I’m beginning to realise three things in watching these glamorous María Félix Mexican films from the 1940s: a) they’re almost an essential alternation with the great films about Mexico, Mexican culture and national identity that she filmed with Emilio Fernández: Enamorada (1946), Rio Escondido (1948), Maclovia (1948), Salón México (1949); b) that they’re a pastiche of the the famous Hollywood movies, may of them ‘women’s’ films, of the period which precedes them, mainly the period of WWII and its immediate aftermath. Here we see traces of Casablanca (1942), Leave Her to Heaven (1945), Notorious (1946), and the epigrammatic dialogue and high-cultural aspirations of Joan Crawford vehicles such as Humoresque (1946). c) that God is a wonderful alibi for the most dastardly deeds, for as we’re told at the ending of Que Dios me perdone/ May God Forgive Me, only God can judge; and he’s so understanding, particularly to mothers prepared to do anything for their children.
In Que Dios me perdone/ May God Forgive Me, the setting is a Mexico City undergoing a wave of cosmopolitanism as rich refugees from a Europe at war wash up on the shores of ‘one of the last paradises on earth’. The voice-over narration informs us the story we’re about to see is a mixture of realism and fiction so as to give greater depth to the complexities of the human heart and the passions it gives rise to.
The film begins in a nightclub where Don Esteban Velasco, a rich industrialist in the habit of gifting his conquests with expensive diamond bracelets, meets Lena (after Marlene?) Kovach. She quickly puts him in his place. She’s not one of ‘those’ easy foreign refugees who’ll sell herself for papers, passports or visas. But later, at a nightclub where she sings, it turns out that she might be. She quickly agrees to marry him so long as he doesn’t insist she love him. They begin a happy life with his daughter, admiring Chopin on the radio in their art-filled flat. But things are not as they seem. Lena is a spy who’s had many previous identities. She’d been coerced into becoming one to save a daughter who’s in a concentration camp in Europe. Her husband’s secretary, Ernesto Serrano (Tito Junco), is stealing from him. ‘He can only speak in ironic phrases’, says Doctor Mario Cólina Vazquez (Julián Soler) of Ernesto, ‘Sometimes we don’t know how to express our feelings. That’s why we make fun of them’.
Her husband’s in love with her and she respects him but she gets embroiled in a plot to sell off the diamond bracelet he’s giving her so that she might get her daughter out of the concentration camp. The husband’s discovered a lot of money missing. The finger points to Ernesto, who plans to kill him whilst sailing in a lake just like in Leave Her to Heaven.
There’s a wonderful scene (above) where Ernesto has discovered that she’s tried to sell off her husband’s wedding gift, the expensive bracelet, and the receipt of its purchase, and returns them to her. She knows this has a price and asks how much. He tells her the price of his silence is not money. And then there’s the wonderful moment where she slaps him on both cheeks before telling him to ‘take his fee’. They embrace and the film fades out. It’s fantastic.
Ernesto coerces Lena to agree to drug her husband’s wine so that he may throw him overboard and kill him. She tries to save him at the last minute but can’t. It turns out that Doctor Mario has filmed the murder, which in some ways exonerates her. It turns out her daughter died in the concentration camp after all and all her transgressions were for naught. She goes, beautifully dressed in mink, to jump off a bridge but a bell from the nearby church rings and she remembers that only God can judge her, and may God forgive her. In the meantime, she’s got money now and, though she couldn’t help her own child, she can help some of the many other children in need.
In this kind of film, the plot is a pretext. What matters is that the star look beautiful, that she wear beautiful clothes and jewels and that these all be highlighted by the camera, which this film certainly does. It helps if there’s a song, and the eponymous ‘Que Dios Me Perdone’ is a great one, utilised both in Lena’s nightclub scene at the beginning, and then after the boat begins to sink after the murder of her husband.
Félix is a wonder of nature and of cinema and the main reason to see May God Forgive Me. Cheap trash. But also glamorous and great fun.