La mujer de todos (Julio Bracho, Mexico, 1946)

A poorly directed vehicle for María Félix worth seeing for the magnificent start entrance excerpted below. For those of you who don’t speak Spanish, a little bit of context: In Madrid in 1910, during the time of Carnaval, a Mexican Colonel, Juan Antonio Cañedo (Alberto Galán), offers a dinner to his lover María Romano (Félix). On their way to their table and surrounded by friends, Carlos (Ernesto Alonso), a young man in love with her yells to her in public:

Carlos: ‘My father knows everything and I’m lost. I don’t know what to do’

María: ‘Return home and seek forgiveness’

‘I don’t know how’

‘Learn’

‘And our love? María, I can hardly believe you’re at this dinner.’

‘Learn also to forget’

‘Is that all you have to tell me?’

‘What else could I tell you?’

‘A word to help me live’

‘Forget me/Olvidame’ (it’s one word in Spanish).

It’s a magnificent entrance for a magnificent star, beautifully dressed and photographed. The young man shoots her in the back but misses. She tries to save his honour by pretending it was all a prank and the gun was not loaded. Her other admirers choose to believe her. But a gunshot indicates the gun had enough bullets for Carlos to shoot himself. As you can see below the scene is fabulously conceptualised –and Felix plus the way she’s dressed and filmed renders it superb — but it’s not very well directed; and sadly this will be true for the rest of the film.

In the story, Maria follows the Colonel to Mexico where he has a wife, a niece and a secret bastard step-brother. He sets her up in a magnificent house, with magnificent clothes and magnificent jewels. But the stepbrother Capitán Jorge Serralde (Amando Calvo) happens on her by accident and falls in love with her. She plays along, pretending she’s free but in doing so falls in love with him. One night at the opera, both brothers will end up in her box and the truth will be revealed. The scene at the opera is reminiscent of the opening of Cukor’s Camille. One of the things I’ve been learning by watching these Félix films so close together is how often they were inspired by Hollywood, the elements from Dark Victory in Camelia; the influence of Mildred Pierce on Doña Diabla; and here, as you can see below, Camille.

One of the things one notices in watching these Mexican films, is that the best are as good as anything. But when they’re not quite top notch, one also notices that the sets, grand as they are meant to be, are done on the cheap. If you compare the clip above to the clip below, note the variety of angles, the numbers of extras, the use of music etc. in the Cukor clip. Aside from being great, it’s sumptuously produced in a way that would have been out of reach for La mujer de todos. It would be too unfair to compare Garbo in arguably her greatest performance to Felix in a by-the-numbers vehicle so let’s just say that both are beautiful, and each as interesting to look at as the other. La mujer de todos, already a piddling effort, would be nothing without Felix.

 

At the end of the film, the half-brothers duel it out. As she looks out the window, María sees they’ve both survived. One looks at her with triumph, the other with disdain. In voice-over she reads us the letter saying she’s leaving the older brother and acknowledging the younger one, whom she’d renounced everything for, was the only man she’d ever loved. The brothers end up in their cosy male privilege. A moving train indicates that she’s on to other pastures, perhaps out of the country itself.

One of the many fascinating things about these films is how often women are put on trial  — metaphorically but sometimes literally also — for being women; how the limits of what is socially permissible for women are clearly delineated, often by other women. The films are all about transgressing those limits: Camelia, like María here, is a courtesan. But it is only exceptional women who can transgress and even so, as many of these Felix films show us, they are punished in spite of all their self-sacrifice, all of the goodness these foolish men fail time and time again to recognise. Luckily Félix’s women are strong an smart as well as beautiful and can usually survive the judgment, restrictions and lack of understanding of the very limited men life throws  their way.

 

La mujer de todos is a bad film that offers great pleasures. Felix’s star entrance; the clothes, hats and jewels. The focus on female desire. It’s addressed primarily to women but I think also makes some kind of nod, perhaps unconsciously to a gay male audience. See the clip above as an example. Look at how the shot begins at the gym, with nude male torsos, then the focus on the gymnast. What’s the point of this narratively? I can’t find any other than that it’s fun for men like me to look at,

 

José Arroyo

 

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