Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Embrujada, aka Bewitched (Argentina, 1969)

Many men of a much coarser nature than me might look at Isabel Sarli’s body and declare it good for only one thing. And if you guessed “baby making”, then congratulations: you are Armando Bo, writer and co-director of Embrujada.

I have seen far from all of Bo’s obsessive paeans to his lover Sarli’s generous pulchritude, but I’m sure that none of them are as abundant in cray cray as Embrujada. This is a film in which Sarli portrays a woman who so desperately wants to have a baby that her maternal urges summon forth a literal monster. How do we know that she wants to have a baby, you probably don’t ask? Well, when we meet her at the film’s opening, she is in a toy store purchasing a baby doll, which she then takes home and tearfully holds to her enormous bosom. And this is only the first indication of the astonishing level of condescension that Bo brings to his depiction of Sarli’s character throughout the picture.

The problem is that Sarli’s character, Ansise, is married to Leandro (Daniel de Alvarado), a despotic lumber baron with a malfunctioning pee pee. This means that we get to see scenes of Leandro futilely humping the leg of a supine Isabel Sarli while weeping. In fact, if watching a voluptuous woman have blighted sex with catastrophically ugly old men is your thing, you can put those worn Ron Jeremy tapes away, because Embrujada is the only film you will ever need from now on. And, no, we are not spared the sight of their pale, flabby buttocks flouncing away on top of her, so strap in.

As with Bo’s other films, one of  Ebrujada's greatest pleasures is seeing actors throatily declaim the most absurdly overwrought dialogue imaginable with an almost self-immolating passion. Thusly, much audible hay is made of Leandro being “useless” as a man by both Ansise and himself. Leandro, however, is not being entirely on the level, as we later learn that his business works just fine when serviced by Peralta (Miguel A. Olmos), the sadistic foreman of whom he has made a boy toy.

Such betrayals, however, will have to be the subject of later hair tearing, as right now the priority for Ansise is getting someone to put a baby in her and fast. The route she takes toward this goal is a novel one. She first consults a witch, to little apparent result, and then becomes a hooker—which I suppose is a fairly direct path to parenthood if you don’t mind your baby coming with a side order of syphilis. Her first customer is a hirsute man-hag whom Leandro walks in on her with. Much glass-rattling lamentation and self-recrimination follows.

Finally, Leandro hires a workman with a less eye-punishing countenance than the other males in Embrujada, and he is played by Bo’s son, Victor, who we also saw getting it on with Sarli in The Virgin Godess. Which is to say that the two of them get it on here also. Love blossoms between the pair, only to be struck down by tragedy—that tragedy being the appearance of a rapey demon thing from South American folklore called the Pombero. The Pombero is traditionally referred to as being small in stature, but here he is a normal sized dude in a drugstore devil mask. In any case, he quickly gets to pawing away at Ansise, who, by all appearances, enjoys it lots.

Ansise is free in spreading word of her encounter with Pombero and is believed by no one. Leandro charmingly blames her belief in the creature on her immutable savagery, seeing as she is an indigenous woman whom Leandro married by arrangement with her tribe’s chieftain. Gradually it starts to appear that the ticking of Ansise’s biological clock, coupled with the roiling of her native blood, has driven her to madness. Indeed, the amount of visual noise (lots of abrupt flash forwards and flash forwards, bizarre superimpositions) that Bo employs toward depicting her mental disintegration raises the question of whether Embrujada was intended by him as his nudity-filled answer to Polanski’s Repulsion. Whatever the case, it could certainly count as a cut rate spiritual cousin to the current wave of maternal horror films lead by movies like The Babadook and Goodnight Mommy, though conspicuously bereft of the benefits those films had by virtue of having female directors. 

Embrujada was filmed in the Misiones province of Argentina and wisely gives visual prominence to the majestic Iguazu Falls, which serve as a resting place for our eyes between its scenes of grotesque human couplings. As for its other scenery, the film shows us a lot more than usual of Isabel Sarli, who is topless virtually throughout and often completely starkers. This is fine for dad, of course, but what does Embrujada offer for mom? Well, for her it has retrograde gender attitudes virulent enough to make even the most subservient hausfrau crackle with feminist rage. It’s a win-win, really.


Anonymous said...

I recommend you to watch "Carne" and "La Burrerita of Ypacarai" (I think the last one is Isabel best and serious film). Isabel latests (and possibly last) film, "Mis días con Gloria", is a good film and is available on dvd with english subtitles! I'm fan of Isabel, last year she sent me autographed photos !

Noni Alaniz

Anonymous said...

Watched it with my wife and she loved it. "Moms" come in all types I suppose - a Dad.