Emilio Fernández’s little-seen 1951 black-and-white “Victims of Sin” was ahead of its time in various ways, including its gritty subject matter and ambition to not be bound to one genre. The surefooted melodrama about a singer-performer in Mexico City who takes in an abandoned baby and then pays for doing the good deed is finally receiving the American release it deserves.
Movie buffs, particularly noir fans, will eat up this Mexican marvel of mood and style. This week, the Janus Film 4K restoration plays at Bay Area theaters, including discussion with archivists Viviana García-Besné of Permanencia Voluntaria in Mexico and Peter Conheim of Cinema Preservation Alliance/USA.
Showtimes include 7 p.m. Dec. 14 at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive ($10-$14 tickets at bampfa.org); 4 p.m. Dec. 16 at the Roxie in San Francisco ($11 to $15 tickets at roxie.com) and 4:30 p.m. Dec. 17 at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael ($9.75 to $13.75 tickets at rafaelfilm.cafilm.org).
Fernández’s 84-minute-feature packs a punch and defies categorization. It includes flashy dance and music numbers — performed in raucous, unruly nightclubs where star attraction Violeta (Cuban-born dancer-actor Ninón Sevilla) headlines — as well as bursts of violence and sordidness.
Fernández, who directed the award-winning 1947 film version of John Steinbeck’s “The Pearl” and a swath of other acclaimed films, co-wrote and directed “Victims of Sin,” telling an alternately rowdy and grim story that also offers social commentary.
Violeta gets fired after she rescues from the trash the baby of another performer at Cabaret Chango. The baby’s father is the despicable, full-of-himself pimp Rodolfo, portrayed by Rodolfo Acosta, who oozes sleaze from every pore. At first, the creep won’t acknowledge the child is his.
That doesn’t stop the intrepid Violeta, who risks all to raise the child and is forced to return to sex work to do so. It is her only source of employment in a city burdened by heightened industry, atmospherically brought to life in one noir-classic scene near a train station.
Will Violeta be able to gain a foothold again so she can better provide for herself and the child she considers her own? We can only hope. She encounters a virtuous, kind guy in club owner Santiago (Tito Junco), but he too is bound to the period’s cultural concept of what it means to be a man.
In the end, Violeta is left to persevere, failed by men and her community.
There’s intense narrative ground to unearth between the movie’s show-stopping dance numbers, and Fernandez gives equal attention and weight to energetic musical moments and emotional, occasionally brutal, ones.
“Victims of Sin’s” filmmaker has a deft and nimble hand, conveying different moods and tones from one scene to the next. That Fernandez succeeded in the juggling act in under 90 minutes is a remarkable achievement, one from which contemporary filmmakers enamored with extensive running times could learn.
On Saturday, James Bond fans might want to head to the Smith Rafael Film Center, where Irish-born actor Pierce Brosnan will be honored by the Mill Valley Film Festival with a Lifetime Achievement Award in an event that was postponed due to the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists strike.
The versatile star portrayed Ian Fleming’s suave super sleuth in four films: “GoldenEye,” “Tomorrow Never Dies,” “The World Is Not Enough” and “Die Another Day.” Brosnan, 70, began as a stage actor but broke through with TV’s “Remington Steele” in the 1980s. He went on to star in diverse features, including “The Fourth Protocol,” “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Dante’s Peak, “Mamma Mia!” and “The Matador,” one of his best performances.
Brosnan’s latest feature finds him in top form, playing Southern hitman-fixer Charlie Swift in director Phillip Noyce’s wise-talkin’ neo-noir “Fast Charlie.” Noyce will join Brosnan onstage Dec. 16 after the 7 p.m. screening of the speedy comedic thriller for the presentation of the award and conversation moderated by California Film Institute’s Mark Fishkin. Tickets cost $35.
For details about the tribute and screenings of “Fast Charlie,” visit https://rafaelfilm.cafilm.org/fast-charlie/.