Confirming Arturo Ripstein’s standing as Mexico’s foremost auteur, “No One Writes to the Colonel” is a deeply moving adaptation of one of Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s finest works. This tale of an old couple’s painful memories and false hopes is directed by Ripstein in full command of his craft. Pic will be much in demand on the fest circuit, and is sure to make its mark in international arthouse territory.
After the baroque delirium of his previous “Divine,” helmer has returned to a simpler, linear narrative. Set in a small, coastal Mexican town in the late ’40s, “No One Writes to the Colonel” describes the dire existence of the title character (Fernando Lujan), a retired army officer who fought in the anticlerical Cristeros war, and his asthmatic wife, Lola (Marisa Paredes). Both are emotionally scarred by the recent death of their only son, Agustin, and are going through hard times, as money has turned scarce and eviction from their home is imminent because of an unpaid mortgage.
The Colonel sets his hopes on two dreams; the arrival by mail of his pension, due 27 years ago, and the winning potential of a fighting cock, the sole inheritance of his late son. Weakened by her ill health and distracted only by occasional visits to the local cinema, Lola maintains a more pragmatic view of their predicament. Although she insists on selling the cock, her husband holds on to it like a fetish.
Screenwriter Paz Alicia Garciadiego’s adaptation is faithful to the storyline of Garcia Marquez’ novella, but adds a few elements that enrich the drama, including a new character, compassionate hooker Julia (Salma Hayek), who had a relationship with Agustin. In her second role in a Mexican feature (after Jorge Fons’ “Midaq Alley”), Hayek lends a poignant note to the proceedings with her brief appearance.
Other supporting characters also contribute to a recognition that life is a complex flow of events in which every person has reasons for his actions. In Ripstein’s dramatic perspective there’s no room for the basic concepts of good and evil; in their place we find the interaction of contradictory emotions under the inexorable hand of fate.
Pic’s dense visual style owes to Ripstein’s thoughtful mise-en-scene; aided by Guillermo Granillo’s skilled lensing, the director creates an atmosphere of pathos and decay out of shabby, dimly lit interiors where the camera frequently settles upon the characters’ reflections on rusty mirrors.
Returning to cinema after decades of absence, veteran Lujan portrays the Colonel with the right touch of childlike innocence. But the show belongs to versatile Spanish thesp Paredes, who gives a nuanced performance of hurtful dignity and quiet rage.
Instead of a typical Mexican sound, score by Yank composer David Mansfield strives for an unspecified Latin American feel with quasi-Italian overtones.