29 June 2006 | winner55
Once Before a Time in Mexico
A direct remake of Sergio Leone's For a Few Dollars More, but with a heavy dose of post-modernism and Mexican politics. The post-modernism gives the film a sense of humor that defines it as a film unique to its time, the politics defines it as unique to its place.
The acting is intentionally flat. This is a film that is visually about icons and iconoclasm. It is meant to raise the question, can Mexico rid itself of its 19th century ethics and enter the 21st century? The film acknowledges that there is a certain nobility to those 19th century ethics, but, unfortunately, a great deal of corruption as well.
This is remarked in the title, which is a reference to the pistol the undercover cop carries, a pistol salvaged from obscurity by Sergio Leone. Hollywood westerns had long presented the gunfighters of the old West as carrying standard-barrel double-action colts - pulling the trigger both cocks the hammer and springs it down onto the shell to ignite the powder that sends the actual bullet to its destination. What Leone discovered, in researching A Few Dollars More was that most gunslingers actually carried long-barreled single-action revolvers, since, having been issued to officers in the Civil War, these were widely and cheaply available. This means that to get the hammer in position to strike the shell, one first had to cock it manually with one's thumb or with one's free hand. That's why in Leone's Westerns, when a pistol has to be fired several times in quick succession, the shooter has to fan the hammer with his free hand. The one mythic element that Leone retained from the old Hollywood Westerns was that pistols back then could be fired with deadly accuracy. Actually, they had virtually no accuracy at all. At the famous shoot-out at the OK Corrall between the Earps and the Clantons, Every shooter involved in the battle could - and needed to - empty their pistols and reload; in most film versions of it, the battle lasts about five minutes; actually it lasted the better part of an hour. Only three Clantons were killed, and two Earps wounded. So much for accuracy! And if this tells us anything, by analogy, about Mexican history and politics, it tells us they are in a bit of a mess.
To take this issue and turn it into a metaphor for the history and politics of Mexico is clearly a risky business, since so few people even know about such matters, so how are they to read the metaphor? That helps explain one reason this film was not popular.
The other reason of course is Gallardo's decision to abandon any effort at giving the film a professional gloss. Since Gallardo had some resources to draw on to give it some such gloss, the lack of it has to have been intentional; and the crude nature of some of the imagery, and most of the acting, give to the film a distinctly raw, "third-world" feel that separates it decisively from any film produced in the US, even low-budget independent films. Gallardo is taking a cue from El Mariachi - a cue Robert Roderiguez missed - and is trying to define a Mexican cinematic aesthetic different from any equivalent found north of the border. Frankly, I think that to a large extent he succeeded; and even where the effort completely fails, the effort is noble, and the result of the experiment fascinating to watch.
Also, I should point out that Roderiguez ripped this movie off for ideas in the making of "Once Upon a Time in Mexico."