Let’s Go With Pancho Villa

An opening title in director Fernando de Fuentes’ Let’s Go With Pancho Villa (1936) heralds this Mexican classic as an homage to the “loyalty and courage Francisco Villa infused in the warriors who followed him.” If that sounds like a rousing rebel time at the movies, it is. A seminal figure from the golden age of Mexican cinema, de Fuentes has an instinctive feel for finding and orchestrating the dramatic vectors of war. Against the low-angle dominance of a ruthlessly efficient machine-gun nest, he matches the high-angle heroic grace of a mortally wounded partisan who shouts “Viva Villa!” before falling back gently into the waiting fronds of a yucca plant. But de Fuentes does more than gloss Villa’s legend with stirring pictures. He also uses the legend to expose the darker, fatalistic drives of machismo and the personal toll of pledging one’s life to a cause. De Fuentes lingers over scenes of camaraderie — packs of anonymous men singing camp songs or carousing in cantinas — but at the film’s core are six friends, farmers-turned-revolutionaries, who join up with Villa to fight for freedom. Dubbed “The Lions” in their dusty village, in the war they get their chance to prove themselves as men on history’s stage. In the film’s action-packed first half, they do just that, until violence — on the battlefield and off — whittles the band of brothers down, one by one. It’s a startling and unexpected trajectory that leads not to blazing victory, but to a bitter, ambiguous isolation. Sadly, the print used by Facets for this DVD release looks like it’s been through major combat itself, and the subtitles can be frustratingly spotty. Still, the power of de Fuentes’ filmmaking shines through.

Other recommended new releases: Four Films by Otar Ioselliani: Falling Leaves, Pastorale, The Summer in the Country, There Was a Singing Blackbird (DVD).

Also released this week:

VHS-DVD: Robots.

DVD: The Amazing Race: The First Season; Anything Goes; Are You Being Served?; The Billy Nayer Show: The Early Years; The Blind Dead Collection; Branded; Buddy Boy; Cheyenne: TV Favorites Compilation; Chico and the Man: TV Favorites; Chuka; Destination Mars!; Driller Killer; Dukes of Hazzard: TV Favorites; Eat the Rich; Experiments in Terror; Family Guy Presents Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story!; Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag; F Troop: TV Favorites Compilation; Gilmore Girls: The Complete Fourth Season; Ice From the Sun; Ice Queen; Mary Pickford; Maverick: TV Favorites; Moonlight by the Sea; El Nominado; Our Times; Pastry Girl; Rouleman; Rugrats: Tales From the Crib: Snow White; SpongeBob SquarePants: The Complete Third Season; Star Trek Enterprise: The Complete Third Season; Taste of Chaos; Tom and Jerry: The Magic Ring; The Tracker; The Vicar of Dibley: 10th Anniversary Specials; We’re No Angels.

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