Review: ‘The Mexican Suitcase’

The discovery of 4,500 photographic negatives shot by famed war photographers Robert Capa, Gerda Taro and David "Chim" Seymour during the Spanish Civil War is given respectful treatment by writer-director Trisha Ziff.

The discovery of 4,500 photographic negatives shot by famed war photographers Robert Capa, Gerda Taro and David “Chim” Seymour during the Spanish Civil War is given respectful treatment in writer-director Trisha Ziff’s “The Mexican Suitcase.” Perhaps caught up in the heady excitement of the find, Ziff (instrumental in bringing it to public attention) packs in too many elements of the war and its aftermath, and an excess of talking heads, for the film to comfortably carry. Tony cablers are likely buyers.

As arranged by Capa’s darkroom technician, the suitcase was transported from Spain at war’s end to Mexico, where Spanish Republican exiles were openly welcomed. The careful organization of the negative rolls in the valise contrasts with its bizarre neglect once it ended up in a Mexico City apartment, where it was finally spotted by filmmaker Ben Tarver. The thrilling frontline photography — unique in its era — serves here to illustrate the many stories of exiles — and analysis by authors and historians — including Sebastiaan Faber (excellent) and Juan Villoro (pretentious). The emotional content is best expressed through several achingly beautiful music selections by Michael Nyman, who also co-produced.

The Mexican Suitcase

Mexico

Production

A 212 Berlin and Mallerich Films Paco Poch presentation in association with Alicorn Films/Conaculta-Imcine/Foprocine in co-production with Television Espanola. Produced by Eamon O'Farrill, Trisha Ziff, Poch. Co-producers, Victor Cavaller, Andres Luque, Michael Nyman. Directed, written by Trisha Ziff.

Crew

Camera (color/B&W, DV), Claudio Rocha; editors, Luis Lopez, Paloma Carillo, Bernat Aragones; music, Michael Nyman. Reviewed at DocuWeeks, Los Angeles, Sept. 7, 2011. (Also in San Sebastian, Karlovy Vary, Los Angeles Latino film festivals.) Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Ben Tarver, Juan Villoro, Sebastiaan Faber, Susan Meiselas, Emiliana Claraco, Anthony L. Geist, Francesc Torres (Spanish, English dialogue)

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