A Woman Without Love (Mexico, 1952):
(Una Mujer Sin Amor)

Luis Buñuel's self-described "worst movie" is not so much bad as just routine, not enough melo to spike the drama -- almost like a '30s MGM soaper, though one rushed to cram the pauperly budgets and one-month schedules of his shoestring Mexican period. Based on Guy de Maupassant's Pierre et Jean (or, more precisely, on André Cayatte's 1943 film version), the plot is set mostly in decorated interiors, all the better to (over)stress the purity of Nature in Tito Junco's romantic engineer, who offers sad-eyed society wife Rosario Granados a brief refuge from her loveless marriage to an older art dealer (Julio Villarreal). Their affair aborted by the husband's illness, she has to settle for a quiet life with her two sons, the youngest one the hidden fruit of their passion; dissolve to several years later, the antique shop has turned clinic for the grown boys, now doctors, and the arrival of Junco's inheritance triggers a haze of brutal paranoia in son Joaquín Cordero. Whispers of infidelity, consuming contempt, and much hand-wringing follow. Poisoning male suspicion also figures prominently in Buñuel's even more obscure La Hija del Engaño, made the previous year from Carlos Arniche's play Don Quintín el Armargao, and, while just as weighted down by studio conditions, possibly the most Ulmer-like of the director's works, with sets casually expressionist in their poverty. The two are fascinating yet unsatisfying samples of Buñuel's view of the submerged streak of cruelty and violence formed in the male mind when confronted with desire. (Both emanate a whiff of unacknowledged incest.) There's a logical progression from one to the other (the father in the former becomes, so to speak, the son in the latter), yet the characters' hovering furies -- their sense of patriarchal entitlement -- are soothed by the conventions of the plot when they should be made to boil over, a notion to be realized, magnificently, that same year in Él. With Cordero Loya, Elda Peralta, and Jaime Calpe. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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