Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Viva Zapata!

Viva Zapata!; adventure drama, USA, 1952; D: Elia Kazan, S: Marlon Brando, Anthony Quinn, Joseph Wiseman, Jean Peters, Arnold Moss

After they visit the Mexican president Porfirio Díaz to complain about their land that was taken away from them by the government, the peasants led by Emiliano Zapata realize that the whole political top is part of their problem, not their solution. Zapata and his brother Eufemio start a rebellion which advances into the Mexican Revolution, conjoined by Pancho Villa from the north. After Diaz is ousted, the moderate Francisco Madero takes over the rule, but his general Huerta has him assassinated and thus creates a coup d'etat. Eufemio is killed while Zapata marries Josephine. In an ambush, Zapata is killed, but his white horse survives.

Nominated for five Oscars and winning one for best supporting actor Anthony Quinn, "Viva Zapata!" was boosted by the Academy Awards back in those days, but today it's a moderate viewing experience, sandwiched between two superior Elia Kazan-Marlon Brando collaborations, "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "On the Waterfront". The Mexican Revolution, a conflict with the biggest death toll played out entirely on the Western Hemisphere, is an interesting topic for a film, and even though Kazan manages to insert his strong-electrifying directorial style on numerous occasions, some parts were uninteresting or simply too standard and schematic for his talent, especially in the conventional second part, up until the poetic tragic ending with the white horse. The most banal moment is when a disobedient farmer openly speaks out against the government taking away his land and the angry Zapata, now part of the government himself, circles out his name on a paper, the identical way when dictator Diaz circled out his name when he spoke out about the same problem at the start of the movie, which was aimed at a jabbing the corruption of power and politics, yet luckily the movie is more skillful in other parts. The story is fictionalized, yet never glamorous (it bravely depicts how Josephine was not interested in Zapata when he was poor, but married him as soon as he gained power and wealth) whereas the undoubtedly best ingredient is Marlon Brando's powerful performance as the title hero. With this film, Brando won a BAFTA as best actor and thus started his back-to-back wins for the next three years, which were followed by "Julius Caesar" and "On the Waterfront".


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