Friday September 22, 1995
"Aventurera," a recently rediscovered 1950 Mexican musical melodrama, has it all: dizzying plot twists, extravagant production numbers, a film noir aura--and most important, Ninon Sevilla. In the 1940s and '50s, Sevilla--a Cuban singing and dancing sensation and a passionate actress--was Mexico's foremost star of the * cabareteras , movies primarily set against Mexico's burgeoning night-life. In Sevilla you find echoes of Carmen Miranda, Maria Montez and, in sheer versatility and great gams, Betty Grable.
There is no question that "Aventurera" is highly revealing of its postwar era, a time of social and economic upheaval similar to that in the United States. Although director Alberto Gout and his writers certainly do lay bare the hypocrisy and corruption of Mexican society at that time--and how!--clearly entertainment was always uppermost on their minds.
This is the kind of potent popular art that you can read lots into in retrospect, and the Mexican critics' group that named it the fourth best Mexican film of all time in 1993 were truly carried away. In any event, the picture is at once a feminist's delight, an outrageous camp treat and terrific example of crisp, professional filmmaking that has made all these meanings and pleasures possible. Supplying that shadowy film noir atmosphere in spades is cinematographer Alex Phillips, who photographed a goodly share of Mexico's classic films.
Sevilla plays an upper-middle-class young woman in Chihuahua whose sheltered life collapses in an instant and who soon winds up shanghaied into a Ciudad Juarez brothel/nightclub where she's expected to be a prostitute and B-girl as well as an entertainer. Myriad mind-boggling plot developments land Sevilla nightclub stardom in Mexico City and marriage into the highest level of society. But what of happiness and her shady past?
Amid wondrously kitschy production numbers, beautiful Alberto Dominguez songs, a haunting title tune by the maestro, Agustin Lara, and numerous important singers and musicians of the day in performance, "Aventurera" ("Adventuress") is, intentionally or otherwise, a timeless, universal commentary on the status of women, present as well as past.
A quick montage shows Sevilla being pawed over by men in all the humble jobs she takes and quits before ending up unemployed and broke, at which point she has a pivotal chance meeting with a casual acquaintance, a procurer and thief (Tio Junco), who looks like Errol Flynn as portrayed by Wayne Newton. The irony here is that her fate might have been no better and possibly even worse had she not crossed paths with him. Similarly, there's an example of sacrificial mother love carried to delirious extremes in Sevilla's formidable mother-in-law (Andrea Palma, who has a mask-like Dietrich face). Yet for all this, "Aventurera" dares to suggest Sevilla's plucky Elena can survive and even prevail.
Aventurera, 1995. Unrated. A Shadowfax Film Co. presentation of a Producciones Calderon production. Director Alberto Gout. Producers Pedro A. Calderon and Guillermo Calderon. Screenplay by Alvaro Custodio and Carlos Sampelayo; from a story by Custodio. In Spanish with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes. Ninon Sevilla as Elena Tejero. Tio Junco as Lucio (Pretty Boy) Saenz. Andrea Palma as Rosaura. Ruben Rojo as Mario.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times