Today the Hawk Takes One Chick (2007)
Where’s New York? Where’s LA? Nowhere for film, that’s the impression from last month’s 5th International Mexico City Festival of Contemporary Cinema (FICCO), where Boston, our Boston, totally ruled. To begin, there was an ambitious Documentary Retrospective of Cambridge’s Frederick Wiseman, 12 films in all, not just the usual screenings of Titicut Follies (1967) and High School (1968) but rare revivals of Meat (1976), Deaf (1986), and Blind (1986). Next there was a flooding of Massachusetts guests: Mexico City abuzz with Beantowners! Local curator Peter Dowd was on FICCO’s Kodak Jury, dishing out Kodak film stock to jury winners, and I was on the FIPRESCI International Critics Jury, giving a citation to the Best Latin American Documentary.
Then there were Hub-area documentarians, invited to Mexico to show their newest work: Cambridge’s Jane Gillooly with Today the Hawk Takes One Chick, her elegant, unsentimental focus on the AIDs epidemic in Swaziland, and Arlington’s John Gianvito with Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind, his road-movie meditation on lost-and-buried American history, captured through visits to obscure graveyards. Gillooly’s film is just beginning its run, starting with multiple showings back home in March at the MFA. Gianvito’s film premiered at Toronto last September, and it’s hit a chord, done stupendously well for an essay-form experimental work. Nobody is more astonished than the deeply modest filmmaker, a professor at Emerson College. “I get e-mails every day inviting me to festivals,” Gianvito told me in Mexico, and revealed his proudest moment: he’s been invited for an interview about the movie for the legendary French film periodical, Cahiers du Cinema.
Finally, Boston’s Alloy Orchestra — Ken Winokur, Roger Miller, Terry Donahue — have found a home at FICCO, making annual trips to Mexico City to play their dazzling original scores along with silent films. This year: the Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., silent classic, The Black Pirate (1926), was the selection, and the many guests of FICCO were bussed one evening to a local park where the swashbuckler would be showing. What a locale! We sat up in the bleachers looking down on a man-made lake with several mini-islands. On one was a huge screen, and the Alloy boys playing below it. Another island was a magic oasis with a surrealist woody landscape, something out of Cocteau’s The Beauty and the Beast (1946). The reality: this park features a permanent set for Swan Lake, and the ballet is performed regularly on the two islands. But this great night, it was swordsplay to Alloy percussive interplay instead of sensitive Tchaikovsky. (And it was friggin’ freezing: Mexico City at night in late winter meant lots of shivering spectators.)
Outside of the Festival, where to go in Mexico City for those who see the world through movie-eye? My producer wife, Amy Geller, and I checked out Frida Kahlo’s Blue House, recalling the movie, Frida (2002), and, down the street, the home in which Leon Trotsky was murdered by Stalin’s agents, remembering Joseph Losey’s The Assassination of Trotsky (1972). As for those high-in-the-air shoeshine stands all over town: those remind of where John Huston sat, portraying a Rich American in his down-in-Mexico masterpiece, The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948).
But what about Luis Bunuel, the great Spanish director, who lived in Mexico City for decades after fleeing his home country under Franco? It was here, toiling in the Mexican film industry, that he made such superb works as Los Olvidados (1950) and Exterminating Angels (1962). Where was his house in those days? Wherever, it wasn’t in any of the tourist guides, which point to every residence, every studio, of Kahlo and her husband, muralist Diego Rivera.
A kind volunteer working for FICCO did some research and came up with an address. A bunch of us, including my wife and John Gianvito, piled into a taxi one afternoon to find the destination. We ended up on a most anonymous street in a most unnoticed middle-class neighborhood. There was a doorway on the street with the number of the house we were given, but a high fence around the yard. From what we could see above the fence, there was a handsome, several-storied domicile. Bunuel may have lived here in the 1950s, before returning from exile to Europe for his final glory years, the time of Belle de Jour (1966), Tristana (1970), The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1973).
Who resides there now? We rang and rang the doorbell, hoping someone would be home and agree to give us a tour. Alas, though a dog barked inside, nobody came to greet us. But what was that piece of paper stuck in the door? We take a look at it, and gasped: a current electric bill, to Luis “Bunual.” Huh? Does the ghost of the long-long-deceased Bunuel, dead since 1983, occupy his old home? Surrealism is alive and creaking in Mexico City.