- Mexican Melodrama: Film and Nation from the Golden Age to the New Wave by Elena Lahr-Vivaz
Lahr-Vivaz's first book is a fresh, comparative project that reads "new-wave" Mexican films of the 1990s-early 2000s in conjunction with classic melodramas from Mexico's Golden Age (1930-58). Offering in-depth analyses of historical and industrial contexts, Mexican Melodrama maps the development and subsequent unraveling of nosotros, or the imagined Mexican nation created through cinema, in relation to melodrama. This book follows sustained interest in the Golden Age period, including Ramírez Berg's The Classical Mexican Cinema: The Poetics of the Exceptional Golden Age Films (2015), and gives further attention to what LahrVivaz terms the "new-wave" (or nuevo cine mexicano or new Mexican cinema) that "emerged in the 1990s and continued into the 2000s" (9). This term could create confusion because it does not refer to the French or other global new waves, nor does it necessarily reference Alvaray's (2008) notion of aesthetic renewal in recent Latin American film due to economic and social "waves" of change. Rather, LahrVivaz uses "new-wave" to interweave film with the nation, lo mexicano, because according to Jeff Menne, "a new wave may only be intelligible against the backdrop of the nation-state" (qtd. in Lahr-Vivaz 9). This study intervenes in conversations within Latin American and Mexican film and cultural studies, particularly about the function of melodrama, allegory, and nation-building in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
While the book is organized by chapter into thematic comparisons, it begins with an overview of the terms "melodrama" and "Mexico," layered with information about the history of Mexican cinema. Many scholars have underscored the importance of melodrama to Latin American cultural production—as documented in volumes edited by Sadlier (2009) and Herlinghaus (2002), which both treat melodrama beyond the Mexican context and delve into other media (television and music). Echoing Brooks, Singer, Williams, Gledhill, López, and Burton-Carvajal, Lahr-Vivaz understands melodrama as a "mode" and sometimes "metagenre" (11). Importantly, melodrama is "protean," seen in various forms across time (10). This approach foregrounds Lahr-Vivaz's reading of melodrama in contemporary Mexican film as it relates to nation and allegory, tracing its roots back to the widely accepted idea that Golden Age melodramas "imagined [Mexico] into existence through tears and laughter" (12). She grounds her argument in the idea of Mexico as an "(empathetically) imagined community," Linda Williams's extension of Benedict Anderson (10). Lahr-Vivaz claims that new-wave directors return to classical melodrama in order to "demonstrate the limitations (rather than the possibilities) of Mexico as a construct in which all spectators might believe," and throughout, she points to the rich ambiguity that results from melodramatic excess(5).
Subsequent chapters, organized by theme, contrast one Golden Age film with two to three new-wave films, resulting in an interesting amalgamation of heavily studied (Amores perros, Y tu mamá también) and relatively untouched films [End Page 265] (Modelo antiguo, Ángel de fuego, ¡¿Qué te ha dado esa mujer?!). Chapter two examines how references to the Mexican Revolution and the "taming" of the indomitable woman once helped form national unity (Enamorada), but now "allegorize the nation as intrinsically fragmented" and encourage spectators to be more critical and questioning of melodramatic excess (43). The following chapter contrasts the moral clarity of Golden Age cabaretera melodramas with regards to incest (La mujer del puerto) with the greater ambiguity of new-wave films that do not directly punish such relationships (though unmentioned, Por la libre (2001) follows Lahr-Vivaz's theory). In chapter four, Lahr-Vivaz suggests that the characters' suffering and shared tears—which once led to the consolidation of nation (Nosotros los pobres)—only end up creating a nosotros that is forged in shared culpability between protagonists and spectators, especially in El crimen del padre Amaro. This reading is especially interesting when we consider narratives of excess in contemporary Mexican film that treat drug violence and social problems. Lahr...