Monday, April 28, 2014

Fuego (Argentina, 1969)

Poor Miss Laura! A beautiful woman, she lacks not for male attention, but still she is unsatisfied! The flame of her desire burns too hot! Poor Miss Laura! She wants to be good…


1956 was a banner year in the history of Argentinian film, for it was in that year that actor and director Armando Bo, with the film El Trueno Entre las Hojas, gave the Argentinean audience their first taste of full frontal screen nudity. It was also in 1956, in that same film, that Bo introduced the audience to his discovery, former Miss Argentina Isabel Sarli, who was the enthusiastic delivery system for that nudity.

Many online sources refer to Sarli as “well endowed”, but out of hostility to such coyness I will simply refer to her as “huge titted”. Sarli’s acting, if not good, is also huge, which suits to a tee Bo’s overheated approach to drama, which sees no emotion as too small not to be screamed to the heavens with balled fists. Sarli, who would eventually marry Bo, starred in dozens of soft-core sex films for him throughout the 60s and 70s, often with him as costar, not retiring until after his death in 1981. Over that period, she rose to prominence throughout Latin America as both a sex symbol and pop cultural icon.

In 1969’s Fuego, Sarli plays Laura, who, when we first meet her, is married to the wealthy man of business Jorge (Hugo Mújica) while seemingly barely tolerating the lesbian advances of her live-in maid Andrea (Alba Múgica). Then along comes Carlos (Bo), another wealthy man of business, who, after a passionate tryst by a chicken coop, whisks her away to his home in San Martín de los Andes, a spectacularly lush region resting at the foot of the Andes. It is there that they enjoy an erotic reverie of almost nonstop lovemaking, be it in their colorfully appointed bedroom or rolling naked on the snow swept mountainsides.

All the while, Laura keeps up her dalliance with Andrea, whose insane possessiveness leads to a catfight that presents a serious challenge to the one in The Brain that Wouldn’t Die in terms of sheer awkwardness. Yet, despite all of this attentiveness to her carnal needs, Laura remains unsatisfied. That is because Laura is what is known, in the parlance of her era, as a “nympho”. So deep, in fact, is her erotomania, that she is eventually driven by it to hit the town, naked but for a huge fur coat and silver go-go boots, to expose herself to the gentry, eventually coupling with a yahoo in a Stetson who she refers to as a “stupid idiot”.

To be fair, this being a soft core sex film, the “erotic reverie” that Laura enjoys consists almost entirely of her boobs being either groped or nuzzled, punctuated by disconcertingly explicit shots of her and Carlos making out that beg for the term “sucking face” to come back into fashion. When there is no one around to grope her boobs, Laura lies in bed and gropes them herself, which may explain why she remains so unsatisfied (making this a case where an intervention by Susie Bright might have worked miracles).

Fuego is a film that you watch in grateful astonishment, delivering as it does nonstop kitsch of an almost lethal purity. Its visual aesthetic, despite its 1969 vintage, is the 1970s crystallized; a hair raising shit storm of hideously patterned blazers, gaudily colored mini dresses and pneumatic hairstyles. Its all-singing soundtrack -- including such numbers as Lois Alberto del Parana’s “Flames in her Body” and Carlos Alonzo’s “Living is Dying” -- matches the action with an aural wallpapering of weepy-eyed Latinate bombast. Oh, and the dialogue! Countless times I almost lost track of the action as I hastened to scribble down one howler after another:

“I love you, but I am being consumed by the sexual fire inside!”

“My beloved, you are so voluptuous. I love you!”

“Slut! SLUT!!”

“They go by such names as whores, prostitutes, and harlots. They unleash crimes of passion!”

“I want you to kill me as you look into my eyes and say I love you, I love you, I LOVE YOU!”

All of this is not to say that Bo does not have his gifts as a filmmaker. In addition to making good use of some absolutely stunning locations, the sheer number of screen captures that I made while watching the film is testament to the fact that he is capable of some arresting compositions, including some that don’t have boobs in them. Equally impressive is how -- like a coalman on the Titanic, furiously stoking the boilers -- he manages to so consistently keep the emotional tenor of Fuego at such a fervent pitch. This, after all, is no lazy exploitation cash in, but instead pop filmmaking with the volume turned up to 11.

Back in the plot of Fuego, Carlos’ desperation to find a cure for Laura’s condition brings the couple to New York City, where we get some great location shots of Sarli walking along Broadway while being catcalled by some ineptly dubbed “New Yawkers” (Fuego was picked up for distribution by an outfit called Haven International, which I assume was responsible for the English audio). Eventually they end up at the office of a Doctor who brands Laura with the scarlet “N” before he, doing the American medical establishment proud, performs an examination that appears to consist solely of him finger banging her. Of course, such an event would have been foreseeable had we earlier made note of his office’s tufted black leather doors.

