Film as historical document:

Antonio Ruiz Galindo, D.M. Nacional and a new industrial concept in Borrasca en las almas.


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Xóchitl Fernández © 2012.



Borrasca en las almas (Ismael Rodríguez, 1953) is the impressive drama of a schoolteacher who falls prey to his negative anima, projected onto his wife’s depraved twin sister.  Roberto Cañedo plays the role of the tormented man, while María Elena Marqués plays the twins.  Carlos Orellana, Salvador Quiroz, Gustavo Rojo and child actor José Luis Aguirre had essential roles too.


Apart from its artistic and technological values –the latter including stunning optical effects in the scenes featuring the twins, who are seen to have even physical contact-, this film is a remarkable historical document that shows Mexico’s development trends of the era:  modernization, urbanization, education; changes in the industrialist-worker relationship; the new role of women in society, among others.

Alongside the drama, the movie unfolds the ideology and operations of a unique industrial concept, created by don Antonio Ruiz Galindo:  the “Ciudad Industrial” (Industrial City).  It housed the ‘D.M. Nacional’ factory, which produced home appliances, office furniture, and even custom-built fiberglass bodies for sports cars. It was located in Mexico City’s outskirts.



Ruiz Galindo was born in Córdoba, Veracruz, in 1897.  He joined the Revolutionary movement in two occasions.  First, he became Gral. Manuel Ávila Camacho’s paymaster in 1913.  Later he retired and opened a business, but in 1920 he was involved again in the Revolution, this time with unfortunate results that forced him into exile for several years.[1]


In 1929, already back in Mexico, Ruiz Galindo started on an office furniture imports trade.  But imports were not his ideal of business.  He was a nationalist who believed in protecting Mexican market and industry, so three years later he began to produce office furniture on his own.


Ruiz Galindo was a man of convictions, a catholic humanist who abhorred worker unions but believed in good relationships between employer and employees, based in good faith and shared moral and social values. He also advocated for higher living standards for his workers, who were provided with nice and hygienic dwellings, credit for acquiring home furniture and appliances –even cars-; free medical services and schools; training, etc.  His system was clearly paternalistic (in the film, the factory’s owner is even called the “bountiful patron”).


               


The Bulletin of the Pan American Union, in its Volume LXXXI, July-December 1947, published a story written by Jean B. DeCamp, who visited the “Ciudad Industrial” and praised it.  Among other positive comments, he wrote:


       Poor nutrition, which accounts for so much inefficiency among workers, is being combated by Ruiz Galindo in a practical manner.         A nutritious, well-balanced meal is served at noon to the workers, in a lunch-room resembling the Colonial Room in Schrafft’s Fifth        Avenue shop.  The shrewd owners have surmised that by acquainting the workers with some of the better things of life, a desire        for them will be created, and this desire is a basic factor in the law of supply and demand. 

       Hospitals, schools, housing, and highways are tumbling out of blueprints into actuality with the startling rapidity of a Disney                animated cartoon, but in far more orderly fashion.


All the above statements might appear as too good to be true, but the research conducted by independent curator and designer Ana Elena Mallet[2] shows that the concept did work for some time not only for ‘D.M. Nacional’, but also for the Bauhaus-like furniture factory ‘Van Beuren, S.A. de C.V.’ and the paper factory ‘Loreto y Peña Pobre’. 


By the middle 1970s, an adverse financial situation and the loss of the good relationship between ‘D.M. Nacional’ and its workers led to the end of an experience that lasted for about three decades.


The middle-class dwellings that were part of the ‘Ciudad Industrial’ are now a subdivision in the Aragón area in Mexico City, still under the factory’s name.


The complete history of ‘D.M. Nacional’ is yet to be written; so far, only one volume has been published about it[3].  For any researcher interested in the subject, Borrasca en las almas will be an essential source.


The film approaches the ‘D.M. Nacional’ experience in two ways:  one is direct, by means of the footage of the actual facilities; the other makes use of the fictional story to give examples of the factory’s mission, values, and policies towards its workers.


