Redes—literally, Nets, but portentously called The Wave in the U.S.—is a film of considerable historical interest and social import. Begun in 1933 and encountering a rocky road of production, which a national election further interrupted, it was finally released in 1936. Marshaling documentary realism (indeed, the film had originally been planned as a documentary), including the use of locals rather than professional actors (except for the lead role), it essays in close detail the grassroots evolution of labor organizing among exploited fishermen in an impoverished Mexican fishing community. In surprising ways, it anticipates elements of both Luchino Visconti’s La terra trema (1948) and Herbert J. Biberman’s Salt of the Earth (1954)—although one must add that the absence of the latter’s marked feminism, with but one female character totemically appearing on the periphery, partly accounts for a certain aridity in the earlier film.
Co-directed by Emilio Gómez Muriel and Fred Zinnemann, it is framed by shots of the tumultuous sea. In the first instance, the image symbolizes the community’s struggle for survival; at the last, this has been transformed into an image of steely determination by workers to confront and oppose the capitalistic forces and their human representatives that have been exacerbating this struggle. Near the beginning of the film Miro, the young protagonist, is shown burying one of his children, a casualty of illness for which poverty prohibited medical attention and treatment; near the end of the film, Miro’s own funeral is the result of collusion between the imperious owner of the fishing boats and the politician he has hired to assassinate Miro. Miro is the one who has been organizing the fishermen.
A superlative image early on finds Miro coming up empty after casting his net; a later shot images a line of fishermen through the deceptively delicate outdoor “imprisonment” of a strung fishing net.
A silent film except for dialogue, the celebrated score by Silvestre Revueltas and the sound of the single gunshot that fells Miro (which may have been added later), Redes is rigorously, appropriately and appealingly distanced, creating its own artistic realm in which we recognize the travails of workers in our own world. The “flat” acting, also appropriate and appealing, contributes as well to this distancing effect. Some may feel (as I do) that the result is at times mannered and stilted, and it is inappropriate and digressive, and close to ridiculous, that Paul Strand’s camera dawdles on the “sensitive” looks of Silvio Hernández, who plays Miro, against cloudy skies; but the virtues of the film far outweigh any faults.
From a story by Agustín Velázquez Chávez and Strand, the script is by Gómez Muriel, Zinnemann and Henwar Rodakiewicz, with John Dos Passos, no less, and Leo Hurwitz contributing the original English subtitles to the film’s spoken Spanish.
Perhaps it will come to me, but I do not see the close affinity to the cinema of Eisenstein that others insist on, nor do I detect the influence of Flaherty that Zinnemann himself insisted on.
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