Arturo Ripstein (Mexico, 1943), a former assistant to Luis Bunuel, made two
great films, 30 years apart from each other, that stand up to the
master's ferocious imagination:
Castle of Purity (1972) and
The Ruination of Men (2000).
Tiempo de Morir/ Time to Die (1966)
La Hora de los Ninos/ Children's Hour (1969)
Los Recuerdos del Porvenir/ Memories of the Future (1969)
El Castillo de la Pureza/ Castle of Purity (1972), one of his artistic
peaks, is a horror story of sorts,
the portrait of a paranoid man who keeps his family
imprisoned in a dystopian reality. The film is both a
political allegory, referring to the limitations of freedom in a
dictatorial system, and an existential allegory, referring to the
aberrant consequences on the human mind of an urban life.
A strict father makes his children work, punishes them if they make mistakes
and is suspicious of them when something is not right in his room.
We soon realize that the man, Gabriel, is keeping his family locked in
the house. Nonetheless they seem to be happy: they play in the internal
courtyard, and his wife Beatriz is happy when he brings her a gift.
The older girl tells her brother that she would like to see the ocean,
and we learn that they hav never been outside. Her brother reminds her that
"going out is bad".
Their father has devised a scientific routine of
education, work, exercise and diet for his children.
He brainwashes the family by having them recite his favorite mottos for
a healthy life, including prophecies by Nostradamus.
He is also jealous, because his wife is fridig and he accuses her of thinking
of other men. The wife, however, tells him that she is happy of having been
confined for 18 years in that house.
They are both convinced that their children are happy and healthy.
But the children are growing up and the two teenagers,
their son Porvenir and their daughter Utopia, make fun of him in secret.
Gabriel leaves every morning. His neighbors thinks that he leaves alone.
His mission is to kill rats with his homemade pesticide.
He is obsessed with rats that multiply and are not killed by his poison.
He talks about the infestation of rats as if it were a biblical apocalypse.
Nonetheless, he is opposed to killing animals and raised his family vegetarian.
We realize that the rat poison is what they make all day long in the house.
Gabriel walks around town peddling his rat poison. In a store he offers
money to the teenage daughter of his customer to have sex with her. When
she refuses, he tells her mother that she tried to seduce him.
Back home, he tells his wife that nobody wants to buy their product anymore
and therefore they have to cut all expenses, including food. She then
offers her body to him to calm him down. But after the sex his jealousy
erupts and he threatens her with a knife if she doesn't confess how many
men she had before him, a scene witnessed by the older daughter.
However, his wife is ready to forgive him, happy to be his slave and the
object of his sexual madness. She obediently types the demented letters that
Gabriel writes to the minister.
One day an inspector comes to check the home laboratory and jokingly flirts
with the teenage girl. When the inspector leaves, Gabriel attacks his daughter,
mutilates her hair and threatens to kill her, accusing her of being "filthy".
He promises no more scenes but then he gets even more infuriated when his
children run outside for a few seconds while he is disposing of garbage:
he locks the children in dark basement cells and he beats his wife.
The consequence of keeping the teenagers locked in the house all the time
is that they start touching each other, and one day Gabriel finds them inside
the car. His fury skyrockets, he even flogs the girl (indirectly considering
her the cause of the boy's lust), and, as usual, he blames his wife.
The boy is simply too scared of his father, but his sister Utopia, fed up,
writes a letter in which he asks for help and hides it in her underwear.
Gabriel is becoming more and more perverted. He tells his wife that he has
just slept with a virgin and then has sex with her. She doesn't move at all.
He blames her for all his problems: she was not a virgin when he married her.
His whole madness seems to stem from that fact.
He tries to beat his son again but this time he fights back.
Utopia finds a way to drop the letter into the street and tells her mother
that she alerted the police, although she has no idea if anyone picked up
her letter. The police confronts Gabriel in one of the stores where he is
selling his merchandise. Gabriel runs back home and takes his son hostage
while his daughter screams for help. The police realizes that he is insane
and surrenders the house, to which he tries to set fire.
The police frees Utopia and she realizes that the police never received
her letter: they simply wanted proof that Gabriel had the permit to sell
his wares. Gabriel is arrested and taken away. His children can finally walk
in the street.
El Santo Oficio/ The Holy Office (1974)
The other Side of Paradise (1976)
La Viuda Negra/ The Black Widow (1977)
El Lugar Sin Limites/ Place Without Limits (1978) is a diligent
Jose Donoso's novel "El Lugar sin Limites/ Hell Has No Limits" (1966), but
without its dramatic power and surrealist overtones.
