La ley de Herodes (Luis Estrada, Mexico, 1999)

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I noticed a surprising number of people looking for scenes of Leticia Huijara in this title. So, as a believer in giving the public what they want no matter how prurient their tastes may be, I decided to take a look to see what the fuss was about. And sure enough you see Leticia’s bottom in it. And yes it really is fantastic. But more seriously, is the film as a whole worth watching?

I’m not a fan of modern cinema at all, so this being made as recently as 1999 (uhm, that’s 15 years ago now) I wasn’t expecting to enjoy Herod’s Law. One of the things I don’t like is the unnatural colour tints, where so often everything is tinged with an unappealing brown. But in this case it’s clearly deliberate, so extreme it verges on sepia, and works quite well at evoking a period atmosphere (the late 1940s that is). Also I find the aesthetic of the cramped vertical framing with people’s heads being chopped off at the crown, and the artificial camera movements done for show rather than suggesting the viewpoint of a human onlooker, both ugly and alienating from the human drama. These flaws are present here, but otherwise the photography is so strikingly bold that it compensates somewhat.

What of the story then? Basically it’s the tale of an Everyman (Damián Alcázar), a lowly apparatchik of the one-party state, sent to take charge as mayor of a remote and backward one-horse Mexican town. Presumably, his predecessors all having been lynched, he was regarded as expendable. But slowly, obeying the cruel dog eat dog law of nature of the title, he begins to take the village in hand. Mexican viewers have found the political satire exceptionally poignant, but for us outsiders we can only see it as a sort of blackly comic Western.

And a very lively and even amusing comedy it is too. The cast seem to fill their roles perfectly, especially Alcázar, and the dusty period atmosphere is very well recreated. Director Luis Estrada isn’t afraid to lay the imagery on a bit thick; raising the telegraph pole against the background of the cross on top of the church is a good example. Though it has a long running time of two hours there’s always some little drama or other going on to keep you amused, and the ending is suitably symbolic. Overall well worth a look.

Clip with Leticia Huijara

scene from Herod Leticia Huijara in Herod Leticia Huijara in Herod

Rating:   ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 3/5

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“Herod’s Law” “Leticia Huijara” “Luis Estrada” “Mexican Cinema”
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Los amantes frios (Julián Soler et al, Mexico, 1978)

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“Glassblower Loses Bottle” – that’s how The Sun might headline the story that forms the first part of this anthology from Mexico. I’m not quite sure of how this works, but it seems this artisan has run out of “puff”. One day he happens to notice that when his wife screams, he gets enough breath back to blow up any size of bottle he likes. Nothing if not an innovator he come up with increasingly inventive ways of either injuring or scaring the living daylights out of the poor woman (eg. venomous snake in toilet – see picture for effect). The resulting examples of local glassware go down a bomb in the marketplace, but what of his wretched wife? A lady can only run screaming through the house so many times before it begins to take its toll. And I know the hot climate means the much-abused spouse wears loose-fitting garments, but was she always properly underclothed? I worry about these things.

All three of these tales use very dark humour mixing sex and death. The morbid atmosphere and exquisitely framed cinematography are consistent throughout, which is surprising as they all have different directors. Tale number two tells of a recently widowed woman and the still-fresh corpse of her husband. For reasons too convoluted to fully divine this glamorous older lady buys a brand new gilded bed and entertains lovers upon it in the presence of the dear departed “stiff”. A sensual piece with much tantalising unfastening of feminine wearing apparel.

The final tale is lighter in atmosphere, and features another glamorous widow. It tells of a hold-up at a funeral when it is discovered the grave has not yet been dug, and of the intriguing discovery when a plot is hastily excavated. Overall this is a very fine anthology, amongst the best examples of blackly comic short stories I’ve seen. The satire is very reminiscent of Luis Alcoriza. It works better than that of Luis Buñuel, the gentle subversion being less revolutionary and thus hitting closer to home.

 

Los amantes frios clip with Aurora Clavel

Aurora Clavel in Los amantes frios Aurora Clavel in Los amantes frios Aurora Clavel in Los amantes frios

Los amantes frios clip with Pilar Pellicer

Pilar Pellicer in Los amantes frios Pilar Pellicer in Los amantes frios Pilar Pellicer in Los amantes frios

Rating:   ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 4/5

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“Los amantes frios” “Aurora Clavel” “Pilar Pellicer” “Mexican horror”
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La viuda de Montiel (Miguel Littin, Mexico/Colombia, 1979)

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From the short story by Gabriel García Márquez, this is about a woman coming to terms with reality after the death of her husband Don José Montiel. That’s putting it very prosaically of course, the Colombian author being the most noted exponent of “magical realism”. The telling of the story is sure to depend on imagery, whether from reality or dreams, rather than plotting and naturalistic dialogue.

The widow herself has a remarkably willowy figure and hauntingly gaunt features. She bears an uncanny resemblance to the American actress Geraldine Chaplin. After stoically bearing her husband’s passing (in a hammock, of apoplexy) she walks outdoors with calm dignity and starts scrabbling in the earth with her bare hands to uncover the bones of an ox, while turkeys look on. It’s a very Márquez-esque image, from a world where life seems to be a perpetual funeral. (Note: when the titles rolled it turned out it really was Geraldine Chaplin after all – I don’t like to research too much before viewing, preferring to be surprised.)

Montiel, master of the largest hacienda of the district, was an evil man to all but one person. He beggared his neighbours in the marketplace, and drove away or killed his political opponents. To his wife however, the marriage arranged by family at a tender age, he was a misunderstood hero. Now in widowhood she has to bear the isolation of life alone except for a few still-loyal servants, staying indoors to avoid the perpetual rain.

Geraldine Chaplin is perfect for the lead. She appears born to be swayed by the winds of circumstance, but with signs of strength and passion beneath the surface. Character is mirrored by physique – her figure though apparently cadaverously thin actually looks quite healthy when unclothed as it is here. The photography is superb, almost ethereal at times. The opening interior scenes could almost have been by Vermeer. Some of the outdoor scenes are splendidly atmospheric landscapes. Houses are realms of stark white walls empty except for coffins, candles, and funereal flowers. Overall it’s a rare visual feast, though I have my doubts about the storyline; perhaps you have to be of Latin heritage to appreciate his message in its true context, but I suspect Márquez of being a windbag.


Clip: Geraldine Chaplin full-frontal nude (10.6MB)

Rating:   ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 4/5

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“Geraldine Chaplin” “Miguel Littin” “La viuda de Montiel”
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