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Fifty Years After Golden Age, Mexican Film Shines

By Adriana Valdes

Half a century after the end of its golden age, the Mexican film industry was back in the international spotlight Tuesday with record Oscar nominations for three Mexicans.

"Mexican cinema, as it was a long time ago, is now on international platforms, better than ever," said Pedro Armendariz, head of the Mexican Academy of Cinematographic Arts and Sciences.

But, unused to Mexican success in Hollywood, filmmakers and actors played down the chances of the films "Y Tu Mama Tambien" and "El Crimen del Padre Amaro" or actress Salma Hayek taking a statuette at the Academy Awards March 23.

"The competition is very tough, the Zhang Yimou film ("Hero") is very strong and good," Carlos Carrera, director of "El Crimen del Padre Amaro" (The Crime of Father Amaro), told Reuters.

Hayek became the first Mexican woman in the Oscars' 75-year history to be nominated for best actress.

Her performance in "Frida," a portrait of angst-ridden Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, has been widely criticized in Mexico as lightweight.

"I don't think Salma Hayek makes a good Frida. She was only chosen because of her fame in Hollywood," said Leonor Bahnsen, a visitor to Kahlo's former home in Mexico City.

The blue house, which Kahlo shared with muralist and fellow Communist Diego Rivera, is now a museum.

Bahnsen was skeptical that Hayek, who performed in "Wild Wild West," would beat out the likes of nominees Nicole Kidman and Renee Zellweger on Oscar night.

"They only ever give prizes to the gringos, not Mexicans," she said, using a slang term for English speakers.

The last Mexican actress nominated for an Oscar was Katy Jurado for her supporting role as Spencer Tracy's stubborn Indian wife in "Broken Lance" in 1954.

That was at the tail end of the 20-year period referred to as the golden age of Mexican cinema, when fiery actresses like Dolores del Rio and Maria Felix stomped across the black-and-white screens. Leading men, often haughty and macho, included Jorge Negrete and Pedro Infante.

Mexican cinema was extremely popular in Latin American and Spanish movie theaters until U.S. blockbusters began to force them out of the market in the 1950s.

The Mexican film industry declined in the 1960s and 1970s, churning out cheesy, low-budget sex-and-violence movies.

The recent crop of Mexican movies have raised some hackles in this mostly Roman Catholic country of 100 million people.

The church has slammed "El Crimen del Padre Amaro," in which a priest seduces a 16-year-old girl, as offensive to Catholics.

"Y Tu Mama Tambien," nominated this year for best original screenplay, raised a few eyebrows in Mexico for its sexual content. It deals with a love triangle between two Mexican youths and a Spanish woman. Both films star Gael Garcia.

 
 
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