18 March 2005 | gradyharp
Arturo Ripstein and his Essential Loneliness of Souls
LA VIRGEN DE LA LUJURIA (Virgin of Lust) is a film that takes patience on the part of the viewer: not only is it two and a half hours in length, it requires a working background in Spanish history of colonization of the Americas and Franco's Spanish rule during WW II, magical realism, and surrealism to fully appreciate how truly unique this story is.
Arturo Ripstein is Mexico's premiere film director and for those who have followed his output, his works reflect his apprenticeship with Luis Bunuel and his preoccupation with recurring themes of loneliness and his somber, slow style of directing. The convoluted story of LA VIRGEN DE LA LUJURIA at first watching seems to contain information overload that gets in the way of this opera/ballet art piece. That may put some viewers off: it is work to follow this storyline on that level.
But if the viewer can reduce the story to its symbolism and focus on that alone, then this is a fascinating film that takes all manner of chances (crude language, aberrant sexuality, fantasies, main characters breaking into song from Gilbert and Sullivan's 'Mikado' to patriotic ditties and romantic swooners, bizarre camera effects such as raining inside a room, etc).
Apparently it is important to understand the disparity between the Spanish colonialists and the native South American/Mexican peoples: power vs subjugation, cultural vs peasant mentality, the concept of dichotomy of Spanish exiles in the land of Spain's colonies with the superimposition of escaped Spaniards from Franco's rule and the opposition of Franco devotees. At least it helps to explain the odd love story that unfolds here in Vera Cruz.
Nacho (Luis Felipe Tovar) is a Native Mexican cum supplanted Spaniard waiter in a hotel café Ofelia run by Don Lazaro (Julian Pastor) who is a devote Francophile. Don Lazaro keeps Nacho in his servitude place, demands he serve the freeloader Spaniard guests who plot to kill Franco, and reinforces Nacho's low esteem.
Enter Lola (Adriana Gil), a drunken, opium addicted prostitute whose only preoccupation is with the perfect sexual partner of her life, on Gardenia Wilson (Alberto Estrella) who happens to make his living as a masked wrestler. Lola accepts protection from Nacho, eventually abusing the frightened soul who has fallen in lust with her. Lola dreams of killing Franco and it is this avenue that Nacho decides is his entry into Lola's love - killing Franco for her. Working with a photographer Gimeno/Mikado (Juan Diego) who spends his hours creating retablos of history using actors on sets for his strange photographs, Nacho ultimately is given the 'role' of the exterminator of Franco. It is unnecessary to say that the ending of the story does not match Nacho's dreams, but instead surrealism and magical realism enter to provide a twist that is most entertaining.
Though I thought I could summarize this film in fewer words than I have, I hope this brief distillation will encourage you to give this work a chance. There is a lot of exciting lighting, scenery, music, strange metaphors and parables, and just plain exciting direction to be enjoyed by the patient viewer. Relax on the historical parts and the obvious contradictions with reality and you will get a sense of Director Ripstein's importance! Grady Harp