Nazarín, photos by Manuel Álvarez Bravo

Follow the lesser known path of this famous photographer, who was an active member of the Mexican film industry.

By Fundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Technical team for "Nazarín" (1958) by Julio MayoFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Manuel Álvarez Bravo is considered to be one of the most important authors of modern photography in Latin America and a fundamental figure in Mexican culture of the twentieth century. Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexico City 1902-2002) was enraptured by moving images and an industry that became the third most important in the country during the so-called "Golden Age" of Mexican cinema. His successful career as a photographer was parallel to the development of national cinematography with which he maintained important links.

Actress María Elena Marqués in a scene of "Capullito de alelí" (1944) by Manuel Álvarez BravoFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Poster for "Capullito de alelí" (1944) by Josep SpertFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Antonio Badú in "Cantaclaro" (1945) by Manuel Álvarez BravoFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

In 1931, along with a group of intellectuals and artists, he founded the Cineclub de México to “create an environment favorable to the emergence of a Mexican cinematographic art”. In that context, he discovered Luis Buñuel’s surrealist cinema, accompanied the Russian director Sergei Eisenstein for several locations of ¡Que viva México! [Thunder over Mexico] and collaborated with photographer Emilio Amero in the filming of Viaje a la Luna [Journey to the Moon], an avant-garde film written by the Andalusian poet Federico García Lorca, who sought to open a dialogue through the cinema with his close friend Buñuel. Amero's movie –like Eisenstein's— was never finished.

Still from "Deseada" (1950) by Manuel Álvarez BravoFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Scene from "La perla" (1945) by Manuel Álvarez BravoFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

With the resources obtained by winning a photo contest organized by the cement company La Tolteca, Álvarez Bravo bought the film camera used in the filming of ¡Que viva México! [Thunder Over Mexico] by cameraman Eduard Tissé, and in 1934 he traveled to Tehuantepec to make his first rehearsals that he edited into a short film titled Disparos en el Istmo [Shooting in the Isthmus], which he presented at the Cineclub de Mexico in June 1935.

Still from "Subida al cielo" (first collaboration of Álvarez Bravo with Luis Buñuel) (1951) by Manuel Álvarez BravoFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Poster for "Subida al cielo", designed from a photograph of Álvarez Bravo (1905-05) by Juan Antonio Vargas BrionesFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Technical and artistic team for "Nazarín" (1905-05-11) by Manuel Álvarez BravoFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

At the end of that decade, he met French writer, André Breton, who thought of Álvarez Bravo as one of the most prominent heirs of the surrealist avant-garde movement and included him among the artists of the International Exhibition of Surrealism, inaugurated at the Mexican Art Gallery, in January 1940. Álvarez Bravo never saw himself as part of this movement, but his brief relationship with Breton helped spread the myth of Mexican surrealism.

The director Luis Buñuel during the filming of a scene from "Nazarín" (1958) by Manuel Álvarez BravoFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Actor Francisco Rabal as Father Nazario (1958) by Manuel Álvarez BravoFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

The Mexican photographer was already a recognized figure in the international artistic environment when in 1943 he joined the Union of Film Industry Workers (STIC) as a stillman, working alongside stars like Jorge Negrete —Una carte de amor [A Letter of Love] ( Miguel Zacarías)— and Pedro Infante —Viva mi desgracia [I Love to Suffer] (Roberto Rodríguez).

Andara fights at the Mesón de los Héroes with La Camella (1958) by Manuel Álvarez BravoFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Duel between the prostitutes Andara and La Camella (1958) by Manuel Álvarez BravoFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

In 1945, a sedition inside the STIC led by the cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa and the actors Mario Moreno, also known as Cantinflas ,and Jorge Negrete, resulted in the creation of the new Union of Cinematographic Production Workers (STPC). Álvarez Bravo took advantage of the moment to present his candidacy for the cinematographer position. He had the support of Gabriel Figueroa and Alex Phillips, but, in spite of that, the request was rejected in the voting.

The prostitutes Andara and La Prieta (1958) by Manuel Álvarez BravoFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Luis Buñuel directs the scene in which Father Nazario is humiliated and beaten in jail (1958) by Manuel Álvarez BravoFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Álvarez Bravo continued to create thousands of advertising images for a cinema typecast in the genres that cemented his commercial success: melodramas, ranch comedies, horror movies, rumberas, wrestlers... However, he also produced some outstanding images under the orders of the most important directors: Cantaclaro with Julio Bracho (1945); La perla [The Pearl] with Emilio Fernández (1945); La diosa arrodillada [The Kneeling Goddess] (1947) and Deseada [Desired] (1950) with Roberto Gavaldón; and Subida al cielo [Mexican Bus Ride] (1951) and Nazarín (1958) with Luis Buñuel.

Paco Rabal as Father Nazario (1958) by Manuel Álvarez BravoFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Beatriz during an outburst of ecstasy at the Mesón de los Héroes (1958) by Manuel Álvarez BravoFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

The director Luis Buñuel takes a break from the filming "Nazarín" for a haircut (1958) by Manuel Álvarez BravoFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

In Nazarín, almost at the end of his film career, he found a project with which he shared aesthetic affinities and coincided with his own ideal cinema model: “visual magic, imagination overflowing, [and] poetry as a dynamic concept”, far from “the filthy 'pink novel’ and its disgusting dramatics and puppet actors." (Luis Cardoza y Aragón, Crónicas cinematográficas: 1935-1936, 2010, pág. 91).

