Pueblerina is one of the purest examples I’ve seen of film as poetry. Director Emilio Fernandez takes a fairly simple story and uses it to present a panorama of rural Mexico. His love for the people, the music, the landscape is evident in every frame.
The opening sequence sets the tone for the film. A man is released from prison and begins his journey home. In most films this would be handled with a few lines of dialogue and a quick succession of shots. But Pueblerina has its own rhythm, and Fernandez wants to do far more than just tell a story. We see the prison. We see the man in his cell. We see him walk out the gate. He hitches a ride with some men on a cart. A song is sung. We see several shots of the cart rolling across the landscape. The song continues. Eventually the man arrives at his destination and gets off the cart. Not a word of dialogue has been spoken. Obviously Fernandez is in no hurry to get anywhere. Beyond just telling the story, he wants to bring the viewer into the experience of rural Mexico.
The story is based on one of the central themes of Mexican popular culture. It tells of a poor farmer who must confront an oppressive landowner. The way Fernandez tells the story transforms it into a poetic myth. He shoots the characters as monumental figures standing against dramatic landscapes. The farmer and his wife are good, decent people, while the landowners are thoroughly corrupt and cruel. The climax takes place as a thunderstorm rages. It’s all bigger than life. It’s all heartbreakingly beautiful.
Part of the reason it’s so beautiful is that Pueblerina was shot mostly on location by Gabriel Figueroa. Much of the film is spent observing people moving across the land, working the land. Figueroa photographs the fields, the mountains, the rivers with the same loving attention that he gives to the characters. Antonio Diaz Conde contributes a dramatic score that emphasizes the grandeur of the landscape and the intensity of the emotions. Since the film is a portrait of Mexican culture, there is a good deal of folk music. A lover’s serenade sung to solo guitar, dance music at the town’s fiesta, a band playing for the bride and groom at a wedding.
The film is a fantasy. Fernandez’ idealized portrait of the Mexican farmer isn’t grounded in reality, but in the country’s mythology. The poor in Mexico have been exploited and oppressed for centuries. Few manage to raise themselves out of poverty, let alone score the kind of spectacular triumph that the main character does here. But in this film the director isn’t making a social drama or a political statement. With Pueblerina Fernandez has created a sweeping poem that says little about his country’s reality, but a great deal about its soul.