Helmer wanted commercial film with international appeal

MEXICO CITY — Today’s long-awaited bow of $10 million biopic “Zapata,” the most expensive film in Mexican history, could cause a revolution of its own among local film buffs if reactions to its Tuesday night premiere are an indicator.

Many in the 8,000-strong aud at Mexico City’s National Auditorium complained that helmer Alfonso Arau’s film was unfaithful to the life of Emiliano Zapata, the revolutionary hero murdered in 1919 who is a symbol of leftist reform.

Zapata, played by crooner Alejandro Fernandez, speaks the Indian language Nahuatl in the pic while the real Zapata did not. Others complained about the magical realism — Zapata is presented as the reincarnation of pre-Columbian god Quetzalcoatl.

Arau said that he tried to make a commercial film with international appeal rather than a faithful re-creation of the Mexican general’s life. “I am not a historian but a storyteller,” Arau said in a press conference.

The debate over the film’s content, which at moments provoked laughter among the premiere audience, is the latest challenge for “Zapata.”

Arau signed on to the project, originally set to be shot in English, in 1997, only to see Universal drop out.

Controversy later arose when he cast Fernandez as the singer had almost no acting experience. Further skepticism arose when Arau chose pop singer Lucero for one of the female roles.

Arau struggled to secure financing, refusing cash from the government film funding board, and then spent far longer in post-production than expected.

Pic missed its screening date in the Guadalajara Film Festival in March and canceled a gala premiere April 13.

Distrib Videocine is releasing it on 430 copies, a huge bow for a local pic, and is betting that it can break the all-time box office record for a Mexican film, $16.6 million, set by “The Crime of Father Amaro.”

Cinepolis, Cinemex and Cinemark, three of Mexico’s four largest exhibitors, all began advanced ticket sales for the film last Friday.

(Anna Marie de la Fuente in Hollywood contributed to this report).

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