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Vamonos con Pancho Villa: A war with no ideals, a war with no heroes.

December 13, 2019

By Óscar Alfonso Díaz

Domingo Soler as Pancho Villa on ¡Vámonos con Pancho Villa!. Picture by Gabriel Figueroa.

Domingo Soler as Pancho Villa on ¡Vámonos con Pancho Villa!. Picture by Gabriel Figueroa.

I had been looking forward to seeing this film for a very long time, the Mexican culture ministry calls it the best Mexican film of all times, and it's actually an interesting story. Let's go with Pancho Villa is a film that released on a period where Mexico was just beginning a phase of idealization of all it's heroes, in some regions Zapata, on another Madero, and possibly the most celebrated during that time could be Francisco Villa, that had a played a huge role on the 20th-century pop culture for a long time, one that faded before the 21th century, but one that shaped the way Mexican people looked at the revolution (especially thanks to the work of Ismael Rodríguez), most importantly on the films released during the Mexican golden age of cinema, a time where nationalism was at its peak.

The film proved to be a financial disaster, being overshadowed by the musical Allá en el Rancho Grande, directed by Fernando De Fuentes as well. Vamonos con Pancho Villa also proved to be a disaster with the public, and doomed the rest of De Fuentes's career, making him a less defiant director. Vamonos con Pancho Villa tells the story of six guys that one day decide to join the ranks of the revolutionaries, they want to find honor and to prove themselves real men, they join the forces of the general Pancho Villa, one of the most renowned participants of the revolt, Villa promises that if they follow him they won't ever be in need of anything, people idolize him, and he is a very impressive man, that shows himself worthy of that respect.

Villa approves the gang joining his ranks, and so Tiburcio Maya, Melitón Botello, Miguel Ángel del Toro, Martín Espinosa, and the Perea brothers end up joining the group, at first they don't look like they would make good elements, but after a few fights against the government, they end up among the most talented of the bunch, they even end up called "The Lions of San Pablo" because of their amazing skills on the battlefield. However, they may have proved themselves the bravest but the fantasy starts wearing off fast, the war proves to be harsher than anything they've ever experienced, and as the battle goes on their ideals start making less sense, until they're just fighting for nothing, dying for nothing.

One by one, the gang starts to die, each one on the battlefield, De Fuentes criticizes directly the war, and shows that honor and bravery are worth nothing, as one metaphor that appears on the film, the one who dies is to be considered a failure, but why would it be? If the one who dies on war was just unlucky, dying on war could be like throwing a dice, they're just holding to their luck, and the ones most celebrated are not the bravest or the boldest, but just a few lucky ones.

The film doesn't celebrate the Mexican revolution, and it doesn't make a hero out of Francisco Villa, the film shows a human Francisco Villa, one that wants to gain the trust of people, who existed, who didn't understand everything and most importantly a man who feared, and that could take irrational desitions out of that fear. In the end, the film is not a satisfying experience, in the sense that you don't end up feeling motivated, and you don't want to celebrate war because to do it, it would be a praise of the killing, of the madness and the fear.

According to the Mexican Culture Secretary, Vamonos con Pancho Villa was hated by the public, the critics and the box office, in a time where films used to screen for years, this film only screened for a single week, only to be forgotten and neglected by its owners who didn't care about the art but for the money.

Vamonos con Pancho Villa is based on the homonymous book by Rafael F. Muñoz, who helped on the writing of the screenplay, the film appeals to historical accuracy, having an impressive production design that represents almost perfectly a war that happened just a decade before the film, it is one of the first works of master cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa, who photographed Salón México masterfully just a decade and a half after, Vamonos con Pancho Villa doesn't have the incredible beauty that future works by Figueroa had, but it is indeed an interesting look at his later work. The film is definitely an anomaly, and I can say that it is one of the best works made in Mexico, a film, both thrilling and emotional that can serve as a good look at a time long gone and an event not analyzed critically by people today.

Vamonos con Pancho Villa was remastered in 2010 by the Filmoteca UNAM, and can be streamed on Mexico via the Mexican Culture Secretary streaming service filminlatino.mx

Published on Film


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