Angélica Chain & Ana Martín in “Cadena Perpetua” [1978, Mexico]

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Let me start Arturo Ripstein’s filmography here with one of his more remarkable films, the crime drama “Cadena Perpetua” [Eng. title: Life Sentence], considered a landmark in Mexican cinema by the manner in which it lays bare the country’s internal state of affairs – something that’s common knowledge but rarely discussed in cinema until then.

Arturo Ripstein, in brief:
He is widely regarded as one of the finest directors to emerge from Mexico. His foray into direction began as an assistant to none other than the great Luis Buñuel in the classic, “El Ángel Exterminador” (The Exterminating Angel). But Ripstein’s films nevertheless have a stamp of their own – his trademark is depicting characters who are consciously flawed but unable to change their destiny or redeem themselves, either due to circumstances or society. The mood in his films, needless to say are often downbeat. I must however admit that at the time of posting, I’ve seen only seven of his forty-odd feature films, so my knowledge of Ripstein is still in its infancy. There are a few films however that I know about and dearly like to see, but are either unavailable or hard-to-find. “Cadena Perpetua” falls under this hard-to-find category…

Storyline:
Lira aka ‘Tarzan’ wants to turn a new leaf. As ‘Tarzan’, he had been a common crook picking pockets and pimping women, and often got into trouble with police comandante Prieto, who’ll let him off only after taking a cut. But after one crime too many, Lira finds himself serving time in prison, and his unpleasant experience there plays a part in him wanting to mend his ways. Upon release, fortune favours Lira with a job, of all places at a bank – as a debt collector. He gets married and is now also father to a child. But his tranquil world is turned upside down when comandante Prieto decides to return from retirement, only to torment Lira after learning of his whereabouts. Lira is left in a predicament – to resist Prieto and put his family in danger, or return to his criminal ways in order to meet Pietro’s demands.

The film is gritty without going overboard – it poses questions on ethics, duty and morality, and portrays how inept state mechanisms, rather than checking corruption, are a problem in itself. It is a very well made film with good screenplay and direction, and an awesome soundtrack (but poorly mastered on DVD). The film also won the Golden Ariel the following year for best feature. Recommended Viewing.

The DVD I could get hold of is the NTSC Region-1 DVD, which is letterboxed and not particularly a great transfer – the DVD itself is poorly stamped. Until it is remastered and re-released, we’ll have to put up with this – shame because it is a good film.
Amazon DVD Link


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