- Mexican Screen Fiction by Paul Julian Smith
Paul Julian Smith, Mexico, Film Festivals, Telenovelas, Pierre Bordieu, Distinction, Mexican Film, Narco Violence, Youth Films, Cultural Policy, Mexican Television, Niamh Thornton
As anyone who follows Paul Julian Smith on Twitter will know, he has spent recent years travelling to film festivals, primarily in Mexico and Spain. The films he has seen at these events and the inside knowledge he has gained as juror, invited panelist, or journalist have a significant influence on his research and this current book. It is a unique work in that it draws on critical theory combined with a current industry overview, and studies developments in both recent cinematic output and in popular telenovelas (as television soap operas are called in Latin America). This is all combined with close textual analysis.
The volume is divided into four sections and an appendix. Each section is discrete, because the book draws together film and television from a particular period that may have some thematic commonality, but also displays considerable differences. In many ways it is an unusual text for an academic monograph because it incorporates what he calls “Jump Cuts”; that is, journalistic pieces originally published in Sight & Sound and Film Quarterly. These appear at the end of each section and have been included without further editing. In addition, there are conventional chapters that analyze case studies.
The opening section, Setting Scenes, draws from Smith’s aforementioned experiences at film festivals and the research this has facilitated. The first chapter of this section is a useful overview of the critical landscape in Mexican cinema, and provides a historical insight into the industry side of sales and production, while the second describes the current state of film festivals.
The next section, Auteurs and Genres, foregrounds Pierre Bordieu’s concept of distinction as it is attached to particular auteurs, and how this label facilitates the circulation of their films outside of Mexico. Smith provides close textual analysis of how they achieve this distinction through particular aesthetic choices that appeal to festival audiences, which ensures their circulation through art house film theatres. He carefully differentiates local reception of such films from the attention they get abroad, since oftentimes the films that achieve greatest success abroad earn little in Mexico. Importantly, he includes other local factors that influence this reception, such as cultural policy decisions, the growth of cineplexes, and local taste for genre cinema.
In the section Marginal Subjects he draws together youth films that do carry this mark of cultural distinction yet have received mixed reception at home, on the one hand, and two popular telenovelas, Women Murderers and Las Aparicio Women, on the other. The youths in the films under analysis are marginal because there have been few youth films made in this distinct genre, but also because they are troubled [End Page 117] youth, and thus marginalized by society. Equally dogged by criminality are the characters in the two telenovelas, but they can also be considered to deal with marginal subjects because they are centered on women. The two telenovelas have a variety of strong female characters, are shown on competing television stations, and, therefore, provide Smith with the opportunity for productive comparisons. This he carries out in an exploration of the current production and reception context by drawing on available investment, policy, and audience figures. Further imbued with close textual analysis, this chapter provides an applied insight into the current television landscape in Mexico. Given that little research is done on Mexican television that combines production contexts and policies with close textual analysis, this is a welcome and meticulously researched addition to the field.
The final section, Tales of Insecurity, has violence as a common theme. In this section he asks, “To what extent can Mexican cinema be seen as a map or mirror of a distinct order of violence?” (165). The first chapter considers films set during the so-called “narco” violence, and the second looks at two distinct telenovelas. The three films are Hell, Saving Private Pérez, and Miss Bala. He sets each into their discrete reception and...