Fever Mounts at El Pao

1959 [FRENCH]


IMDb Rating 6.8 10 1224

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November 01, 2021 at 07:32 PM



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Movie Reviews

Reviewed by claudio_carvalho 7 / 10

Political Melodrama

In the fictitious island of Ojeda, people lives a dictatorship and the island is a penal colony of forced labor with ordinary and political prisoners together. When the Governor Mariano Vargas (Miguel Ángel Ferriz) is murdered by a sniper, his idealistic secretary Ramón Vázquez (Gérard Philipe) is assigned director of security and in charge of the prison. Vázquez is in love with the widow Inés Rojas (Maria Felix) and they have a love affair. But when the new governor Alejandro Gual Miguel (Jean Servais) arrives in the island, he wants Inés to be his lover. Further he forces the killer to sign a false confession telling that Vázquez is the responsible for the attempt against the previous governor and blackmails Inés. But Inés is a female fatale that knows the political games and manipulations.

"La fièvre monte à El Pao" is a political melodrama by Buñuel based on politics instead of his famous surrealism. The theme politics was adopted by Costa-Gravas years later and Glauber Rocha probably wrote his "Terra em Transe" inspired in this movie. Inés Rojas is a femme fatale but the plot is not a film-noir, only the story of an idealistic man that joins politics in a dictatorship and finds how difficult is keep his ideals. My vote is seven.

Title (Brazil): "Os Ambiciosos" ("The Ambitious")

Reviewed by Bunuel1976 7 / 10

REPUBLIC OF SIN (Luis Bunuel, 1959) ***

With this, I begin a complete Luis Bunuel retrospective - in preparation for a proposed series of talks my twin brother Roderick and I have been invited to hold about our favorite film-maker. In keeping with the latter's own hatred of symmetry, I opted to start with those titles I am only marginally familiar with...but in reverse chronological order! Ironically, while REPUBLIC OF SIN was among the first films of his that I watched (on late-night Italian TV), it remains one of his least-known (and hardest-to-find) efforts. Indeed, recently I have had to speedily provide an Italian "Facebook" friend of mine with a copy of it - on account of a journalist acquaintance of his who was writing an article on the film itself! Though I concede it is only a minor work in Bunuel's canon, the rewards one reaps from the picture are still considerable - infused as it is with most of his typical concerns (right from the opening narration denouncing a quaint monastery as a symbol of European/Catholic oppression on the fictitious South American island on which it is exclusively set!).

The film - which would eventually be remade for French TV in 1993 - is perhaps best-remembered today for being the swan-song of its popular, handsome and talented leading man, Gerard Philipe, who died of cancer that same year at the young age of 36! Bunuel, having met him on the set of Yves Allegret's THE PROUD ONES (1953), had long wanted to work with the French star and, over the next few years, had unsuccessfully tried to set up adaptations of THE MONK (eventually filmed in 1973 with Franco Nero from Bunuel's own script) and THE HORSEMAN ON THE ROOF (filmed in 1995 from long-term Bunuel collaborator Jean-Claude Carriere's script) for this purpose! Though Philipe's customary sprightly charm was not required by the sullen premise anyway, the effect of the illness can be seen in his gaunt features and especially the character's own psychological/physical torment during the movie's latter stages. The fact, then, that the subject of a possible future with the heroine is often breached (but, sensibly, not attained) during the course of the film makes the whole all the more poignant. Incidentally, his naïve idealism is such that he even allows himself into an executive position, serving bosses that are always intrinsically corrupt. Actually, he is berated for this by his former mentor, now a political prisoner in the penal colony of El Pao. Even when Philipe becomes acting Governor himself, he has to answer to the State President (shown in just one scene as having more consideration for his prize horse than the nation he purports to lead) and, in a society stifled by bureaucratic red tape, the most subversive act of rebellion he can muster is to tear up the paperwork!

