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Arts & Culture

'Bleak Street' Gets Encore Engagement After San Diego Latino Film Festival Screening

Mini-luchadores are just one of the attractions in Arturo Ripstein's new film, “Bleak Street (La calle de la amargura)."
Leisure Time Features
Mini-luchadores are just one of the attractions in Arturo Ripstein's new film, “Bleak Street (La calle de la amargura)."

New film from Mexico's Arturo Ripstein is a treat for cinephiles

Film Review: 'Bleak Street"
KPBS film critic Beth Accomando reviews "Bleak Street."

“Bleak Street” played at the San Diego Latino Film Festival. KPBS film critic Beth Accomando says it’s playing through Thursday at the Digital Gym Cinema so more people will have a chance to see this great film. Arturo Ripstein is one of Mexico’s national treasures. In four decades of filmmaking, he’s delivered a series of dark, iconoclastic, and often wickedly funny films. He’s taken on the Church as well as government corruption. He’s also displayed a preference for social outcasts in various stages of desperation. And that’s precisely what you’ll get in his latest film, “Bleak Street.” CLIP Wrestling practice The film takes it’s inspiration from a true crime about two midget luchadors. Ripstein shoots in richly toned black and white, and looks with deep compassion as well as an absence of moral judgment to characters living on the fringes of society. It’s a luminously bleak tale from a master filmmaker. Beth Accomando, KPBS News.

Bleak Street (La calle de la amargura)” screened at the San Diego Latino Film Festival last week and now it’s playing at the Digital Gym Cinema so more people will have a chance to see this great film.

Arturo Ripstein is one of Mexico’s national treasures. In four decades of filmmaking, he’s delivered a series of dark, iconoclastic, and often wickedly funny films.

He’s challenged the Church in “The Holy Office” and government corruption in “In For Life.”

He has also displayed a preference for social outcasts in various stages of desperation who are usually trapped in a dysfunctional family.

In “Castle of Purity,” an authoritarian father locks his family in their home to keep the outside world from contaminating them; in “Hell Hath No Limits,” a male transvestite, his daughter and a macho truck driver form an odd ménage à trois; and in “Deep Crimson,” a mother leaves her two young children to the Church so that she can follow her lover on a murderous spree, which includes knocking off a widow with a statue of the Virgin Mary.

Ripstein, a third generation Mexican of Polish and Russian Jewish descent, grew up on the sets of his father's movies and the Mexican melodramas he often produced.

His first memories are of sitting on the lap of film editor Carlos Savage and watching images flicker on a little screen. The act of creating those images fascinated the 3-year-old Ripstein. Later his father, Alfredo Ripstein, Jr., took him to see Buñuel’s experimental film “Nazarin,” about the misadventures of a Catholic priest, and the teenaged Ripstein suddenly realized that film could be something more than ripe melodrama.

So he went to Buñuel, who was a friend of his father’s, to announce his intentions. Buñuel then became a mentor to the aspiring filmmaker. But Ripstein confesses that Buñuel was too “perfect” to learn any kind of technique from.

“What he taught me was rather a moral approach to film, which could basically be summed up by the idea of try not to betray yourself,” he said.

With his latest film, “Bleak Street (La calle de la amargura),” Ripstein continues to adhere to his particular kind of moral approach and there’s not a hint of betrayal to be found. The film is based on the 2009 true-crime story involving a pair of dwarf wrestling brothers named Alberto and Alejandro Jiménez.

Ripstein’s wife and long time collaborator Paz Alicia Garciadiego uses the real story as the catalyst for the script, which looks to a group of fringe dwellers — including the mini-luchadores and their families as well as the aging sex workers whose desperation prompts a crime — living in Mexico City.

The wrestlers struggle to survive as the kind of pre-show entertainment for the main luchadores while the prostitutes are being pressured off the streets by younger competition.

Ripstein shoots in richly toned black and white, and looks to these characters living on the fringes of society with deep compassion and an absence of moral judgment.

It’s a luminously bleak tale, free of any sentimentality, from a master filmmaker.

“Bleak Street (la calle de la amargura),” is in Spanish with English subtitles and is unrated but deals with mature themes. It screens through Thursday at the Digital Gym Cinema and is a must-see for cinephiles.

Listen to my interview with San Diego Latino Film Festival programmer Moises Esparza and my podcast about extreme Latin Cinema.

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