year, and its stars such as Maria Felix, Arturo de Cordova, Pedro Armendariz, and Dolores del Rio earned international acclaim. One of the leading directors of the period was Emilio Fernandez, and one of his most beloved and honored films is Maria Candelaria (1944).

Dolores del Rio plays Maria, an Indian flower seller in the floating gardens of Xochimilco, outside of Mexico City. She is in love with a peasant, played by Pedro Armendariz, but her simple happiness is threatened by the harassment of the townspeople, and the greed of a local boss.

Born in Mexico, Del Rio had gone to Hollywood in the 1920s, and had a very successful career there, but with the coming of sound she was increasingly typecast because of her accent, and unhappy with her career direction, she returned to Mexico. Her first two films after her return were both for Fernandez, Flor Silvestre (1943), and Maria Candelaria. The fact that she was already an established international star helped gain worldwide attention for those films, and for Mexican cinema, and gave Del Rio a whole new career. Both films also co-starred Armendariz, who was already one of Mexico's top stars. He, too, would go on to work in American and European films, with top directors and co-stars.

Director Emilio Fernandez, known as "El Indio" ("the Indian"), is considered by most film historians to be the most important figure in Mexican cinema. (His nickname came from Fernandez's pride in his heritage -- his mother was a Kikapu Indian.) After taking part in the Mexican revolution, Fernandez was sentenced to prison, but escaped to California, where he acted in films. When he returned to Mexico, he continued his acting career, and later turned to directing in the 1940s. His films during this period were the best of his long career, particularly the trio made with his frequent collaborator, cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa: Maria Candelaria, Flor Silvestre, and La Perla (1947). All of them exhibited a striking visual style, with low angles, depth of focus, and dramatic compositions.

Figueroa also spent the early part of his career in Hollywood. In the 1930s, he apprenticed with cinematographer Gregg Toland (Citizen Kane, 1941). Figueroa would work with such directors as Luis Bunuel and John Ford, but is best known for his collaboration with Fernandez.

Maria Candelaria won the Grand Prize and best cinematography at the first Cannes Film Festival in 1946, and best cinematography at the Locarno International Film Festival in 1947. Its high profile at both festivals helped establish a postwar European market for Mexican film, and boosted the careers of all concerned. As Carl J. Mora writes in his book, Mexican Cinema, "In spite of the criticism leveled at Maria Candelaria, it remains a classic...The film has been criticized for presenting a 'tourist's' Mexico, an image of stoic, attractive Indians patiently paddling their flower-laden dugouts along the scenic canals....Yet the film retains a simplicity and lyrical beauty....Moreover, false idealization or not, Fernandez presented a positive view of Indians."

Director: Emilio Fernandez
Producer: Agustin J. Fink, Felipe Subervielle
Screenplay: Emilio Fernandez, Mauricio Magdaleno, based on a story by Fernandez
Cinematography: Gabriel Figueroa
Editor: Jorge Bustos, Gloria Schoemann
Costume Design: Armando Valdes Peza
Art Direction: Jorge Fernandez
Music: Francisco Dominguez, Rodolfo Halffter
Principal Cast: Dolores del Rio (Maria Candelaria), Pedro Armendariz (Lorenzo Rafael), Alberto Galan (El Pintor), Margarita Cortes (Lupe), Miguel Inclan (Don Damian), Beatriz Ramos (Reporter), Rafael Icardo (Priest).
BW-90m.

by Margarita Landazuri