Many of us who are obsessed with movies know about the Criterion Collection – we may even own a number of their DVDs, Blu-Rays or box sets if we’re lucky enough to afford them. However, a glance through their titles will reveal a lack of love for Latin American cinema. There are only a small handful of titles like Lucrecia Martel’s La Cienega and Guillermo del Toro’s Cronos represented in the dozens of titles from Europe or Asia and slim offerings from Africa.
But a few months ago, the company announced it would be adding not just one title but two to their collection in August. The first was The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez, a bilingual western starring Edward James Olmos that resonates today as much as it did when it was first released in the 80s. The next would be the long-awaited release of the restored version of one of Cuban cinema’s greatest movies Memorias del subdesrollo (Memories of Underdevelopment). Each movie would come with bonus material to give viewers an in-depth look at these productions, like a film school lecture inside every case.
I can’t understate the feeling of watching a movie like The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez when fear and hatred are increasingly threatening Latinx communities. Due to an unfortunate mistranslation, a skirmish leaves a sheriff dead and Gregorio Cortez (Olmos) a wanted man. The Mexican-American farmer flees vigilante justice, and in their inability to catch the suspect, white mobs lynched and killed thousands of Mexicans in Texas. Cortez becomes a kind of folk hero for surviving what looked like certain death. Olmos and director Robert M. Young (who directed Alambrista, which is also a part of the Criterion Collection) brought this underseen chapter in US history back into the light of day for PBS audiences. With the film’s new release, it’s now a story we can reckon with today.
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