The enigmatic B. Traven is certainly one of the most amazing figures in modern literature, as to this date his true identity remains an unsolved mystery. Better known for having written the novel “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (the basis for John Huston’s film), the mysterious writer who claimed to be American (although clues point out to he being German) traveled to Mexico where he became fascinated with the country’s rich culture and difficult social situations. “Macario” (or “Der Dritte Gast”, literally, “The Third Guest”) is probably one of his best known works (after the afore mentioned “Treasure of the Sierra Madre”), and the source novel of one of Mexico’s most fascinating and beautiful films.
Macario (Ignacio López Tarso) is a very poor indigenous shepherd during the Colonial Mexico, whose only dream in life is to be able to eat a roasted turkey by himself, as he always has had to give up his meals so the rest of his family can eat…
(EDITED…too much spoiling )
….Adapted by writer Emilio Carballido and director Roberto Gavaldón himself, the movie remains very faithful to Traven’s story, retaining the mix of harsh realism and dark fantasy that forms the basis of the short novel. Like Traven’s fable, “Macario” is filled with symbols and metaphors, but the script writers add even more details of Mexican culture making even richer an already detailed tale. Traven’s strong and direct social cometary remains surprisingly unchanged in the brilliantly adapted screenplay, and it could even be said that Gavaldón and Carballido finished what Traven started by making a more developed version of the story.
Gavaldón’s direction was always technically impeccable, but this film proves that he was also an interesting artist, and that he should be considered as one of the greatest directors of Mexican cinema. Heavily inspired by Bergman and Buñuel, his film walks the line between an accurate realism and surrealist fantasy, all brought to life thanks to the wonderful eye of the legendary cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa, who makes one of his finest works in this film. In many of Gavaldón’s films death and fate play the main roles, but it’s in “Macario” where through Traven’s tale he seems to be able to finally express his obsessions the way he always wanted to.
While Figueroa’s photography and Gavaldón’s direction seem to be the stars of the film, it’s worth to point out that the cast also makes a wonderful job in giving life to the characters of “Macario”. The legendary Ignacio López Tarso got his first important role in this movie as the lead character, and his performance shows why he is now considered as one of the finest actors ever. It was also the first role of Pina Pellicer’s and one of her best in her sadly short career (she committed suicide four years later). Enrique Lucero completes the cast with a haunting, yet charming performance as the Death, that appears to Macario as another poor and badly nourished farmer.
Nowadays, “Macario” is one of the most popular and praised Mexican films of history (it even was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Palm), but it received harsh criticism when it was released, mainly because critics felt that its folkloric nature was meant to be an Oscar-bait product with an anachronistic nationalism and a dated style. Of course, there is some truth in those harsh statements, as “Macario” definitely feels as an unashamed attempt to bring back the Glory Days of Mexican cinema (as in 1960 began its downfall), but to deny the movie’s excellent quality was to go too far.
While of course there are better Mexican movies, few have that special charm “Macario” posses, a charm only explainable as “magic” that keeps captivating audiences everywhere with its haunting cinematography and excellent performances. An amazing example of Mexican film-making, “Macario” is a definitive must-see of the dark fantasy genre. 9/10
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