After giving Laura this once over, the doctor -- judging her ability to experience sexual pleasure as proof of his diagnosis -- somewhat paradoxically declares her untreatable. And so, as with so many other libidinous women throughout film history, the only cure for Laura is death, in this case in the form of her taking a flyer from one of those picturesque mountainsides.

Still, Fuego’s ultimately casting its story in such a tragic light cannot rob me of the many joys it gave me. These include the spectacle of Isabel Sarli, overheated with passion, kneeling before an appreciative Armando Bo and ridiculously mashing snow into her clothed bosom. Also any point at which the Margaret Hamilton-esque Alba Múgica literally licks her chops while spying on Laura’s various nude frolicking. Oh, and of course, that entire business of Sarli traipsing about a remote mountain village in her positively enormous fur coat.

Recounting these things, I find myself on the verge of weeping, because, indeed, my friends, the fire in me for Fuego burns hot. So consumed, I can only beckon to you from within the flames to join me in torment. Feel the burn!

[Fuego is available for both streaming and download from]


sunil said...

I have this Agatha Christie autobiography where she states one of her sensible maiden friends had a theory that made so much sense it HAD to be right. Apparently every woman was born with a key that her parents kept safely with them. The belly button is where the key went and at the time of marriage the key was handed over to the husband. You are welcome.

Todd said...

Thanks, Sunil. You know, it's a funny thing, life. You spend half of it trying to figure out women, and then someone just hands it to you on a plate as you just did. Still, being honest, I figured it had to be something like that. But tell me: is the key... made of fire?

sunil said...

I miss a world where seeing BOOBS was such a huge and mysterious thing. :-)Christie also has some very shrewd observations of how in the name of equality women have thrown away the actual levers of power in any civilized household. :-D

sunil said...

The real excitement of being a girl-of being, that is, a
woman in embryo-was that life was such a wonderful gamble.
You didn't know what was going to happen to you. That was
what made being a woman so exciting. No worry about what
you should be or do-Biology would decide. You were waiting
for The Man, and when the man came, he would change your
entire life. You can say what you like, that is an exciting point
of view to hold at the threshold of life. What will happen?
'Perhaps I shall marry someone in the Diplomatic Service...I
think I should like that; to go abroad and see all sorts of
places...' Or: 'I don't think I would like to marry a sailor; you
would have to spend such a lot of time living in seaside
lodgings.' Or: 'Perhaps I'll marry someone who builds bridges,
or an explorer.' The whole world was open to you-not open to
your choice, but open to what Fate brought you.
Those were still great days for the purity of young girls. I do
not think we felt in the least repressed because of it. Romantic
friendships, tinged certainly with sex or the possibility of sex,
satisfied us completely. Courtship is, after all, a recognised
stage in all animals. The male struts and courts, the female
pretends not to notice anything, but is secretly gratified. You
know it is not yet the real thing, but it is a kind of
apprenticeship. The troubadours were quite right when they
made their songs about the pays du tendre. I can re-read
Aucassin and Nicolette always, for its charm, its naturalness
and its sincerity. Never again, after your youth, do you have
that particular feeling: the excitement of friendship with a man;
that sense of being in affinity, of liking the same things, of the
other one saying what you have just been thinking. A great
deal of it is illusion, of course, but it is a wonderful illusion, and
I think it ought to have its part in every woman's life. You can
smile at yourself later, saying, 'I was really rather a young fool.
You've got to hand it to Victorian women; they got their
menfolk where they wanted them. They established their
fraility, delicacy, sensibility-their constant need of being
protected and cherished. Did they lead miserable, servile
lives, downtrodden and oppressed? Such is not my
recollection of them. All my grandmothers' friends seem to me
in retrospect singularly resilient and almost invariably
successful in getting their own way. They were tough, selfwilled,
and remarkably well-read and well-informed.
Mind you, they admired their men enormously. They
genuinely thought men were splendid fellows-dashing, inclined
to be wicked, easily led astray. In daily life a woman got her
own way whilst paying due lip service to male superiority, so
that her husband should not lose face.
'Your father knows best, dear,' was the public formula. The
real approach came privately. 'I'm sure you are quite right in
what you said, John, but I wonder if you have considered...'
In one respect man was paramount. He was the Head of the
House. A woman, when she married, accepted as her destiny
his place in the world and his way of life.

Todd said...

But what do you think Agatha Christie would think of Fuego?

sunil said...

She unabashedly LOVED a good pair of BOOBS. :-D Do read it if you can, to see the turn of the last century from the eyes of an amiable and intelligent woman is 1000 times stranger and more wonderful than any Science Fiction/Speculative Fiction written by anyone this side of Verne and Wells. She speaks English, but she practically comes from another epoch.

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