Working class people don’t have enough representation in cinema and we as audiences are partly at fault for that. We prefer the rich or watching fantasy worlds. Sui generis, TIFF’s new retrospective, tries to correct that. It does so by showing the cinema of a country we overlook, Mexico. It also highlights the poor people within that country. Visiting auteurs like Luis Bunuel have done their part in promoting equal representation before that was a thing. But local directors have done the same before Bunuel stepped into Mexico. This retrospective shows the films of the socially conscious Ismael Rodriguez. He directed films like My Son, the Hero and the subject of this piece, We The Poor.
Rodriguez’ class consciousness plays well into his camerawork and visual sense. This movie has its share of sweeping pans and tilts, which is a great way of showcasing its characters. Through these camera movements, we get a sense of openness to the the places that these characters inhabit. It subverts the claustrophobic feel of most working class films. We also get the full effect of the emotional plight of Chachita (Evita Munoz). She’s a girl who mourns the loss of her mother. We also get the admittedly less polished visual effects. Those come with a story line involving Chachita and her paralytic grandmother (Maria Gentil Arcos). They fall victim to yet fight back against their neighbor Don Pedro (Miguel Inclan).
But We The Poor is really about Chachita’s father, Pepe el Toro (Pedro Infante), a carpenter. The two have a contentious relationship since he seems to have moved on from his wife’s death. He’s courting Don Pedro’s stepdaughter Celia (Blanca Estela Pavon). He’s also entertaining the company of Yolanda (Carmen Montejo) a physically weak sex worker. He tries to smooth out this multi-pronged tension by breaking out into song, which only works half the time. But it’s the conflict between him and Don Pedro that gets him into trouble.
Hearing this plot can make us assume that this film tends toward emotional manipulation, and that’s only slightly true. A film with six major characters also feels unwieldy enough. And it feels more so as it introduces more side characters. It even has Katy Jurado who does her best in a supporting character. Her character doesn’t even get a name, they just call her ‘The One Who Wakes Up Late,’ which, same. Despite that, Rodriguez’ technical hand helps save the film. He also has Infante on his side, who brings both a sex appeal and paternal friendliness. Those qualities earn audience sympathy that carries through to the two sequels that this film gets.