Not rated. It's a story about the working conditions of Mexican fishermen in 1936. There's violence and a death in the story. While there are parallels to Battleship Potemkin, the imagery is far more tame. If anything, this is a kind of propaganda that focuses more on the role and needs of the individual, so there's not a ton of gross out imagery. My kid walked in on me watching this one and I didn't even consider pausing it.
DIRECTORS: Emilio Gomez Muriel and Fred Zinnemann
Yeah, I'm writing on a Saturday! I have just enough time before my daughter gets up from her nap. Besides, I've been negligent about maintaining the blog when I have just an abundance of movies to write about, so here's me...writing on a Saturday. I'm really doing this to congratulate myself. I don't know how many people are going to flock to my page to read about my thoughts on a '30s Mexican propaganda piece, but I'm going to write about it just the same. Just understand that if this thing doesn't go too long, remind yourself that you probably didn't take the time to write a blog about Redes.
I have to talk about the elephant in the room. It's 65 minutes. When I mentioned this to my wife, she considered that a TV episode. But it was made for cinema consumption. If Martin Scorsese considers this to be a movie for the World Cinema Project, who am I to argue? Also, it's a movie. It's one of those things that you know it when you see it. Besides, I'll rarely complain about a movie being too short. I got it done in one workout and that brings me a lot of joy. One of the great things about these Scorsese World Cinema boxes is that I know almost absolutely nothing about the movies that I'm about to watch. Honestly, I didn't even know what country this movie came from when I put it in my Blu-Ray player. But that's kind of the best thing. Now that I've watched the whole movie, I can't help but think that this is the Mexican fisherman version of The Jungle. But when the movie first started, there was something very Steinbeckian about the whole thing. It honestly felt like one of John Steinbeck's novellas, like The Pearl.
When the film first began, I felt like this was the natural conclusion to something like The Bicycle Thieves. I'm not crazy for making this jump. Scorsese says that this is a movie that somehow foreshadowed Italian neorealism. But Bicycle Thieves implies that these two characters would lead a tragic life because of their entrenched poverty. Redes starts with that idea as the jumping off point. A man who works day-in-and-day out loses his son to a disease that is perfectly treatable. For a film like Bicycle Thieves, that might be the climax of the film. Instead, it is his inciting incident. To a certain extent, the death of his son is kind of fridging him. But the film as a whole is not to tell a story simply as art. It was made by the government to have people demand better wages. Miro's exposition is that of laborer. There's nothing fundamentally special about Miro according to the opening scene. Like all other fishermen, he laments the poor fishing season that plagues his village. But it is when he is denied even rudimentary pay to ensure his son's survival that he is able to see that the world does not have to be that way.
What is interesting is that he doesn't become some advocate for unions in this moment. Sure, the story could have started there, with Miro trying to take down the system. But that's almost the role of cinema. It's a heightened experience that probably would lack verisimilitude. It's when Miro keeps on getting pushed and when he is used as an example for a working system that breaks him into this champion of social justice. There's something real. It's because he's used as the poster child for a system that is fundamentally corrupt that he wants to change the system.
But what makes Redes watchable today is the fact that none of this has changed. Listen, I'm now so far left that everyone goes a little side-eyed at me. I hear me too. I know that Mexico might not be the best supporting evidence for socialism, but that's not the point. If art is meant to change people at their core through compelling storytelling, Redes does that. It's not like this is the first time we have heard this narrative either. I mean, when I made that connection with Steinbeck, there's only a quantum leap between this and The Grapes of Wrath. The story starts with the notion that there is only one way to get rich and that is to sell one's soul. Miguel is the one who is the dynamic character of the story. Miro starts upset at the rich for taking away his son. But Miguel is the one whose soul is at the center of the story. He's the one who wants to maintain the status quo. I mean, I get Miguel. Some money is better than no money. There's something comforting about generational poverty. When poverty is all you know, it's hard to think of the world in a different way.
But that's what makes Miguel interesting to watch. Miro is the protagonist of the piece. He's the one who leads the people to speak out and revolt against their paymasters. But Miguel comes across as one of the antagonists. Sure, he's no Don Anselmo or El Candidato. But Miguel is the major thing stopping the laborers from having a sense of unity against the people who hold the purse strings. He's the one throwing punches and ensuring that the fish get delivered as unharmed as possible. (That being said, those fish look pretty beat up. I mean, they were stepping all over them fish and that couldn't have been pleasant.) But like how Miro took great offense when people tried using him, the same thing happens to Miguel.
Once Miguel delivers the fish to El Candidato, he's offered double pay for his loyalty. (Technically, it's the rioters' pay, but in my head that's double.) He knows that Miro was assassinated for his beliefs, even though he was carried off. It's in this moment that he has his Judas Iscariot moment, minus the suicide. It's the payment that he receives that colors his soul. Like Judas, he gives up his 30 pieces of silver. Only in this case, Miguel is the new leader of the revolution. I mean, if I want to get personal, I almost understand this greater. I've been the pain in the butt to all the people in my life when I went from being pretty intensely Republican to pro-life Democrat. It's the knowledge that something you believed in manipulated you that really gets you. It's embarrassing. Miguel saw that a system that he invested in and sacrificed for wasn't just killing people metaphorically or spiritually. When he witnesses Miro's death, he realizes how much his paycheck actually was worth. MIro isn't killed for oodles of money. He's killed so the rich could stay richer and the poor could stay poorer.
I hate comparing this to Battleship Potemkin, but I can't help it. These are two movies that are remarkably progressive that are actually state sponsored. Neither country necessarily achieved good with these works, but I think we have to take something into account: correlation doesn't equal causation. Both countries were open to dictatorship. Because dictators aren't dummies, they championed causes in name only and delivered quite the opposite. But this movie is progressive as heck. Sure, Mexico didn't change the world with their labor awareness. But championing the poor and questioning the status quo is so fundamentally important to the human condition. This movie crushes it, even if it doesn't really offer much in terms of solution.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.