16 August 2001 | EdgarST
One can admire Arturo Ripstein's and wife Paz Alicia Garciadiego's screen adaptation of Naguib Mahfouz' novel for its capacity to maintain one's attention for three hours, but there are elements that question its credibility and make the translation to México too broad, schematic and artificial. Most of the time the film is an exercise in tremendism that in the end distances one from the story. Surely an Egyptian story can be adapted to Mexico. This endeavor was made even better by Vicente Leñero a year later in Jorge Fons' "El Callejón de los Milagros". In Leñero's adaptation one felt a true Mexican ambiance, and the structure of the script was richer and more complex; in Garciadiego's case Mexico city is only the sordid décor for a story that is too centered in its characters' psychology to describe the decline of a middle class family into poverty. Even in the psychological realm, the film sometimes delves into suggestions that add to nothing more than a tease. On the other hand, some dialogues must look "poetic" on paper, but they just sound plain silly when spoken as in the scene where an unwed mother breaks up with a young suitor. Dealing with Garciadiego's dialogues, some actors are able to turn naturalistic performances (Bruno Bichir, the always excellent Blanca Guerra, and Julieta Egurrola and Lucía Muñoz as mother and daughter) but in leading actor Ernesto Laguardia's delivery they sound as lines from a bad soap opera. In some ways "Principio y fin" reminded me of "Rocco e i suoi fratelli", Luchino Visconti's tragic tale of the deterioration of a poor Sicilian family. But Visconti also made it clear that he was making a melodrama. Ripstein narrates the first two hours of the story in a conventional "zero degree" style, with a few arty moments for good measure (the meeting of brothers Bichir and Laguardia in a barber shop, that is too homoerotic to ring true). Then all of a sudden the story turns into a weird tragedy which Ripstein shots with a wild hand-held camera, adds foreign drums to the soundtrack, and the film abruptly ends. There is no doubt that Ripstein and Garciadiego are always interesting, and they have made very good films. "El imperio de la fortuna" was an attractive version of Juan Rulfo's "El gallo de oro" and their version of the "Honeymoon Killers" in "Profundo carmesí" has been universally acclaimed. Though not a bad film, "Principio y fin" belongs to the category of their excesses, as the awful "La reina de la noche" or their ill-advised remake of "La mujer del puerto".