A red truck enters a town of empty streets. The driver honks to wake up
a man and his daughter. The man is terrified because he recognizes that this
means the return of an enemy. The daughter, however, tells him that he has
nothing to worry and goes back to sleep. The truck driver, Pancho,
stops at a his brother-in-law's place. The brother-in-law, Octavio,
is bored to death and wants to leave
that sleepy village, especially since the rich Don Alejo is trying to buy
everybody's place and many people have already fled.
Pancho's wife Emita and their child still live with Octavio, his wife's
brother thanks to Pancho's nomadic life (he has just returned after two
months), but Octavio is now determined to have Pancho buy his own place.
Octavio invites Pancho to go to the brothel with him but Pancho is tired
and falls asleep on a mattress.
Meanwhile, the scared man gets up and, as he starts dressing up, we realize
that he is a transvestite, Manuela.
He admits to his daughter that he fell in love
with Pancho. The consequence, however, was that Pancho beat him up and destroyed
his favorite dress.
Manuela is scared of Pancho but at the same time obsessed with him, and his
first thought is to fix the dress, so he walks around asking all the ladies
for red thread. Manuela's attractive daughter Japonesita runs the
brothel that Octavio was talking about. She has no mercy for the customers,
extracting the most money she can, and she runs the whores with the steady
hand of a dictator. She is hoping that Don Alejo will help them.
Manuela learns from an old woman that Pancho was the son of Don Alejo's
foreman. Don Alejo lent him money to buy the red truck, but Pancho
has been ungrateful to him and the old man is determined to take his revenge
on the young man.
Don Alejo's resentment might be due also to the fact that his wife Blanca
considers Pancho an adopted son because he always played with their daughter
when they were children. Blanca, clearly insane, thinks that they are still
Japonesita is deluding herself that Don Alejo is a friend and will help
restore electricity to the town. In reality,
Don Alejo is negotiating with a speculator to sell him the entire town
so that the speculator can tear it down and build something lucrative.
Don Alejo is planning to buy the brothel too, and he plans to summon the law
if Japonesita refuses to sell. Meeting Manuela in the street, Don Alejo
alerts him that Pancho wants to disfigure him and tempts him to sell the
brothel so he can move to another town. But first Don Alejo confronts Pancho,
who is flirting with a girl with the approval of his wife's brother.
It turns out that Pancho is back because he lost his job, and Don Alejo
confesses that he is the one who phoned his employer to fire him.
The old man humiliates Pancho in front of everybody and makes him beg. Then
Don Alejo also warns Pancho not to hurt Manuela and Japonesita.
After Don Alejo leaves, Japonesita approaches Pancho and sees that he is
crying like a child. Japonesita is a naive girl. Pancho explains to her that
Don Alejo is the one who has disconnected the electricity, so that everybody
will be motivated to sell and leave town. She doesn't believe him, but she is
moved that he is crying and begins touching his penis to masturbate him.
They are interrupted and Pancho leaves.
Later Octavio tells Pancho that he is willing to pay off Pancho's debt to
the old man by using the very money that Don Alejo has paid to Octavio for
a gas station. Octavio is doing all of this for his sister, but
Pancho didn't even think of visiting his wife Emita.
Manuela tells his daughter that Pancho is right: Don Alejo is the one who
disconnected the electricity to convince everybody to sell, and now there
is only one house left: their house. Manuela wants to sell and leave town,
but his daughter is adamant that her mother would not have sold, and she
does not want to sell.
A lengthy flashback shows her mother, Japonesa, crying because she has been
her pimp, whom she loved fondly, while Don Alejo is running in the political
Manuela gets off the train with five girls, both flamenco performers and whores,
and heads for the restaurant where Japonesa is holding a party for
the political candidate. The transvestite's flamenco dance is a big success
and the crowd enthusiastically throws him in the river. Japonesa boasts
that she can turn him into a real man, i.e. have sex with her. Don Alejo
bets the house where they are that she cannot do it. She walks into Manuela's
room and starts undressing, explaining to him that she really wants that house
and what the deal is. He is repulsed by her body but she offers
him to become her partner, and then she accepts to have sex with her.
Don Alejo watches unseen, and later keeps his promise to gift the house to
Japonesa. That's how the brothel was born, and how Japonesita was born.
Pancho and Octavio drive in the red truck to Don Alejo's villa and pay Pancho's
debt. Don Alejo refuses to shake Pancho's hand. The old man is dying though:
the doctor only gave him one year to live.
Then Octavio and Pancho head for the brothel to celebrate the deal.
