29 September 2014 | EdgarST
A Rare Find
"Mulata" is not one of Ninón Sevilla's celebrated melodramas. It does not contain the outrageous campy elements that make "Víctimas del pecado", "Aventurera" and "Sensualidad" such undeniable classics; it has not the spectacular musical numbers in big sets and complex choreographies, found in almost all of her films; and it contains no humor, as in "Club de Señoritas". But somehow "Mulata" is probably the motion picture that is closer to Sevilla's cultural roots, ethnic and social concerns, and the varied and different ways of love that made her life so rich. Adapted from "Mulatilla: Estampa negra", a novel by Uruguayan writer Roberto Olivencia Márquez, the action now takes place in Cuba and tells the story of Caridad (a name that echoes the name of the Virgin patron of the island), the beautiful daughter of a black slave, who has to struggle against those in high positions that exploit her, and the men who only desire her as a sexual object. Her life is marked by tragedy and she will be physically abused, betrayed and forced into prostitution. The story is told in retrospect, from the memories of the Mexican sailor who took Caridad from the port of Mariel where she was born and raised, to the city of La Habana, where she ends up dancing in a third-rate cabaret, and then to Mexico, causing her downfall upon their return to Mariel. The role is played in the usual brutish manner of actor Pedro Armendáriz (as in Buñuel's redundantly called "El bruto"), and his narration if filled with rhetorical expressions: there is a long sequence on the beach that interestingly covers a ritual dancing celebration of Santería, the Yoruba religion practiced by Ninón, which is also an important element in her films "Víctimas del pecado" and "Yambaó". It is through those dances that Caridad connects to her African origins, and feels free and joyful. For 1954 the sequence is a strange and daring mixture of ethnography and sensationalism, including the bare breasts of several dancers and actress Lolita Santacruz. (I can't tell if this is true, but I have been to many of those rituals, and it was very rare to have seven to eight women deliriously tear their blouses apart). What I find most irritating is Gilberto Martínez Solares' routine direction (being the usual director of Tin Tan's anarchic comedies, he was not the right choice) and his brother Agustín's cinematography, repeating framing and rarely moving the camera. If you pass these objections, you may enjoy the film (it is thankfully quite short), and if you are interested in Ninón Sevilla's screen career and on cultural survival and racial self-affirmation, you will doubly enjoy it.