On the strength of Emilio Fernández’s fame as a director of taste and distinction, La Perla was filmed with John Steinbeck’s active support prior to the novel’s publication in the USA. Co-produced by film studio RKO, Spanish and English versions of the film were made concurrently. It is a timeless story of greed and poverty. In a humble fisherman’s village, the discovery of a valuable pearl by a poverty-stricken fisherman (Pedro Armendáritz) brings about the ruin of his family when the pearl attracts the attention of greedy and ruthless dealers in the area. Fernandez transposed Steinbeck’s novel onto the screen with a compassionate New Testament intensity. The photography by Gabriel Figueroa, one of the world’s greatest cinematographers, makes brilliant use of deep space and chiaroscuro to create unforgettable scenes in the unforgiving Mexican countryside. The pearl dive scene is one of the key moments in Mexican cinema’s golden age. It stands as a luminous combination of Figueroa’s breathtaking photography and Fernández’s brilliant staging. —National Museum of Singapore
If he did not already exist, it would be necessary to invent Emilio “El Indio” Fernández. His manneristic visual style, his folkloric themes and characters, and his distinctively Indian physiognomy made him an integral element of Mexico’s culture of nationalism, as well as the nation’s best-known director. Fleeing Mexico after the defeat of his faction in the rebellion of 1923, Fernández ended up digging ditches in Hollywood. As has been the case with so many Latin American artists and intellectuals, Fernández discovered his fatherland by leaving it: “I understood that it was possible to create a Mexican cinema, with our own actors and our own stories. . . . From then on the cinema became a passion with me, and I began to dream of Mexican films.” Making Mexican cinema became Fernández’s obsession and, as is so often true of cultural nationalism, a short-term gain was to turn into a long-term dead end.
Perhaps that which most distinguishes Fernández’s films is their strikingly… read more