Archive of films Lecumberri (The Black Palace) / Lecumberri (El palacio negro)

1976, 105 min

Section: Tribute to Arturo Ripstein
Year: 2008

The Black Palace is the popular name for Mexico’s largest and, during its time, most modern penitentiary, Lecumberri, inaugurated in 1900. Ripstein’s work succeeds in capturing the everyday lives of the inmates, shortly before the prison was demolished. The film is a key Latin-American documentary uniquely reflecting the country’s social changes.


This portrayal of life in Mexico’s largest and, during its time, most modern prison Lecumberri is divided into four parts, labelled prologue, second period, third period and epilogue. Through photographs and archive footage, viewers are acquainted with the history of the “Black Palace” as they are gradually led down into the maze of corridors, enclosures and cells. With scientific austerity the narrator explains the functions of the individual pavilions and introduces their inhabitants. Apart from the opening sequence, we are guided largely only by the testimonies of the condemned. We enter the vast labyrinth populated by both rich and poor, weak and powerful, and it seems as if this place were created as a model of the outside world behind bars. The film reflects the atmosphere of the time, as described by petty thieves, criminals and political prisoners – an atmosphere of social contradictions which become apparent from the considerable discrepancies between the statements of the prison staff and their charges. Ripstein made this documentary at the end of Luis Echeverría’s term as president, during which he tried to reform the prison system. Several films aimed to illustrate the success of this endeavour, among them Lecumberri (The Black Palace). However, the utilitarian motive in this case went far beyond the line: the result is a work which establishes certain approaches of direct cinema in Mexican film. The original short developed into a feature-length film which enabled director Arturo Ripstein to create two films at the same time – one visual and the other sound.


IMCINE - Mexican Film Institute
, 03100, Mexico City
Tel: +52 55 5448 5300, +52 55 5448 5399

About the film

Color, 35 mm

Section: Tribute to Arturo Ripstein
Director: Arturo Ripstein
Screenplay: Arturo Ripstein, Margarita Suzan, Miguel Necoechea
Dir. of Photography: Tomomi Kamata
Music: Guillermo Zúñiga, Arturo Casas, Enrique Marín
Editor: Miguel Necoechea
Producer: Hernán Litti, Carlos Velo
Production: Centro de Producción de Cortometraje
Contact: IMCINE - Mexican Film Institute


Arturo Ripstein

Film Director, Film Director

Alejandro Díaz San Vicente

Film Institution Rep.


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