At the beginning of the film, the producer and director makes an acknowledgement to ‘D.M. Nacional’:


       This film’s story is fictional.

       The settings are real.  Our gratitude [goes] to ‘D.M. Nacional’ for letting us shoot at its impressive ‘Ciudad Industrial’ and [we                express] our admiration for the humanistic social programs it tenders to its workers.

       The words of one character, a journalist, reinforce the concept of the ‘Ciudad Industrial’ as an ideal environment:

       The solid facilities of an important factory outstand in the city’s industrial zone; they are like a small town where all its dwellers        see each other as brothers […]

       [A place where] peace and work reign […]


Needless to say, that last statement does not reflect all facets of human nature, and the film indeed shows dwellers as normal people, with virtues and foibles, and not always capable of behaving in a brotherly fashion.


All through the movie the spectator is shown the ‘Ciudad Industrial’ and its various buildings and outdoors areas.  First, an aerial view gives a glimpse of the massive facilities.  Then, one is able to “visit” several areas, listed here in the order they appear in the film:


  • one of the industrial bays, remarkably clean and orderly;
  • the custom-built car assembly area, where specialized workers are seen at work;
  • the well-kept soccer fields, where the factory’s team is training to get their league’s championship;
  • some beautifully landscaped gardens;
  • the nice lunch-rooms;
  • the impressively modern kitchens, well equipped and clean;
  • the well ventilated and lit classrooms;
  • a huge gymnasium;
  • the convenience store, where workers could pay cash or had their accounts charged for their purchases;
  • one of the modern and attractive apartment buildings for workers;
  • one of the industrial bays, safety equipment;  heavy machinery is seen in operation and it is noted that the area had natural aeration;
  • the swimming pool;
  • one of the lunch-room’s fashionable restrooms;
  • in the different areas, safety signs are observed;
  • besides, in several scenes shot in studio, back projections show scenes taken at the factory, featuring actual workers in the lunch-room, in recreational activities, etc.

As said above, the film plot unfolds the ‘Ciudad Industrial’ mission, values, and policies.  For better understanding the instances in which drama and didactic intertwine, it is necessary to provide a brief synopsis of the plot.  Most of the story is recounted in flashback. 


The ‘Ciudad Industrial’ is a micro cosmos, where most of the action occurs.  Pablo is a teacher at the school for the workers’ children.  He is a frustrated and embittered man who drinks too much.  Pablo is married to Martha, the lunch-room kitchens’ manager, who earns a better salary than him.  They have a son, Pablito, who is doing badly at school and resents his father’s drinking and harshness.  Rogelio, Pablo’s best friend, returns to the factory after loosing a hand in a work accident. He is given a supervisor position and resumes his good relation with Pablo and Martha, whom he loves in silence. 


Rogelio brings a poor and uneducated uncle, Bartolomé, and his family to work in the ‘Ciudad Industrial’; the man is astonished both by the perks and rules at his new job, and finds it difficult to adapt to his improved situation. 


               


Pablo’s family becomes increasingly dysfunctional, and things worsen when Alicia, Martha’s twin sister, joins the household.  She is a depraved, vulgar woman.  Martha does not know his husband has an obsession for Alicia, whom he had an affair with before their marriage.  Alicia has come with the intention to destroy her sister’s family.  She seduces Pablo again, and turns Pablito against her mother.  In the end, Martha kills Alicia to save his child from her perverse influence; after a homicide trial, she is acquitted.  Pablo takes his own life, and Martha returns to the ‘Ciudad Industrial’, where the owner, Rogelio, and Pablito are waiting for her.


