Saturday, September 13, 2014

Cantinflas [2014]

MPAA (PG) (2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
ChicagoTribune/LA Times (B. Sharkey) review (A. Aradillas) review

LaOpinion-LosAngeles coverage*
Hoy-Chicago coverage*

Cantinflas [2014] (directed and cowritten by Sebastian del Amo along with Edui Tijerina) is a Hispanic family oriented film (the PG rating is absolutely appropriate) about the life of beloved Mexican comic Cantinflas ("Mexico's Charlie Chaplin") [en.wikip] [es.wikip]* [IMDb]

Fully bilingual (the parts of story that are in English are presented with Spanish subtitles, the parts in Spanish are with English ones), the film's box-office success (despite having almost NO COVERAGE in the English language press in the U.S. and hence relying almost entirely on Spanish language media for publicity in the U.S.) on the heals of the even more financially successful Instructions Not Included [2013] which utilized the same bilingual formula and also relied on the Spanish media for outreach suggests that Lionsgate Films have found a way of replicating Tyler Perry's [IMDb] success in reaching African American audiences to reach Hispanic audiences here.

While clearly directed to Hispanic families, non-Hispanic audiences could benefit in taking-in this film because it can serve to introduce (or reintroduce) Cantinflas [en.wikip] [es.wikip]* [IMDb] (played in the film by Óscar Jaenada) to them.  For he really was, IMHO, a comic genius.

My first exposure to him was 6 days after arriving in Guadalajara to take an intensive Spanish language course some 15-20 years ago.  Part of taking such a course is not simply learning the language but also to learn about the culture.  Well that day, the instructor brought in a few clips from Cantiflas' circa 1940s films.  The scene that I remember from that day was Cantinflas (who almost always played a "simple Mexican everyman") arriving at a Mexico City pool-hall, late, explaining to his friend what had happened to him: "Well I was walking along the street, making good time, when this lady came running out of a shop, screaming POLICE! POLICE! ..." Well when good old, simple Continflas, calls out "Police! Police!" (while calmly adjusting his pool cue ...) recounting the story, THE CROWDED POOL HALL'S PATRONS just start RUNNING (AWAY) IN EVERY DIRECTION, OUT DOORS, THROUGH WINDOWS, TRYING TO HIDE UNDER / BEHIND POOL TABLES AND CHAIRS, while Continflas, unphased, continues his story, to the horror of his (perhaps also shaking in his boots) friend!

I LAUGH TO THIS DAY recalling of that scene ;-) ... and, thinking of his diminutive posture and manner of motion, remember IMMEDIATELY THINKING "My gosh, THIS GUY'S MEXICO'S CHARLIE CHAPLIN" (which is, in fact, _exactly_ how he is remembered all across the Spanish speaking world).

So I'm happy that this film was made, and I'm also happy that, _more or less_, Cantinflas's [en.wikip] [es.wikip]* personal life was worth remembering _positively_:

Though the film does indicate that when his success did come, he was certainly tempted, and probably (indeed almost certainly) fell in his personal life, he did remain "till death did they part" with his wife, a Russian immigrant to Mexico named Valentina Ivanova (played in the film by Ilse Salas) WHO HE DID LOVE and WHO HE MET VERY EARLY IN HIS CAREER when both were still dirt poor and were (both) working as CIRCUS ACTS.

Indeed, to (North) American audiences perhaps the most controversial scene in the film comes from that early period in his life, when the film shows that Cantinflas BEGINNING his acting career (before that, he tried his hand at both BOXING and BULL FIGHTING ;-) doing a BLACK-FACE ROUTINE (he liked to dance ...) BUT ... (and this is true) HE CAME TO REALIZE VERY QUICKLY THAT HE GOT A LOT MORE LAUGHS FROM HIS MEXICO CITY AUDIENCES WHEN HE SIMPLY PLAYED HIMSELF: A POOR YOUNG STREETWISE MEXICAN MAN WHO WAS "FAST ON HIS FEET" AND EVEN FASTER WITH HIS TONGUE ;-).

To bring the Continflas' story to the States, the current film recalls his participation in the 50's era United Artists (notably the studio CO-FOUNDED BY CHAPLIN) film Around the World in Eighty Days [1956] which won various Academy Awards including Writing and Best Picture and for which Continflas received a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical.

The film recalls the difficulty that producer Michael Todd [IMDb] (played in the film by Michael Imperioli) had in putting together "international cast" to make his film based on Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days, including getting Cantinflas to do the film.  Indeed, Todd needed Charlie Chaplin's (played in the film by Julian Sedgwick) help to get Cantinflas to accept.

Why would that be?  Well, the film shows quite well that Cantiflas was an authentic superstar in Mexico by then, and indeed, the head of Mexico's version of the Screen Actors' Guild.  He didn't need to go up the States to play a bit role in some Hollywood film ;-).

All in all, this is honestly a very nice film, again deserving of its family friendly PG rating and one that honestly will put a smile on everybody in the audience's faces (and probably many times ;-)

So good job folks, honestly good job!  And it serves me right.  I have to read the Spanish papers here more often ;-)

* Reasonably good (sense) translations of non-English webpages can be found by viewing them through Google's Chrome browser.

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