An unfinished short film by still-photographer Manuel Alvarez Bravo and fabled movie-lenser Gabriel Figueroa about their friend, painter Diego Rivera, is the topic of “A Portrait of Diego: The Revolutionary Gaze.” Docu promises to unite these three brilliant image-makers of post-revolutionary Mexico. Yet, helmed by Figueroa’s son, Gabriel Figueroa Flores, and Rivera’s grandson, Diego Lopez (with Bravo’s daughter participating), docu first appears disappointingly formless, as the offspring natter on about their famous ancestors. Almost imperceptibly, however, the paintings, photographs and films of these three towering figures take over, filling the screen, all the more potent for emerging from such bland beginnings.
As the astonishing murals by Rivera, iconic photos by Bravo and clips from Figueroa’s films succeed one another, a clear kinship of form and content materializes. Simultaneously, the unprepossessing 50-year-old Kodachrome footage, somewhat perversely shot by Bravo and produced by Figueroa, assumes the role of live-action glossary for the visual forms of which all three artists partook — the rounded shapes of shawled peasant women and the sensuously mortuary calla lilies. Rivera died before his friends could wrap.