Beatriz implores for the health of her sick niece (1958) by Manuel Álvarez BravoFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Poster for "Nazarín" (ca. 1960) by Leopoldo MendozaFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Nazarín
Luis Buñuel had arrived in Mexico in 1946 almost accidentally. In this country he made twenty films, became Mexican in 1949, and was reborn as an author after the triumph of Los olvidados [The Young and the Damned] at the 1951 Cannes Film Festival, which allowed him to make a more personal body of work. In 1958, Buñuel starts the filming of Nazarín, an adaptation of the homonymous novel by Benito Pérez Galdós that tells the vicissitudes of a pilgrim priest who strives to follow at all costs the teachings of Catholicism.

Juan comforts his agonizing wife Lucia who has rejected the last confession offered by Father Nazario (1958) by Manuel Álvarez BravoFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Father Nazario is humiliated by a prisoner (scene removed from the final version of the movie) (1958) by Manuel Álvarez BravoFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Buñuel tried to film it in Spain, but the Commission of Censorship of the Franco regime considered it “excessively crude and with such a lightheartedly narrative from every point of view” (Filmoteca Española, answer of the Cinematography Section to the filming request sent by Nervión Films, September 11th, 1958). Nazarín is a film that Buñuel made in Mexico, while thinking of Spain.

Scene in which a lonely girl walks through a town devastated by the plague (1958) by Manuel Álvarez BravoFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Scene from "Nazarín" (1958) by Manuel Álvarez BravoFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Regarded as one the best works of the Aragonese director, Nazarín had among other technical and artistic talents, two of the most important image creators in Mexico: the renowned cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa, who was in charge of the moving image and Manuel Álvarez Bravo who made the photos that documented and publicized the film.

Scene from "Nazarín" (1958) by Manuel Álvarez BravoFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Luis Buñuel and Jesús Fernández prepare a scene from "Nazarín" (1958) by Manuel Álvarez BravoFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Josefa begs Father Nazario to perform a miracle to save his sick daughter (1958) by Manuel Álvarez BravoFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

On 14th July, 1958, he began filming the adventures of Father Nazario (Francisco Rabal) and his unconditional apostles: the prostitute Andara (Rita Macedo) and the hysterical and young Beatriz (Marga López). Nazarín was proposed to represent Mexico at the Cannes Festival but the selection commission thought that the film gave a negative image of the country and chose instead La Cucaracha, by Ismael Rodríguez.

The prostitutes La Tiñosa, La Prieta and Andara (1958) by Manuel Álvarez BravoFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Buñuel and Gabriel Figueroa with the filming team preparing the initial scene at the location (the Mesón de los Héroes) (1958) by Manuel Álvarez BravoFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

It was the American director John Huston who summoned a press conference and called the Festival Organizing Committee to request that a special invitation be made. Nazarín won the 1959 International Grand Prix. That same year, Álvarez Bravo finished his work as stillman in which he worked for more than fifteen years, and Mexican cinema lost one of its most precious witnesses to document its stories.

Luis Buñuel during a break from the filming of "Nazarín" (1958) by Manuel Álvarez BravoFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Tavern located on the ground floor of the Mesón de los Héroes, where Father Nazario lives (1958) by Manuel Álvarez BravoFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Álvarez Bravo's interest in cinema was legitimate and lasting, as evidenced by his work outside the industry in institutional documentaries and in collaborations with friends such as José Revueltas, Juan de la Cabada and Diego Rivera; as well as his visual experiments with homemade formats (8mm and Super 8) and his work as a teacher at the University Center for Cinematographic Studies at UNAM. Unfortunately, much of his work has been dispersed, truncated or irretrievably lost after the tragic fire of the National Cineteca, on 24th March, 1982.

Ignacio López Tarso as the sacrilegious (1958) by Manuel Álvarez BravoFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Andara takes refuge in the house of Father Nazario (1958) by Manuel Álvarez BravoFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

The dwarf Ujo decides to make a pilgrimage alongside Father Nazario (1958) by Manuel Álvarez BravoFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Actor Paco Rabal as Father Nazario (1958) by Manuel Álvarez BravoFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Marga López and Paco Rabal playing Beatriz and Father Nazario (1958) by Manuel Álvarez BravoFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

As a tribute to this great photographer –founder of our Photographic Collections— and to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the premiere and triumph of Nazarín at the Cannes Film Festival, Fundación Televisa is honored to showcase this exhibit of the less known paths in the career of Manuel Álvarez Bravo: as the technician and active member of the film industry during the so-called "Golden Age" of Mexican cinema.

Beatriz kisses Father Nazario's hand believing him holy (1958) by Manuel Álvarez BravoFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

NAZARIN de Luis Buñuel FTFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Still from "Nazarín" (1905-05-11) by Manuel Álvarez BravoFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Credits: Story

The exhibition Nazarín, photographs by Manuel Álvarez Bravo is presented at the 17th edition of the Morelia International Film Festival (FICM), October 2019. It is the result of the research conducted by the Collection and Archive of Fundación Televisa.

Research and texts: Héctor Orozco.
Research support: Gustavo Fuentes.
Virtual exhibition: Cecilia Absalón.
Digital processes: Omar Espinoza.
Video editing: Astrid Villanueva.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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