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February 07, 2017

Bleak Street


La calle de la amargura
Arturo Ripstein - 2015
Kino Lorber Region 1 DVD

Bleak Street may not be the best film for those unfamiliar with the work of Arturo Ripstein. For those who have seen The Place without Limits or Castle of Purity, Ripstein's newest film is a visit to familiar territory. What begins as a series of seemingly unrelated vignettes linked by a few crumbling blocks within Mexico City, evolves into a story about the fatal encounter between two twin brothers and two aging prostitutes. The brothers are both midget wrestlers, and amazingly, the film is inspired by a true incident. The title more literally translates as "The street of bitterness".

Ripstein's films are often about characters and their families who live in the margins of society. What took me a while to absorb is that with the wrestlers, prostitutes, assorted riffraff and family members filmed from a distance in medium or full shots, Ripstein's real interest was in the neighborhood. Ripstein has talked about how his early films were shot in black and white, and so it is here, almost fifty years since he began his career. This is a chiaroscuro dream of sorts, with limited flashes of light, and lots of deep blacks and shadows. Several shots are through bars, lattices and ornamental metal work. Rooms and streets are virtually barren. The exterior shots were filmed three blocks away from where the real life brothers lived.


The brothers live in figurative shadows as "mascots" to two wrestlers, sharing the pseudonyms of Death and AK-47, but with their size and status emphasized with the added appellation of Little. One of the prostitutes lives with her elderly mother, physically incapable, and trotted out in a wheel chair with a small, empty can to beg for a few pesos. The prostitutes are rapidly losing their business to younger girls, with the mother indicating their grim, and seemingly inevitable future. Love and money are never too far apart, and there is never quite enough of either.

Ripstein began his career as an assistant to Luis Bunuel on The Exterminating Angel, starring Sivia Pinal. There could well be a gesture of taking that career full circle with the casting of Pinal's daughter, Sylvia Pasquel, as one of the two prostitutes who have that fatal date with the twin brothers. Ripstein's final word, or last laugh, in a narrative devoid of a music track, is one of a perverse love of his hometown, with a 65 year old song performed by Spaniard Luis Mariano, in French, with lyrics, "Mexico City, Mexico City ...
Under your singing sun,
Time seems too short
To taste the happiness of every day
Mexico City, Mexico City ...
Your women are burning
And you will always be
The Paradise of Hearts."

More on two early films by Arturo Ripstein from Kimberly Lindbergs at FilmStruck.


Posted by Peter Nellhaus at February 7, 2017 07:58 AM