The father of contemporary comedy in Mexico, Mario Moreno Reyes, “Cantinflas,” is also the title of the film now showing, directed by Sebastian del Amo, nominated by the Mexican Academy of Cinematographic Arts and Sciences to represent Mexico for the Oscar for Best Foreign-Language Film.
For many, Moreno was not only Mexico’s father of comedy, but the father of the Republic’s modern entertainment industry.
Though that is a large claim, and one contested by some in the entertainment field, it’s clear that for 50 years Moreno — as Cantinflas — was the most well-known, and most well-liked, living Mexican. A bus driver in Guatemala once told me that Cantinflas was the “most famous Mexican since that pistolero ‘Pepe’ Villa.” In the 1980s a cabbie in Mexico City confided that not only was Cantinflas “bigger and better known than (then-President) Miguel de la Madrid,” but that the comedian should be the president.
In actual fact, many Mexicans have agreed with the hackie: in several of Mexico’s presidential elections he polled thousands of write-in votes.
Mario Moreno made his first film in 1936, and though the changes in Mexico’s film industry since have been awesome and countless, his mischievous, absurdist and earnest peladito (literally, a “little hairless person,” but meaning, a poor little guy) remained a pacesetter through his last film, “El Barrendero” (“The Street Sweeper”) in 1981.
This is no slight achievement. Mexico’s film industry made its way in often torturous fashion beyond threadbare productions to the advent of improved sound, new cameras, from dilapidated warehouse studios to big studios, then to shrinking studios, government studios, big color, big budgets, the near-collapse of the industry, huge South American sales, booming U.S. sales, the shadow of government censors and overseers, enthusiasm for Mexican cowboys, mania for romantic singing stars, rivalries with television, video cassette recorders, rock and roll, on to digital cutting and computerized sound, special effects and more recently computerized imagery.