Manuela, terrified, hides outside while Pancho dances with his daughter
Japonesita and Octavio with one of the prostitutes. Japonesita is actually
enjoying Pancho's manners... until he gets violent. Manuela is watching from
the window and can't hide any longer: he walks inside wearing his sexy red
dress. Pancho is ecstatic: he looks as obsessed with Manuela as Manuela is
with him. Manuela dances for him. Pancho kisses her. Octaviio sees them
and is disgusted. Pancho pretends that he didn't do it, and, to prove that
he is not gay, he joins Octavio in chasing Manuela. They jump on the truck
and start chasing a terrified Manuela through the streets of the town.
Manuela runs in vain: there is nobody around to defend her. She heads for
Don Alejo's villa, where the two men kick her and beat her until she
drops dead. Don Alejo and his foreman have watched from a backdoor.
When Pancho and Octavio flee in the red truck, Don Alejo and the foreman
walk out and find Manuela dead. Don Alejo swears to send them to jail.
La Tia Alejandra/ Aunt Alejandra (1979)
Cadena Perpetua/ Life Sentence (1979)
El Imperio de la Fortuna/ The Empire of Fortune (1986), an adaptation of Juan Rolfo's classic novel,
Mentiras Piadosas/ Love Lies (1989)
La Mujer del Puerto/ Woman of the Port (1991)
Principio y Fin/ The Beginning and the End (1993) is an adaptation of
a Naguib Mahfouz novel, with the setting relocated from Egypt to Mexico.
La Reina de la Noche/ Queen of the Night (1994)
Profundo Carmesi/ Deep Crimson (1996), based on the case of
a couple (Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck) that
murdered about 20 widows between 1947 and 1949 after meeting them through
The first half of the film sounds like a grotesque Bunuel-esque satire
of the bourgeoisie (a greedy man who is obsessed with his baldness,
a fat widow who is desperate for sex), but the second half turns to
realist melodrama with poignant scenes about the psychotic nature of
the couple's love story.
There are mirrors all over the film. In a sense the story is told via
mirrors. The last mirror image is the one of their bodies
reflected in the pool of water where they died.
A fat nurse, Coral, a widow with two children,
takes care of an older paralyzed man in a
wheelchair. She tries to seduce him in front of her children.
His daughter knows of her lust and rushes in the room to save her father
from her. Her own children call her names.
Later she replies to an ad in the "lonely hearts" section of the newspaper.
She meets a man, Nicolas, who claims to be a romantic gentleman from Spain, but
we see that he has an entire cabinet of files about the many women whom
he has contacted. He is not even handsome: he is bald and wears a wig.
After they sleep together, he steals money from her purse.
Nonetheless she visits him with her children
and begs him to marry her. When he replies that the children are a problem,
she leaves them to the nuns of a convent (begging the older daughter not
to remember her) and then breaks into the apartment of her lover.
She finds the files about the other women. When he arrives and tries to get
rid of her, she shows him the file about his late wife.
She, as a nurse, understood what happened: she was a diabetic and he gave her
the insuline who killed her. She wants him so badly that she is willing to
live with a killer and basically blackmails him into keeping her.
He accepts her proposal to pretend that she is his sister.
Posing as his sister, she can help him seduce women and then rob them.
Her next victim is woman who hates her husband. He keeps her prisoner
and she is getting old. She drinks to forget her miserable condition.
Drunk, her depression about aging gets worse.
Coral is scared of her.
They take her money and leave her on a bench, unconscious.
Before leaving Coral gives her poison that kills her.
While driving, the wind blows away Nicolas' wig. He gets hysterical about it.
He starts crying because now Coral has discovered his secret.
He sees his baldness as a physical deformation and doesn't want her to look
Her experience fixing cadavers in the morgue comes handy:
she lovingly fixes the wig for him.
He is now truly in love with her.
Their next victim is a very Catholic woman.
The neighbor warns her in vain that they are impostors.
The widow desperately needs someone in her life.
When he proposes to her, she does not hesitate. She wears a white dress
and follows him to a cemetery, where they celebrate the wedding using a
grave as an altar. They swear eternal love in front of
a statuette of the Madonna. Nicolas and Coral try to avoid that she actually
sleeps with Nicolas, but in the middle of the night the bride cannot resist
anymore and enters Nicolas' room and jumps on him mumbling that
she doesn't want to be pure anymore.
Coral, jealous, smashes the statuette on her head
and then she carefully cleans the floor.
They bury her and off they go towards another widow.
This widow, Rebecca, is an attractive young woman with a little daughter.