Philipe is wonderfully supported by Maria Felix, the most famous Mexican actress, who had previously worked in Italy in the somewhat hysterical 1951 peplum MESSALINA and in France, for Jean Renoir, on FRENCH CANCAN (1954). Here she portrays the despotic Governor's sultry but unloving wife. The former's murder at his birthday celebrations - in which famished peasants rush towards the tantalizing slabs of meat on defiant display - sets the narrative in motion; his successor (the splendid Jean Servais of RIFIFI [1955] fame) is equally despicable and soon he too embarks on a masochistic relationship with Felix (metaphorically essayed in a bullfighting scene where a matador is gored to death as one is wooing the other). Actually, Felix had fallen for Philipe (after the customary initial friction pertaining to class structure) and she dutifully intercedes on his behalf with the suavely sadistic Servais (at one point, he humiliatingly has her disrobe in his office!). Indeed, the director inserts his usual quota of sexual tension (involving Felix and the various men in her life) into an already ironic and twist-laden narrative: Philipe and Felix 'organize' a prison revolt for which they hope Servais will be blamed and expelled from office but, really, he had secretly planned it all along so as to eliminate the political prisoners! The central couple then think of leaving the island for good but Philipe, guilt-ridden over the futile massacre, has second thoughts...which leads to Felix perishing in a car explosion while fleeing a checkpoint; finally, Philipe (a fervent political activist off-screen) condemns himself by wilfully disobeying his superior's orders.

The end result is the director's most overtly political film but also his least favorite among those he shot in the French language! Even so, it is aided immeasurably by frequent collaborator Gabriel Figueroa's harsh monochrome photography - a trademark of Bunuel's Mexican period; the film, in fact, can pretty much be seen as a companion piece to his more readily enjoyable DEATH IN THE GARDEN (1956), similarly a French co-production set on an island beset with political turmoil and, like that film, it also benefits from a notable musical score by Paul Misraki.

Even if I watched REPUBLIC OF SIN on a 40" TV screen, a lot of the time I could not keep up with the Italian subtitles (though my having studied French at school helped and the plot was, in any case, not all that difficult to follow) - while my Pioneer DVD had intermittent playback issues by freezing between chapters and occasionally letting out a deafening screech!

Reviewed by morrison-dylan-fan 8 / 10

Mounting fever.

With Easter coming up,I decided to start searching round for a rare title from auteur film maker Luis Buñuel,that I could give to a friend as a holiday present.As I began searching for a Buñuel title,I decided to finally take a look at an actress which I had seen a fellow IMDber mention in a number of posts,called María Félix.

Checking Félix's credits,I was happily caught by surprise,when I discovered that she had made a movie with Buñuel!,which led to me getting ready to climb up the mountains of El Pao.

View on the film:

Filming his adaptation of Henri Castillou's novel in France,co- writer/(along with Luis Alcoriza/ Charles Dorat & Louis Sapin)director Luis Buñuel and cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa bake the film in a scorching hot South American heat,with Buñuel using superb long tracking shots to show the tension in the fictional country starting to bubble over.

Using the assassination as a starting pistol, Buñuel makes white the main colour for the title,with each of the would-be leaders wearing crisp white suits,which Buñuel subtly darkens/soils,as they get pulled closer to the murky political world of the country.

Toning down the famous surreal aspects in Buñuel's work,the writers take an extremely sharp political strike with the film,as the residences hopes of change are shown to be pushed aside,as the people in power are shown to be so self-focused,that they keep allowing their citizens to end up in the same shackles that they were in before.

Along with the effect that the killing has on the residence,the writers also brilliantly show a decaying Film Noir world of the country's political leaders,as each of their ideas fade away,to be replaced by a ruthless thrust for holding on to power in any way possible.

Giving the title a shot of Film Noir,the alluring María Félix gives a fantastic femme fatale performance as Inés Rojas,with Félix peeling Rojas playfulness layer by layer,to reveal a dame who is determined to walk over any man who gets in the way of Rojas grip on power.

Tragically dying from cancer during the making of the title, (which led to parts of the movie having to be re-written,and a body double also being used) Gérard Philipe gives an excellent final performance as Ramón Vázquez,thanks to Philipe showing a wide-eye sense of excitement in Vázquez hopes of changing the political climate in the country,which gradually gets shadowed by feeling of betrayal & fear,as Vázquez finds fever continuing to mount in El Pao.

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