Open City Documentary Festival

7 – 13 September 2022
in London

Rubén Gámez: Los murmullos + The Secret Formula

Location Ciné Lumière - Institut français, Date Event has passed

Los murmullos
Rubén Gámez | 1976 | Mexico | 25’ | digital

A portrait of Juchitepec – an abandoned agricultural community – and its inhabitants, who struggle to survive in extreme poverty conditions. Gámez listens to those who have nothing in this short film which recalls the poetic universe of Juan Rulfo’s work.

The Secret Formula
La fórmula secreta
Rubén Gámez | 1965 | Mexico | 42’ | 35mm

The Secret Formula is a surrealist cinematic essay exploring the myths of Mexican national identity in a frenzied, anarchic collage. A string of murderous sausages, a cow morphing into human form, a dying man injected with Coca-Cola; Gámez employs brutal editing techniques to construct a torrent of symbolic, hallucinatory imagery in which symbols of capitalism, economic colonialism and Mexican mainstream cinema are evoked and subverted.

The film was awarded the main prize at the First Experimental Film Contest in Mexico City – an event intended to challenge the outdated structures and production models that dominated the national cinema of the time – and would go on to play a pivotal and influential role in the development of Mexican experimental cinema.

In partnership with IMCINE – Instituto Mexicano de Cinematografía

Rubén Gámez (1928-2002)

by Alfredo Ruiz

Rubén Gámez (1928-2002) was a Mexican film director born in 1928 in Cananea, who began working in the world of advertising and became one of the cult figures in Mexican cinema. With only a few films, he achieved an expressive and experimental power that few filmmakers have achieved in Mexican cinema. His filmography includes only one feature film, Tequila, made in 1991, many years after his first short films Magueyes, La fórmula secreta and Los Murmullos. Gámez was able to experiment with cinematographic language and work with total freedom outside the film industry.

In his first film work in 1962, the short film Magueyes, Gámez explores an allegory of the Mexican revolution through the most iconic plant of the Mexican cultural imaginary, the maguey. Unlike Eisenstein and other authors who spoke on this subject, Gámez decides not to take a side in the struggle and although he makes his magueys fight through visual experimentation, the battle is that of nature.

The central film of his cinematographic work is La fórmula secreta (the original title was Kokakola en la sangre), an experimental short film in which, accompanied by the text of Juan Rulfo* and the voice of Jaime Sabines, he produced a searing critique of Mexican society that earned him first prize in the 1965 Experimental Film Contest. Organised by the Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Producción Cinematográfica, the contest, although short-lived, opened up the possibilities of experimentation within Mexican cinema.

In 1974 he made the film Los Murmullos, situated once more within the imaginary of Rulfo, in which we approach the inhabitants of the town of Juchitepec, their way of speaking and expressing themselves, their hands, the faces of a country that was not seen on the screens.

Undoubtedly, Gámez’s cinema proposed another way of making films and deconstructed the production models inherited from North America that, until this point, had shaped Mexican cinema. Although his work may have been little known at the time, it is a fundamental part of what was intended to be an avant-garde cinema and an important influence for future filmmakers.

The use of elements of national identity is present in all his works: tequila, magueys, the Mexican countryside. All these elements shape and run through Gámez’s films, even his unfinished works such as his film on Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas. In the words of Gámez: “My aim is to really create a Mexican cinema, the Mexican cinema of Rulfo. I believe that Mexican cinema should have its own experience, just as his painting does.” And yet, nothing is so far removed from the national identity and the official narratives of Mexicanness as his way of making films. Always in search of a visual and formal experimentation, a cinematic exploration that sought nothing more than to have its own voice, that sought to discomfort, but with images that remain in those who pass through his frames, that place us close to Rulfo’s literature, between life and death.

*Writer, screenwriter and photographer Juan Rulfo was one of the most important authors of the 20th century for Latin American literature, with works such as Pedro Páramo and El llano en llamas. His work, situated between the reality of the post-revolutionary Mexican countryside and fantasy, was a turning point for later narrative experimentation throughout Latin America.