In his fundamental and seminal work, El Laberinto de la Soledad, Octavio Paz once said about us and our idiosyncrasy, that the life of a Mexican elapses between the possibility of screwing others and being screwed. And never, as in these dark times that we live in, has this reflection been as valid and relevant: The rich screw the poor and vice versa, men screw women and vice versa, the mestizos want to screw the natives and vice versa. It seems that we all want to screw each other. It’s a screwed time!... So much screwing!
But if Octavio Paz had lived in our time, he would’ve never exhausted his list of confrontations, since he would have had to include all the other battles that we experience daily in contemporary Mexico; liberals against conservatives, the “alleged good” against the “alleged bad", the political power versus the people, a war between the founding communities and those who invaded them, a war between the “chairos” in favor of our current government and the “fifís” against it, between the upper and the lower classes. A war in which those who are not with me, are against me! Damn! Mexico has turned into the country of a thousand confrontations.
In Mexico, unfortunately, we’ve spent years, if not centuries, experiencing one confrontation after another, of everyone against everybody, to prove who’s on top, to see who has the best chance of screwing the most... An eternal battle in which no one’s guilt-free, and the one that is, well screw him as well!
But in these modern times, and in complicity with social media and new technologies, these confrontations have reached the point of exhaustion. These are times of intolerance, polarization, and racism. Times where, I insist, those who are not with me, are against me!
Times of: #WhatTheFuckAreYouStarringAt for no reason.
In this context, one cannot help but be surprised but above all, concerned, that the arrival of this long-awaited transition to democracy, which we’re experiencing after so many years, instead of helping us understand each other better, has exacerbated our differences and generated more hatred and grudges than what we already had. There is no way that this intolerance can be justified; but in a country like Mexico in which the social injustices are brutal and the distribution of wealth unfair, widespread corruption, rampant impunity, and above all renewed classism, racism, and sexism have become part of our lives and our daily routine. It is not surprising that we see ourselves more like enemies and rivals rather than fellow travelers on the same ship.
For better or worse (or rather just for worse), this universe of confrontations is not exclusive to Mexico. Today, the world, for very different reasons, is once again convulsing left and right wings; and the pendulum of history seems to re-ignite among the people who demand equality and social justice... At the same time, unfortunately, concerning signs of intolerant and fed-up masses, flourish in regimes plagued by populism and neo-fascism everywhere.
But in these times of global intransigence, as we historically do, we Mexicans react in our very particular way.
Our always mysterious and complex idiosyncrasy that great minds tried to explain, from Octavio Paz, Carlos Monsivais, Roger Bartra, and Alfonso Reyes through their essays; Juan Rulfo, Carlos Fuentes, Jose Emilio Pacheco, Bruno Traven, and Jorge Ibargüengoitia through their literature and poetry; Rivera, Orozco, and Siqueiros, and more recently, Daniel Lezama through their paintings and murals, in which patriotism and nationalism were always fundamental themes; without leaving aside the fiercest critics of our national identity: the cartoonists, who with their amazing capacity for synthesis have been the ones who describe us best in the most perverse and true manner; Posada, García Cabral, Abel Quezada, Naranjo, Rius, Helio Flores; and our malevolent contemporaries: Hernández, Fisgón, and Helguera.
Unfortunately for Mexican cinema, it seems that our idiosyncrasy, like many other topics, is a form of taboo. And except for some great and notable examples such as Buñuel with Los Olvidados and El Ángel Exterminador, Luis Alcoriza with Mecánica Nacional, or Juan Ibáñez with Los Caifanes, our films rarely address the issue of who we really are, and when we do, we prefer to portray ourselves as poor, but honest... messed up, but happy... drunk, but sensible... ugly, but not that much... corrupt, but just a bit… racist, but with good feelings... etc. We portray ourselves, yes, but always in a self-complacent and patronizing way.
¡Que Viva México! is an acid social fable and a toxic political satire; an eyesore with a lot of dark humor that, like a heartless mirror, that shows our true selves, but not in a realistic or naturalistic tone, but with the distortion of a parody, a farce, and a caricature gives... Because, how awful would it be that the world and the country that the film portrays were true: a place where no one can be saved or redeemed, a place where the difficulty lies in guessing who is worse: the envious, the greedy, the corrupt, the con artist, the traitor, the thief, or the murderer... Or worse still, our relatives or our neighbors.
The rules of satire not only allow such an irreverent and provocative universe but also demand it. And here are some notable examples of world cinema to illustrate it: Who are the good guys in Dirty, Bad and Ugly, by Ettore Scola? Who are the heroes in The Monsters, by Dino Risi? Who redeems themselves in Underground or Gypsy Time, by Emir Kusturica? or in Welcome Mr. Marshal and El Verdugo by García Berlanga? Who is saved in The Great Carnival by Billy Wilder, or in Tobacco Road by John Ford? The answer is NOBODY. All of them are satires and masterpieces about evil, envy, and greed; they use dark humor and social criticism to reflect the times they are living, their problems, and their conflicts. Despite the distance and many years that separates us from them, those problems and conflicts are very similar to ours.
In this mural of dozens of deliberately stereotyped characters that compose the film, each one represents something more than themselves, ¡Que viva México! becomes an example, an allegory or a metaphor of an entire country represented as a great cartoonish fresco; in whichour values, our desires, our noble institutions, and great cultural icons are questioned. But also, our popular music, our tasty food, and our worn-out folklore; all framed in that small personal hell in which we all belong and that we all, for better or worse, come from and survive: our family. Tolstoy already said it, and this film paraphrases it: All happy families (if they do exist) resemble each other, but every unhappy family resembles only itself.
¡Que viva México! is a very ambitious film. Not only because of its subject matter or its epic length (only 189 minutes!), or for its numerous and spectacular cast and its great production values, but because of how complex and laborious was to reproduce two radically opposed and confronted worlds. An almost monochromatic place that exists where time seems to have stopped, resembling a mid-century world, which represents our history, and traditions; and another, very bright and colorful, a modern, developed, and aspirational Mexico: The Mexico of the classists and arrogant “fifís”. Because despite not being realistic, everything in it, from the sets to the costumes, from the characterizations of the actors to the music and lighting, should be credible and authentic, but at the same time, designed and created especially for our film.
But perhaps, the most interesting thing of ¡Que viva México! will be the reaction of its very diverse audience, and above all, the political class. Because if, as a country, we finally manage to consolidate a new regime that is presumed to be democratic and progressive; tolerance towards criticism and unrestricted respect for freedom of speech should be what differs this administration from previous governments. In these times, where not being politically correct has become a sort of Inquisition, a film in which its "heroes" are portrayed as classists, racists, misogynists, intolerants, sexists, homophobes, and corrupt, to say the least, is a great challenge and a major trigger for everyone's tolerance. This film’s main goal is to achieve just that.
Last, but not least, I leave you with these final words: ¡Que viva México cabrones!