Yu-Mex Craze: how the Mexican film won over Yugoslavia
Although Yugoslavia and Mexico have no common language, border, or culture, the two peoples formed during the 50s an unusual rapport that would later become known as the Yu-Mex friendship.
What’s the Yu-Mex Craze?
The “Yu-Mex” was a cultural phenomenon in Tito’s Yugoslavia that denotes the Yugoslav fascination with Mexican culture. More specifically, with Mexican traditional and pop music at the time. While many Yugoslav music albums featured covers of Mexican hits with singers posing with sombreros on the album cover, the craze itself started with the film industry.
Although this period was known as the Golden Age of Mexican cinema, its popularity was limited to Latin America, Spain, and, curiously enough, Yugoslavia. What’s interesting is, not only did the Yugoslav fervently enjoy Mexico’s telenovelas, but saved some of the cinematographic pieces that would otherwise be lost to the public.
Entertainment for the Non-Aligned
While it wasn’t unusual that a Yugoslav distributor would import Mexican movies, the hold it took on the people remains an enigmatic cultural phenomenon. Presumably, the authorities wanted to soften the imperialistic influence of the Western powers while being independent the Eastern block. Thus Tito would seek to import entertainment from countries that answered to none of the two powers. The revolutionary topics and sentiments were especially convenient and appealed to a broader sentiment of the people at the time.
Supported by Hollywood, Mexico had the third-largest movie production center at the time. This fact would noticeably set it apart from other Latin American productions. Nevertheless, it was the pathos of the films, and not the quality of their production, that seems to have won over the Yugoslav hearts and minds.
A Day in Life and a Century of Yu-Mex Friendship
Surprisingly, a film by Emilio Fernandez named Un Día De Vida (1950) was said to have “provoked so many tears” in Yugoslavia, even though it has never even been released commercially on tape or DVD in its home country. The territory of former Yugoslavia remained a place of remembrance for this film long forgotten by its home country. The distributors renewed the rights for the movie three times, and relaunched it every 2-3 years for nearly two decades. Interestingly enough, even now (in 2022) a movie poster promoting the movie can be seen in a state-run cinema in Sarajevo.
The movie revolves around revolutionary and patriotic themes, crowned by the sentiments of motherly love and grief. Being no stranger to wars, loss, and sacrifice, the Yugoslav people were especially struck by the movie. In one of the most famous scenes, a revolutionary sentenced to death sings “Las Mañanitas” to his mother. Some say that there are still those that cry over this song today.
Yu-Mex in the Ex-Yu
While the sentiments haven’t entirely faded since, this topic remains scarcely explored with the first attempts being Miha Mazzini’s book Paloma Negra (2012), and a year later, his short documentary titled YuMex, Jugoslovanska Mehika (2013). The Yugoslav cinema archive still preserves these films, while some original movie posters are found only in the Ex-Yu edition.