Una Familia de Tantas (A Family Like Many Others) Blu-ray Review: A True Cine Mexicano Classic

Una Familia de Tantas (A Family Like Many Others) is a well-made family drama directed by Alejandro Galindo that won a Golden Ariel in 1949, Cine Mexicano’s version of the top Oscar. Fernando Soler stars as a stern father of 15-year-old Martha Roth, who dreams of a romantic life away from harsh rules. David Silva plays the witty appliance salesman who interrupts their lives and wins a young girl’s heart. It’s very easy to see why this movie earned such high praise. 

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Patriarch Rodrigo Cataño’s (Soler) word is law. His house is run according to rigid, old-world traditions and rules. Meal and bed times are strictly enforced in a house filled with six children: four girls, two boys, ranging in age from about 21 to 4. Maru (Roth) is about to turn 15 and is eager to break away from Papacito’s iron rule. Things get interesting when a home appliance salesman named Roberto Del Hierro shows up from the Bright O’Home Machinery Corporation to demonstrate a nifty new device called a vacuum cleaner. Young Maru is fascinated by the assertive yet easy-going Roberto and gets him to return later that night to make his sales pitch to her father. Señor Cataño makes sure that Maru and her sisters are in bed by 9pm when the young salesman returns. 

Señor Cataño tries to belittle and bully Roberto for “sneaking” into his home in order to trick his daughter into trying the vacuum. Roberto stands firm defending himself, his reputation, and his product, as Maru intensely listens hidden atop the staircase with her sister. Maru and Roberto begin to develop an innocent relationship after he is called back to the house to help dislodge her little brother’s hand from the suction hose. Maru becomes more enamored by Roberto as he tells her that he actually speaks casually to his mother about his hopes and dreams, much as he shares them with her. Maru admires this as she knows she can not do that with her own mother and especially not with her father. 

All the while Señor Cataño invites Maru’s cousin Ricardo to her quinceañera (marking the end of her childhood), of which Roberto has been denied an invite. Cousin Ricardo manages his family’s ranch and needs a wife, so Señor Cataño tries to push him and Maru together. Not only is Ricardo a direct relative, he’s also a snob and a prick. Amidst all this, Maru and Roberto have begun to see each other in secret for just a few minutes an evening as she makes her nightly run to the corner bakery for dinner rolls. Their meetings are kept short, in order to look like chance encounters should any one see them together. The conversations begin to turn more serious as Roberto explains to Maru that it is possible for them to have a partnership based on affection and equality rather than roles of master and servant. 

All is not so idyllic at casa de Cataño though. One night, eldest daughter Estella, who is only allowed to visit with her boyfriend for a short, supervised time a few days a week is caught lingering with her beau after work. In a rage, Señor Cataño deals her a harsh beating, leaving her crying on the floor with her clothes torn. Estella then runs away with her boyfriend and Señor Cataño promptly disowns her. Meanwhile his oldest son, the brooding Hector, has knocked up a girl which forces Señor Cataño to take in mother and child, avoiding further disgrace. Maru, observing and absorbing all this, decides her fate is sealed and stops seeing Roberto and pushes him away. 

Roberto, now working for a big refrigerator company, won’t accept that Maru truly wants to stop seeing him so with the help of Guadalupe, the housekeeper (superbly played by Enriquita Reza), he plots to resume seeing Maru and advance their relationship. Maru eventually agrees after Roberto sets up a fridge sale with Señor Cataño that forces Maru to make a decision: obey her fathers wishes or follow her heart? Maru chooses her feelings and desires for Roberto, passionately expressing this to her father, who of course disapproves and promptly disowns her. 

Not even on her wedding day will Señor Cataño speak to Maru and it isn’t until after she leaves the house with her new husband and his family that her mother, Gracia (elegantly portrayed by Eugenia Galindo), speaks frankly to her husband. Essentially telling him that two of their children have left, perhaps never to return or speak to him again, and is that how he wants his remaining children to look upon him and remember their remaining time at home? Longing to get away from the hard rules and awful memories? Señor Cataño is taken aback and lets that soak in as the two youngest kids continue to play outside as Doña Gracia slowly walks back inside after a very loving embrace with her husband. 

Una Familia de Tantas does a great job presenting a time of change in one family’s history, where new ways come crashing into the old. Director Alejandro Galindo guides the players and situations along smoothly as he provides some great set-ups and shots, like his opening pan of the city that swoops past buildings and laundry on the line before settling into the everyday home of the Cataño family. Everything happens pretty quickly and that’s a bit of a stretch but the excellent cast pulls it all together and keeps the story believable even with its brisk pace and slight age discrepancies between some actors and their characters. We watch as Maru goes from defiant girl to strong woman who stands up for what she wants. Señor Cataño truly cares and loves his children, wanting the best for them but he’s stubborn and clings to the harsh ways in which he himself was raised. 

Una Familia de Tantas, even with the violent beating scene and the fact that Maru is 15, is able to remain lighthearted and intensely interesting throughout its 130 minute runtime. The tense moments between father and daughter are offset by the comic yet serious moments with Señor Cataño and Roberto. Roth handles Maru’s dread at Roberto and Señor Cataño’s first meeting with comedic expressions as she fears Roberto will be killed by her Papacito. Silva, as Roberto holds his own against Soler’s dominance as that tense yet funny scene plays out. The dialogue between Silva and Roth is witty and crisp as they banter back and forth during the initial sales scene and then again when she calls him back flustered at the vacuum for trapping her brother’s hand. The scene leading up to that is also fun to watch as Roth playfully mimics the sales pitch. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this Cine Mexicano treasure and the subject matter it chooses to tackle. It provides an interesting look at some of the old world values of a culture in flux. As with classic Hollywood movies of that time period, we cannot judge too harshly the attitudes and norms of generations past with our modern eyes. Galindo and cast deserve the praise this gem has received over the years. It’s very easy to see why it won Mexico’s equivalent of a Best Picture Oscar. 

The film’s resolution is great and I appreciate the vibrant yellow subtitles. Thanks to VCI for bringing this one to Blu-ray as part of its “Clásicos del Cine Mexicano,” which spotlights 100 of the best movies in Mexican Cinema history. I’m happy I got to nab this from the editor’s desk and review this movie as I’d have probably never come across it otherwise. Which would have been a damned shame. I’ll for sure be singing its praise and recommending it to all fans of classic Hollywood cinema. 

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Joe Garcia III

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