Friday, February 22, 2019

Tears For Fears: El Cuerpo Del Deseo

Welcome back to my Tears for Fears marathon, where I will be covering every movie featuring the Mexican folk legend La Llorona in anticipation of her newest movie in April...

A caveat: I had to watch this film in unsubtitled Spanish, which I'm not entirely fluent in despite what my AP testing certificate says. Thus there may be some nuance lost by me not understanding 75% of the dialogue, but honestly probably not as much as you'd think.

Year: 1991
Director: César Miguel Rondón
Run Time: 1 hour 28 minutes

For all intents and purposes, the movie I'm about to review does not exist. There is no entry for 1991's La Llorona on Letterboxd or IMDb (a service so thorough that even my student short film is on there). There are no reviews for it anywhere I can find. Literally the only evidence that it exists is the fact that I watched it on Amazon Prime and it obviously didn't just play a blank screen for an hour and a half.

Depending on who you ask (and there are not a lot of people to ask), director César Miguel Rondón is either a novelist or a producer of telenovelas, possibly both. But my instincts steer me toward the latter, because La Llorona 1991 is produced exactly like a low budget novela, down to the fact that every twenty minutes or so it fades to black and opens back up with a title card. But whoever he is, and whatever this movie happens to be, I've vowed to review them all, so review it I must.

There are also no images of this movie online, because see above. So imagine that these delicious conchas are a high-res screengrab from a film that totally exists.

OK, so as far as I can figure it, the plot is as follows. Fisherman Ismael is married to the beautiful Cayita, and they have a child together. He cheats on her with the bruja Carmelina, who uses her magic powers to ensnare men, but when he leaves the witch vows revenge. She calls up a storm to kill Ismael, and a year later arranges for a jealous man to murder Cayita's new lover while she burns down her home with the child inside. 

Cut to an unspecified amount of time later. We're in the city instead of a fishing village, and this is where I really start to lose the plot. A businessman is cheating on his wife and has visions of Cayita (whether or not he's the jealous lover who murdered her boyfriend, all grown up, is entirely unclear to me - but it's my working theory). She has now become La Llorona, and haunts him with visions of a wailing hag to I guess convince him to go back to his wife or something.

Honestly, it reminded me of the telenovela La Rosa de Guadalupe, in which a magical flower solves the problems of a different dysfunctional family every episode. This could have been a backdoor pilot for a procedural where La Llorona fixes ailing marriages. A show I absolutely would have watched.

Now let's make one thing absolutely clear. This film is cheap as all get out. It's self-evidently a regional production (probably for television) that managed to wriggle its way onto Amazon, and as such doesn't have two crew members to rub together. So it obviously wasn't going to be particularly great to begin with, but the regional quality does give it a certain spark in the opening act. 

La Llorona takes place in a very specific location, one which does not get a lot of play in the mainstream media. The fishing village in which it was shot is every bit as important to the movie as the wildly gesticulating cast. Sure, the sea breeze is tossing everybody's hair around in every scene and screwing up the audio, but its sense of place is completely authentic. This isn't a movie set; it's a slice of a real, wholly unique place that is exciting to explore.

Unfortunately, the people who are exploring it aren't exactly stellar filmmakers. I've already mentioned the wind, but certain key scenes are framed conspicuously behind, say, a row of people making a fishing net. Again, a fun glimpse into the daily life around this area, but when you can only see a quarter of the film's actual action, it doesn't make for a smooth viewing experience. And the actors do their absolute best with the material, but it's obvious that they're untrained. The performances perk up any time the script lurches into full-tilt melodrama and they get to writhe in the surf and wail for three uninterrupted minutes, but otherwise it's an unremarkable cast all around.

Just like these poor brown conchas. Too generic and similar to be as arresting as the other ones.

So there is some good about the film, but unfortunately every micrometer of what makes it interesting is lost the second the plot pivots into the city. We're treated to a lot of flatly lit, poorly decorated interiors, an endlessly repetitive story populated by boring characters who do nothing, and the all-too infrequent scare sequences showing off the extreme limitations of the effects (the final reveal of La Llorona shows that the rubbery mask does have a couple patches that look like grotesque scabby skin, which definitely turns the stomach, but otherwise this is dime store Halloween nonsense).

It feels like the film has tacked its own sequel onto the back, and it proves the theory of diminishing returns beyond a shadow of a doubt. And the returns were microscopic to begin with. La Llorona is a tedious slog that only redeems itself by accident. Nothing that was intentionally put onscreen here is interesting in the slightest. Plus, this is the first film in the lineup so far that really leans into the parts of the Llorona legend (the parts that it deigns to take at all - this is another extremely loose adaptation) that seem powerfully sexist and reductive. In the wrong hands, this material is just a diatribe against female hysteria, and these hands, well they ain't right. 

TL;DR: La Llorona is a melodramatic heap of nonsense, and while the melodrama can be fun on occasion, the nonsense certainly isn't at all.
Rating: 2/10
Word Count: 1053


  1. "Again, a fun glimpse into the daily life around this area, but when you can only see a quarter of the film's actual action, it doesn't make for a smooth viewing experience."

    I dunno, everybody loooved Zama.

    (Sort of kidding, but I don't care for it and do not believe 99% of people actually don't find it mildly boring, which is what your Rotten Tomatoes would suggest. Also, no, I don't have much to add regsrding this most obscure of movies. You're committed, B!)

    1. Look, I'm grateful to you because I probably can't expect pretty much anybody to be following me down this rabbit hole.

      And I haven't seen Zama, nor do I intend to, but that director probably at least did it on purpose, eh? That counts for half a point