Exploring Mexicanness in Maria Candelaria (1944)

          Maria Candelaria depicts a pre-Mexican Revolution era, where indigenous people, landlords and those of European descent live in tension and separation. One of the main themes of this film is the question of what it means to be Mexican and how defining that means bringing together the many elements that are part of the country’s history.

One element that represents mexicanness is the use of music in the film, which allows the audience to appreciate the various parts of Mexican history. It is generally agreed upon that there are three main significant eras that make up Mexican culture. On one hand, the pre-Columbian era, which is still an important part of today’s Mexico, is referenced with the more indigenous type of music. The Columbian era and the colonization are alluded by the use of religious music and the sound of the church bells. In fact, the choral quality of the music in the final scene of Maria Candelaria has religious tones that reference this concept. Finally, modern Mexico is represented by the use of a more European style of music, which takes the form of an orchestral arrangement.

In addition to the music, the inclusion of two types of medicine is reminiscent of the different ideologies that are part of Mexican culture. On one hand, there is the modern doctor and on the other, the “bone cracker.” Even though this film is set in 1909 and released in 1944, these two opposite ideologies are still part of the country’s idiosyncrasy. It is interesting how Emilio Fernandez decides to portray these two dissimilar types of medicine, because both doctors are open to the possibility of working together. In this sense, mexicanness is the mix of different ideologies, which are continuously depicted in Maria Candelaria.

            Moreover, Maria’s portrait also acts as a metaphor of Mexican culture. Although the audience never sees the painting, it is understood that it depicts a false image of her because it is a fusion between Maria’s face and another woman’s body. Like the Mexican Virgen de Guadalupe, Maria’s portrait is created to satisfy a determined goal. Although Guadalupe was used to convert the indigenous people to Catholicism, the portrait is used by the painter to capture an idealistic view and ends up fetishizing an entire culture.

Like Paz notes in “The Mexican Intelligentsia,” it is an oversimplification to argue that, “Mexican culture is a reflection of the historical changes brought about by the revolutionary movement” and that, “the sometimes contradictory aims and tendencies of the nation” is what defines mexicanness (151). Maria Candelaria exemplifies this idea because, aside from the portrait being a fusion of two different persons, it represents all the various ideologies and cultures that make up Mexico. Not only does it include different styles of music to reference the three eras of Mexican history, but it also brings together two different ideologies and opens up the possibility of how the two can coexist.


Paz, Octavio. “The Mexican Intelligentsia,” The Labyrinth of Solitude, p. 151.

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