Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Latin American, Iberian and Latino Cultures


Paul Julian Smith

Committee Members

Magdalena Perkowska

Oswaldo Zavala

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | Film and Media Studies | Latin American Languages and Societies | Visual Studies


Mexican cinema, Felipe Cazals, Arturo Ripstein, Jonas Cuaron, Alfonso Cuaron, Fernando Eimbcke, Roberto Fiesco, Claudia Sainte-Luce, Alonso Ruizpalacios


This dissertation aims to address generic preoccupations between fiction and documentary film, while also providing a historical analysis of two decades in Mexican cinema, the 1970s and the 2000s. It looks at nine Mexican fiction films that rely on the conventions of documentary in both form and content. Whether through a fictionalized historical recreation, a “mockumentary style,” or a clear interest in the reality of everyday life, each one of these films plays with the boundaries of documentary and fiction. While the influence of documentary is quite evident in some, in others, this influence remains subtle. In my examination of each respective decade, I use documentary film theory to understand the rhetoric of films that illustrate social tensions and preoccupations. Though the 1970s are generally considered to be a weak time for Mexican cinema, both commercially and artistically, this period marks the emergence of auteur filmmakers—like Felipe Arturo Ripstein and Felipe Cazals—who have become some of Mexico’s most notable directors. As proven by the work created by these auteur directors at this time, the 1970s did in fact produce quality films, despite the perceived weakness of this period. In my dissertation, I will link this decade with the 2000s, giving attention to an understudied decade in Mexican filmmaking and tracing the trajectory of its influence to the effervescence of Mexican cinema three decades later.

I begin with an analysis of El castillo de la pureza (Arturo Ripstein, 1973), Canoa: una memoria vergonzosa (Felipe Cazals, 1975), and Las Poquianchis (Felipe Cazals, 1975), which are auteur films that allude to the violent influence of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional in both urban and rural Mexico. The second part of this project looks at Mexican films from the 2000s. While on the one hand, there is a stark contrast between the two periods I will analyze in this dissertation, on the other, there are several formal qualities that link these otherwise unrelated decades in Mexican cinema. Though the lack of attention paid to Mexican film in the 1970s is dissimilar to the surge in critical and commercial interest in the country’s cinematic production in the new millennium, in formal and thematic ways, the films and auteurs that I discuss in the first part of this project are, in fact, related to those examined in the second part. Incidentally, each film examined in this second section—Temporada de patos (Fernando Eimbcke, 2004), Año uña (Jonás Cuarón, 2007), Quebranto (Roberto Fiesco, 2013), and Los insólitos peces gato (Claudia Sainte Luce, 2013)—addresses everyday life in post-PRI Mexico with attention paid to the family home. Like the films included in the first part of this dissertation, these fiction films use documentary aesthetics to illustrate quotidian life, except for Quebranto, which is, despite its elaborately designed mise-en-scène and highly stylized sequences, classified generically as a documentary. The final chapter connects my two periods by looking at Museo (Alonso Ruizpalacios, 2018) and Roma (Alfonso Cuarón, 2018). Both are historical recreations of real events that appeal to twenty-first century viewers with sophisticated cinematography and editing. In addition to contributing to an understanding of the growing influence of documentary in Mexico, this project looks at works that were well received in international festival circuits but had less success in the Mexican commercial cinema market.