20 October 2017 | EdgarST
The Singer, the Composer and the Orphan Girl
«History of a Love» could easily be one of the less satisfactory films in the abundant filmography of Roberto Gavaldón. A prestigious director of the golden era of Mexican cinema, all those acquainted with his work know that he directed many good films and among them, not less than five movies of excellent quality. But there was no shortage of failures or failed attempts to try to obtain more than what the raw material promised, as here, in this endless product at the service of the singing and whining of Argentinian singer Libertad Lamarque, which had no possible redemption. Gavaldón was no stranger to the "suffering divas," such as Dolores del Rio and María Felix, whom he directed in intense melodramas. Or he could turn actresses like Ariadne Welter and Miroslava into passionate women dominated by their intense sexuality. Lamarque, known as "The Bride of America" and beyond her vocal abilities, represented other values, within the "normality" of her time: that is, the majority sector of Catholic women, virgins by profession until proved "guilty", defenders at all costs of the family institution, the "good habits" and the Victorian morality. There was no doubt that there were cracks and ruptures everywhere, but her melodramas did not transgress that order of things advocated by the middle class that controlled the public opinion and administered the doses of fake morality. In this story of the singer Elena Ramos and her relationship with composer Roberto Mijares, the insinuations are all over, but Elena's fight is more inclined towards achieving (her) happiness by raising the abandoned little daughter of a maid, although this means that the composer can abandon her. In fact, when the movie begins, Mijares (Emilio Tuero) has spilled the beans and Elena begins to remember this "history of a love" (that will culminate in the rigorous interpretation of Carlos Eleta Almarán's title song). She does so through several flashbacks that are triggered by a song, or that include a timely melody (like the unspeakable scene in which Elena and Mijares sing to the girl "The March of the Letters"). The melodies are mere excuses for the "Bride of America" to show off. However, there is one brilliant moment in the film, a choreography by Ricardo Luna that is interspersed in the middle of a musical number that the diva sings. In front of a theater audience, Elena sings "The Woman of the White Shawl" and, in the middle of the song, she leaves the scene through a door at stage left, which represents the gate of a church. The writers came up with the idea that we, the viewers of the movie (and not the audience of the theater) would see what happens inside the church. And so it is: Elena walks in, kneels in front of the image of a virgin, looks with her tilted head towards a grating that evokes a cross, and suddenly, in an expressionist setting, dancers appear and perform a dance of Death, photographed with maestro Gabriel Figueroa's usual mastery. When she concludes, Elena leaves the church and enters the theater stage again and finishes "The White Shawl" in front of the audience (which, as I said, did not see Ricardo Luna's choreography). Next, when the dizzy singer stumbles through a theater hallway, one wonders if the dance we just saw was a simple hallucination of the protagonist. Or imagined by director Gavaldón, fed up of so much marshmallow. However, this moment does not justify seeing the film in its entirety, but as I know that Doña Liber had legions of fans, see it. But you were warned.