Woman is... the Enigma.
The recent success of some foreign films in the American art-house exhibition circuit could be interpreted as a sign of the crisis of national specificity in commercial World cinemas. The apparent neutralization of culturally specific topics, the globalization of cinematic language, and the hybridization of genre configurations may have aided the popular acceptance in the U.S. of such films as Life is Beautiful (Roberta Benigni, Italy 1998), All About My Mother (Pedro Almodovar, Spain 1999), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee, Hong Kong, Taiwan 2000), Amelie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, France 2001) and "Talk to Her" (Almodovar, Spain 2002).2 The Mexican films Amores perms (Alejandro Gonzalez-Inarritu, 2000) and Y tu marna tambien (AIfonso Cuaron, 2002) seem to have followed this trend by becoming not only available through commercial if limited US exhibition venues, but also accessible to the U.S. public as products of a new kind of global film language that is non-nationally specific. In these two films the language of violence and sexuality, and a postmodern generic malleability overtake the details and nuances of national topics as treated regularly in Mexican films, so they become "universal," while being allowed to keep their original Spanish titles. A closer look, however, reveals the inherent Mexicanness/Mexicanidad of these films present in the treatment of women and violence and the development of historical Mexican cinema topics in the narrative. Amores perms and Y tu mama tambien (both Oscar nominees) capitalize on their emphasis on violence and sexuality respectively (the lingua franca of contemporary cinema) to "pass" internationally, but in the context of contemporary Mexico and Mexican cinema in general both films continue the historical trajectory of Mexican cinema when it comes to the presence and meaning of female characters and the treatment of national politics, class relations, and the economy.
Gender, Class, and the Nation in Mexican Cinema
Mexican cinema has evolved greatly in its one hundredyear history. It has developed from the constitution of a "national" cinema in the 1920s and 1930s, to the mythmaking "foundational fictions" of Carlos Navarro, Emilio Fernandez, and Fernando de Fuentes in the 1940s, to the myth-shattering realism of Luis Bunuel's Los olvidados? and the exploitation "cabaretems" and nightclub films of the 1950s and 1970s. Its most enduring iteration is the "Golden Age" of Mexican Cinema (from the 1930s through the 1950s), in which the mythification of national history, characters, and imagery was cemented in the widely seen films of Emilio Fernandez, Fernando de Fuentes, and a few other directors. In this "Golden Age" the idea of a national fiction was well articulated, and with the economic support of the State, Mexican cinema created a vision of the nation that became consistently multiplied in films of various genres. This image of Mexico emphasized the celebration of a status quo of gentle patriarchs governing their estates and families with a stern hand, macho charms singing their way into the hearts of fair maidens and through honor matters, and in the case of Fernandez's films, the creation of an idealized, romantic view of the Indians who were in reality, largely marginalized.4 These constant topics were present in the underlying celebration and affirmation of machismo and the values of the (mostly Creole) Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920. Joanne Hershfield deftly summarizes these ideas under the concept of the madre patria or "Motherland" as:
[ A]n attempt to forge a national solidarity among the diverse elements of the Mexican population despite differences of language, ethnic and cultural traditions, class, race, gender, and regional affiliation... By privileging a common (if invented) history, the Spanish language, a national system of education, and the mestizo as the quintessential Mexican, Ia madre patria (sic) came to signify a united Mexican nation. …