An opening title in director Fernando de Fuentes Lets 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 Villas legend with stirring pictures. He also uses the legend to expose the darker, fatalistic drives of machismo and the personal toll of pledging ones 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 films 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 historys stage. In the films action-packed first half, they do just that, until violence on the battlefield and off whittles the band of brothers down, one by one. Its 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 its 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).
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