She is waiting for them, nervous, in an isolated house in the middle of
She is a practical woman. She needs a man to
run her mechanic shop because it is tough to run such a shop in a small town.
Nicolas accepts to work in the shop and help around the house.
Nicolas behaves like a good husband and a good father, but
Coral gets on Rebecca's nerves and eventually Rebecca asks
Nicolas to get rid of his "sister".
At last, she wants to have sex with him, and he cannot resist: they have sex
in the back of the car. Later he writes to Coral that he misses her, but
doesn't mention that he's having sex with Rebecca.
Rebecca makes the mistake of surprising Nico when he takes his wig off.
She is just joking, but
he loses his temper as usual when someone sees his baldness
and almost kills her.
He is a psycho who sees it as a dishonor to be seen bald.
She gets pregnant and wants abortion. Nicolas calls Coral to help, since she
is a nurse.
Coral performs the abortion but maximizes the loss of blood.
Rebecca, staggering around the house, catches them going through her papers
and realizes that they are killing her in order to rob her.
Coral grabs her and Nicolas finishes her with punches in the stomach.
They don't know what to do with the child, who saw everything and keeps
screaming. Coral drowns her in a bathtub and Nicolas buries them together.
But this is too much for Nicolas, who calls the police and confesses.
Even in jail he begs to wear his wig to the end.
The small town doesn't even have a jail for women, let alone a courthouse.
The police officers take the couple to the desert and tell them to walk.
Coral is detained in the school because they don't have jails for women.
Nicolas' last words are words of love for her.
They are shot in the back like animals and fall on their face into a pool
El Evangelio de las Maravillas (1997)
El Coronel no Tiene quien le Escriba/ No One Writes to the Colonel (1999)
La Perdicion de los Hombres/ The Ruination of Men (2000), probably
scripted by Paz Alicia Garciadiego and shot in black and white with
hand-held camera that indulges on very long takes,
The plot belongs to the absurdist theater, an endless tour de force of
cynical indifference towards life and death, peaking with the
grotesque murder scene and the grotesque fight between the two wives
at the morgue. The equally grotesque dialogue in which the killers engage
"to pass the time" is pure Beckett.
But all the buildings (the victim's shack, the police station, the morgue)
are bare and decrepit, signaling an obsessive form of realism.
The ultimate grotesque aspect of the film is that,
as the "whodunit" evolves, we keep expecting to find out the motive of the
murder, and we are surprised to find that it was a rather silly one.
Nonetheless, through its narrative jigsaw puzzle, the film delivers a powerful
portrait of a
delirious sociopath who not only started two families but neglected both
for his one obsession.
An older man and a younger man ambush a peasant who is pushing a wheelbarrow
on a dirt path. They beat him to death, load the corpse into the wheelbarrow and
take it to the poor man's shack. They seem to wait for something to happen and,
in order to kill time, they discuss how women cause all the problems.
Neither killer seem to have anything personal against their victim. The older
one, in fact, shows respect in his own way. They even put nice clothes on
the corpse. The older man only reluctantly allows the younger man to steal
Later two women, a mother and her daughter, are at the police station.
They gossip about a third woman who is flirting with the police officer.
The mother gets into a heated argument with this third woman. The two women
exchange vulgar insults. The mother and the daughter are brought to the morgue
to identify the corpse: it turns out that the dead man was their husband and
father. Neither seems shocked at all. The mother is outraged that the police
undressed the man for the autopsy and that someone stole the boots. There is
definitely no sorrow in the two women. Later the mother is alone with her
rival. It turns out that they were both wives of the dead man. They fight
like animals literally over his dead body.
The first wife had three children from him.
The second wife had five. They have nothing charming to say about their
husband but they fight repeatedly for ownership of the cadaver.
Neither has a clear reason to be the chosen widow, as the man lived by
himself in the shack, devoting his entire life to practicing for his
Eventually the two women stop punching and kicking and decide to let a flip
of the coin decide who keeps the cadaver. The first one wins. The other one
leaves and bitterly reminds her how expensive funerals and graves are.
The first wife now curses her own luck. She lies next to the corpse and
talks to him for a long time until her daughter interrupts her calling her
crazy. They ask the police officer for a prisoner to help them carry
the corpse back to his shack. The police officer gives them the young man,
who is in jail not for the murder but for getting drunk. The young man helps
the mother and the daughter tie load the corpse into the wheelbarrow.
They carry him back to the shack and lie him on the bed. During the trip
he tells her that he plays in the same baseball team and that the dead man
was the worst player. The mother is not
stupid: she has recognized her husband's boots and guessed that he is the
killer. Suddenly she grabs a baseball
bat and breaks the young man's ankles. Then she demands that he licks her
legs until she almost has an orgasm (in front of her daughter and of the
corpse of her husband). Then she forces him to take off the stolen boots and
watches him hobbling away in the dusty street.