Through the story, the spectator learns about the ‘Ciudad Industrial’:


  • there is no discrimination against people with discapacities:  Rogelio is given a better position after loosing his hand in a work accident; this is labeled as the action of the “bountiful patron”;
  • there is no genre discrimination; this is shown in the fact Martha has a managerial position, with a much better salary than his husband;
  • the owner is always there for his workers, and treats them with kindness and respect –no condescendence;
  • order and safety are observed in all occasions and areas;
  • thorough hygiene is omnipresent; it is particularly stressed by Rogelio, who trains Bartolomé and his family to live in their new environment by using entry mats, washing hands before meals, taking daily showers, etc.;
  • healthy ambitions are encouraged:  education; to have better, well furnished and nice homes; in brief, to have higher living standards;
  • workers have complete health insurance coverage, and the Ciudad has its own clinic;
  • workers get free art and entertainment shows; for instance, an opera “the same performed at Bellas Artes[4]; the same artists, the same costumes; just the ticket there was one hundred bucks, while here it is for free”
  • the apartments for workers were modern and ample; Bauhaus-like furniture is seen in them; for instance, when Rogelio takes Bartolomé to the apartment building where he is going to live, he asks why he has been taken to an “hotel de mucha pomada” (that is, an elegant hotel), and looks for the “jacales para los trabajadores” (the workers’ shacks); he cannot believe he and his family are going to live in one of those apartments.  Rogelio explains him that they will pay no rent, and furniture can be paid in installments.  Later, Bartolomé complains about his family now wanting to have new drapes, nicer silverware, decorative objects, etc.  Rogelio tells him it is fine the workers want “TV sets, refrigerator, even a car”;
  • use of safety equipment at work is stressed;
  • well-balanced meals are served at the workers’ lunch room.  Bartolomé complains about being fed “cream of asparagus –creams every day-; filet mignon, French desserts”; he also is disgruntled by the lunch given to his children at school: “sandwiches, fruit, cake, and even a bottle of milk”;
  • at one point, Bartolomé leaves the ‘Ciudad Industrial’ because he cannot bear that new way of life; however, when he returns to his old job, where he gets no perks; is forced to lunch on the floor -instead of at a fancy lunch-room with a restroom- and in the top of it all, has a ruthless boss, he realizes how good the City was, and returns there;
  • the “open door policy” at the Ciudad is stressed;
  • the ‘Ciudad Industrial’ lawyers are there for workers; it is shown when Martha is charged with her sister’s homicide and the company lawyers get her acquitted;
  • Martha is allowed back to the Ciudad, because “coming back to the City, where home is a symbol of Patria, is her destiny”.

It is worth to notice that Borrasca en las almas represents a turning point in the producer-director’s career.  Between 1948 and 1952, Ismael Rodríguez produced and directed three of the most popular Mexican movies of all times:  Nosotros los pobres, Ustedes los ricos, and Pepe el Toro.  The central character in them was Pepe el Toro, a poor carpenter.  He is surrounded by his fiancée –who he marries in due course-, his family and friends, all dwellers of a lowly tenement.  Those movies praised urban poor people’s life.  In Borrasca en las almas, Bartolomé is much like many of the characters in those films:  he was poor and happy of living in substandard conditions, but his contact with the ‘Ciudad Industrial’ made him gradually –and unwittingly- change.  He ends adapting to his new way of life, and developing new “healthy ambitions”.  What in the early movies was a good, enjoyable way of life is unacceptable in Borrasca en las almas.  Never again would Ismael Rodríguez make films that eulogize poverty.




[1] This information was provided by the Instituto de Estudios Tecnólogicos de Monterrey, campus Monterrey.

[2] Ana Elena Mallet in an interview by Juan Amael Vizzuett Olvera, in Van Beuren: diseño y bienestar social, story published in ‘El Sol de México’on July 24, 2010.

[3] ‘Historia de D.M. Nacional: calidad en muebles de acero 1929-1954, síntesis histórica’.  Published in Mexico City, 1954.  Not publisher is mentioned, but most probably it was released by the company itself.  The only known copy is in Erasmus University Rotterdam’s library.

[4] National Fine Arts Theatre, in Mexico City.