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The columnist and historian Catón paid homage to Cantinflas on the 100th anniversary of his birth Friday. Catón said some have likened the Mexican comedian to Charlie Chaplin. Catón said that what can be said is that both were incomparable, and that what Chaplin said with his eyes, Cantinflas did not say with his words. He noted that the Spanish Academy recognizes eight words stemming from the comedy of Mario Moreno, who was able to speak a lot but say little, in a very funny way. Those words are cantinflas, cantinflada, cantinflear, cantinfleo, acantinflado, cantinflérico, cantinflesco and cantinflero. Many Americans may know Cantinflas, who died in 1993, from his role in "Around the World in 80 Days." Catón's column.
By David Gaddis Smith
Why did my mother love Cantinflas, who was born 100 years ago Friday?
That is a good question.
When my father was advising Costa Rican farmers for two years as part of President John F. Kennedy's Alliance for Progress, my mother got in the habit of going to every Cantinflas movie that made it to the theaters in San José. Her Spanish was not that good, but perhaps that is part of the why she enjoyed his movies: What Cantinflas was good at doing was talking a lot, but saying very little or getting others off the subject at hand, in a very funny way. So if my mother did not fully understand what he said, she really did not miss anything!
It also apparently gave her perspective on what was going on around us in Latin America. Ilan Stavans, in an essay titled "The Riddle of Cantinflas," says Cantinflas "remains an archetypical figure, the personification of a preindustrial Mexico struggling to join the twentieth century. His elliptical adventures help audiences understand the transition from rural to urban settings experienced by many poor, uneducated campesinos throughout Latin America."
Stavans also writes: "Cantinflas remains an invaluable map to his nation's psyche." Stavans also said he provided a counterpoint for the masses against the elite (see Page 35 of his essay on Puros and Tacos). Cantinflas in death even gave some of the more common people a laugh earlier this year when a photographer caught Baja California Sen. Alejandro González Alcocer with a clip of the Cantinflas movie "Por Mis Pistolas" on his iPad on the Senate floor. González Alcocer later said the clip came up as part of an email he had received. (And González Alcocer, a former Baja California governor, is doing some work: He recently outlined the proposed new national security law that would give the military more legal authority to fight organized crime.)
Cantinflas also was very good at mocking the speeches of Mexican politicians, many of whom still today have a tendency to speak a lot but say next to nothing.
Tijuana's Cultural Center will show five Cantinflas movies at 7 p.m. this week beginning Monday. Story, El Mexicano.