La Cucaracha

I begin to wonder if Gabriel Figueroa’s cinematography is not itself sufficient pretext for a film. It seems like the hallucinatory material of a painting by Dali, what the latter called “handpainted color photography.” Its most curious characteristic is, it grades not to black but to white—which relates it to the director Walter Grauman, whose pictures tend to gravitate toward a spray of sunlight or some natural dazzle of light.

Figueroa’s camera-work is famously flawed, and it matters not a jot. When he takes a picture, it somehow stays took, and if his camera wobbles a bit on its apparatus, the view remains inviolate. It’s breathtaking to watch him stop a tilt in order to pan, the landscape ceases to vibrate in one direction and begins in another. His accuracy of registration in open terrain is as remote as Ansel Adams, without the latter’s darkroom resources, but with the added complexities of color. The calm of his deep focus comes from Gregg Toland, and from not being Gregg Toland.

I leave to critics a proper understanding of La Cucaracha, full of faith that they will rise to the occasion, any occasion. It seems to me like a charming rhapsody on themes of Emilio Fernandez, with the stars of Maria Candelaria and Enamorada and the great director himself as a loyal soldier of Pancho Villa amongst his own variations, with a certain poetical mystery and that hallucinatory cinematography, like a Diego Rivera fresco come to life.