One of Mexico’s best-regarded works of political cinema, Canoa: A Shameful Memory reimagines a real-life incident that had occurred just eight years before its release, when a group of urban university employees on a hiking trip were viciously attacked by residents of the village of San Miguel de Canoa, who had been manipulated by a corrupt priest into believing the travelers were communist revolutionaries. Intercutting footage from a fictional documentary about the village with gruesome scenes of the crime itself, director Felipe Cazals produced a daring commentary on the climate of violence and repression in Mexico during that era, including the military’s infamous massacre of demonstrating students in Tlatelolco, Mexico City. With its gritty newsreel style, Canoa is a visceral expression of horror as well as an important historical document.
If there was ever a time where Felipe Cazals' film Canoa: A Shameful Memory seems relevant, it's certainly today in the current harsh political and social climate where it seems two sides of thinking can't come together and find common ground. With a failing education system and moving backwards in certain areas, it's no wonder why people are coming forward in thinking the Earth is flat or even starting violent fights or killing people because someone who is ill informed said to do so.
With that, Canoa: A Shameful Memory is as important as it was back in 1976 as it is today some 40 years later, and it's no doubt that it strikes a chord with many people, no matter if they are Americans or Mexicans. Canoa: A Shameful Memory tells the true story, which plays out almost like a documentary film, about a few young employees of a University who go hiking in the mountains. They end up having to spend the night in a small town named San Miguel Canoa, where the nut-job, yet powerful religious priest convinces the small-minded people in town that these University visitors are evil communists.
The priest then persuades the townsfolk to lynch them. This led to protests and violent massacres on campus where students died. It's a very unfortunate and tragic situation, which Felipe captures every emotional and real element in what led up to this horrific event. There is barely any use of simulated lighting or set pieces here, but rather the use of natural light and real locations to give this film a very natural and realistic feeling. With certain politicians or even drug cartels that run countries, along with the lack of education that seems to be going on around the world, it's easy to see how people were led to believe such powerful yet deranged people that always leads to violence.
Cazals uses the actions of the characters rather than long pieces of dialogue to showcase the explosive nature of every decision made in the film. It's a harrowing look at the lack of communication and morbid fear of something that is unknown or learned. This is where Canoa: A Shameful Memory succeeds and still tends to be relevant today. This is one story and film that lingers for a while long after viewing.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Canoa: A Shameful Memory comes with a 50GB Blu-ray Disc from Criterion and is Region A Locked. There is a Criterion booklet with an essay by Fernanda Solorzano, along with information on the crew and technical information on the film. The disc is housed in a hard clear, plastic case with spine #862.
Canoa: A Shameful Memory comes with a great 1080p HD transfer and is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 aspect ratio. According to the Criterion booklet, this new digital transfer that was supervised by director Felipe Cazals was made in 4K resolution from the 35mm original camera negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, warps, scratches, warps, and splices were manually removed. This newly remastered video is simply phenomenal.
Detail and color are superb throughout. A lot of the film is shot on location with a ton of natural light being the only source to light up a scene. This upgraded video presentation perfectly captures every element of its surroundings. You'll be able to see individual rocks in the dirt road very well with all of their imperfections and shapes nicely. Inside the market, every glass jar and item look very detailed with dust and dirt from being on location.
Closeups of the actors' faces showcase individual hairs, scars, and wrinkles easily. Wider shots never go soft either. there is a nice layer of grain that never fluctuates, however in the natural light, sometimes it can seem that the grain is heavier in darker scenes. Black levels are deep and inky and the skin tones are always natural. There are no compression problems of any sorts, leaving this video presentation with great marks.
According to the Criterion booklet, the 35mm original soundtrack negative was transferred and remastered, where clicks, thumps, hum, and cracks were manually removed. This release comes with a Spanish LPCM 1.0 mix with optional English subtitles. Like the video with its natural lighting, this audio track uses a lot of natural sound, meaning the track is rather quiet.
That being said, each sound and noise is well balanced and full. There really isn't a score either, but rather just music playing inside buildings or on the radio in the film. Every noise is realistic and full. Dialogue is clear and easy to follow along with the English subtitles, leaving this audio track with very good marks.
Guillermo del Toro Introduction (HD, 4 Mins.) - The amazing filmmaker intros this film and discusses why it's so important in Mexican culture and cinema, as well as to himself.
Felipe Cazals and Alfonso Cauron (HD, 55 Mins.) - In early 2016 at the Guadalajara International Film Festival, both filmmakers talk about the production and history of Canoa: A Shameful Memory and how its importance and relevance is still handled today.
Trailer (HD, 5 Mins.) - Trailer for the film.
Criterion Booklet - Here is a booklet with cast and crew information, technical specs and an essay by Fernanda Solorzano on the film.
Canoa: A Shameful Memory is a tragic story that is told through some very uneasy sequences that will leave you wanting to discuss how relevant these actions and beliefs are today. Felipe Cazals perfectly captures these events that will truly leave a lasting impression in your mind. Criterion has knocked it out of the park with the video and audio presentations along with some excellent extras to boot. Highly Recommended!