Salón México: Being a Fichera doesn't make you worthless.
December 10, 2019
Thanks to The New York Times for bringing this film to my attention.
Marga Lopez and Silvia Derbez on Salón México. Picture by Gabriel Figueroa. (1949)
The half of the 20th century was a time where the global humor was on the ground, the countless deaths, wars and economic crisis that happened on different parts of the world affected how each country felt, and art as always, played a role representing how people felt at the time, the despair and sadness they could be going through, maybe one of the examples could be that of "When a Woman Ascends the Stairs", released in 1960 and directed by Mikio Naruse, about a widow who has to work on a bar for a living, the only job where she could afford to live decently, the men come and go, and the financial stress keeps growing, but also, their heart stress, how she felt inside; "When a woman ascends the stairs" is an amazing work of art, but it's not the only one that criticized the way our societies worked, in 1949, in the peak of the golden age of Mexican cinema, Emilio Fernández, one of the most important directors of the period, released "Salón México", a film with a similar narrative to that of "When a woman ascends the stairs", also about a woman who has to work at a cabaret for a living, her name is Mercedes, she is participating with Paco at a danzón contest in order to win enough to pay the fee of the boarding school in which her sister is studying. The film starts with a lot of music, were at the Salón México, a place that functions in the same way as a cabaret, Paco and Mercedes dance, and while they do, Mercedes reminds Paco that he will get the cup for the contest and she is to get the money, Paco is sure they're going to win, because he blackmailed all the judges, they do win, however, it was all a hoax, Paco tricked her so he could get the cup and the 500 pesos all for his own, Mercedes needs the money, so he sneaks to Paco's hotel room to take the money, however, she was careless, when she lefts, a police officer sees her. Finally, the Sunday comes, the only day when Mercedes can see his sister, Beatriz, when Mercedes is leaving the school with Beatrix, they see the officer, he approaches them and after Mercedes explains the situation, the officer, named Lupe after the Virgin of Guadalupe, decides to excuse Mercedes's actions and vows to protect Mercedesin any way he can.
Lupe is an old widowed man, a police officer that watches over the intersection where the Salón México is located, but he'll have to prove that he will protect Mercedes. When the day that Mercedes has to go back to the Salón comes, she's found by Paco, who takes her to his hotel room to abuse her beat her, Lupe finds them and after a fight, he defeats Paco. Lupe meets after with Mercedes, both beaten up and in a bad shape, there they explain the situation they're going through and promise to help each other.
In a time where the Mexican cinematic environment was full of dramas about the sad ranchero, and pseudo-musical melodramas where there were always almost dreamy characters that embrace the very definition of the macho, Salón México appears as an antithesis to that, with characters that are both poor and have no way of having a happy ending, trying to survive a world that has everything against them. In this film, the cop proves almost incapable of protecting Mercedes from their inescapable(?) destiny as a Fichera and shows a fixated man forcing a woman to follow him, even when she constantly refused to even be with him. Fernandez shows in his work, that the eventual demise of Mercedes wasn't because of her but because of a man that inexplicably only wanted her, a path that took what he most desired and himself to their destruction. "Salón México" also defines a mother not as just the one who gives birth, but the one who cares and almost destroys itself for another person, because some women are more mothers than a woman who gives birth.
Salón México is a film that has been neglected by his copyright owners (Televisa), and still lives to this day quietly thanks to the internet, you can watch it on YouTube
By Óscar Díaz
Published on Film
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