Now the film flashes back to the day of the murder. The men with two wives
wakes up in his poor cluttered room, furnished with simple objects that he
enumerates to the camera one by one. He packs his tools in the wheelbarrow
and pushes it up the dusty path. As he gets dressed, the radio broadcasts
a sermon against baseball: he turns it off.
The first wife and her daughter ambush him
and attack him because he is not paying his dues. His wife gets even more
furious when she sees that he has bought new shoes. His excuse is that this
is an important day for him: his baseball team has to play an important
match. He escapes from the wife and reaches his workplace, where he cuts
trees along with one of his sons. The father didn't even have money to buy
food and begs the son for a piece of his sandwich. The game (played in
a plain open field) is a disaster.
Two of the teammates, the two who will kill him later, warn him that they
will kill him if he makes one of his typical mistakes. They call him a midget,
because he is short, and they accuse him of being a drunkard.
The poor man, who has dreamed for days of this game, is very excited, but
ends up making a colossal mistake that costs the game to his team. All the
players leave the field. Alone in the empty field, he dreams of being the hero
who wins the game, and even hears in his mind the radio broadcast of his
Now we are back to the first scene. The man leaves the field pushing his
wheelbarrow and enters the dusty path where the two teammates are
waiting for him...
Asi es la Vida/ Such Is Life (2000), shot on digital video, is
a variation on the Greek tragedy "Medea.
La Virgen de la Lujuria/ Virgin of Lust (2002) is one of Ripstein's
most linear, relaxed and conventional films. While his trademark obsession
with sex and death are still pervasive, here they are treated according to
the cliches of noir cinema.
The very fragmented narrative
(most scenes last a few seconds) recalls the style of comics and photonovelas.
sometimes the characters sing about their lives and actions in operatic tones,
as if mocking the operettas of the era.
The film is shot in dark, strong tones that
recall the 1930s and, occasionally, the era is also evoked via brief
poster-like scenes with colorful subtitles.
The plot is the quintessential
melodrama centered on a femme fatale and the slave-master relationship that
subjugates a weak, ordinary, pointless man, but most of the story is told
by the scenography.
An angry/scared crowd is banging and shaking a locked gate. The story is set
in the years after the Spanish civil war (1930s).
Nacho the lonely waiter of a quiet and classy downtown cafe`. He is treated
like a slave by his rude boss, who claims to be of pure Spanish origins
(whereas the waiter has indio blood).
Brief disconnected scenes introduce Nacho's private life.
He lives a simple life, helping his neighbor Raquel with her small sewing jobs
(her daughter, who sleeps with her, is a prostitute). His only hobbies are
masturbating in the basement while staring at some erotic pictures and
kissing the feet of a statue of the madonna. He also masturbates thinking of
killing Franco. One morning he finds a gorgeous prostitute, Lola, behind the
counter of the cafe`. She had sex with Gardenia, a masked wrestler whom
everybody believes gay, and she is desperate to get more. She is also
drunk and stoned. Nacho's boss finds them and gets furious. He locks the
woman in a room and promises to call the police. Nacho (a cartoon-like
simpleton) begs the woman to take shelter in his apartment, otherwise the
police could deport her. In the following days, Nacho takes care of Lola,
who is sick, but she is proud and still obsessed with Gardenia. She claims
to be German-Russian, a former circus artist, but her accent is clearly Spanish.
She tells Nacho the unlikely ordeal to kill Franco. She lets Nacho kiss her
feet, but Nacho does not venture beyond that, respecting her like a saint.
This only infuriates her. She resents his faithfulness to his hideous boss
and his servile behavior in life. Nacho even goes out looking for Gardenia,
as that is Lola's wish. Eventually, Lola leaves him, not only ungrateful
but also suicidal.
Nacho resumes his masturbating practices and one night is caught by an older
man, also from Spain, who is moving into the apartment upstairs. He (Gimeno)
and his friends are penniless revolutionaries who lost the civil war to Franco.
They take the habit of spending their evenings at the cafe` till very late
hours, ordering little or nothing.
Lola is known to have lost her mind in the opium dens of Chinatown. Nacho
tries to forget (or remember) by hiring a prostitute to kiss her feet.
Gimeno respects Nacho's obsession, and Nacho secretely feeds him.
Gimeno decides to share the basement with Nacho: Nacho can keep masturbating,
while Gimeno, a professional photographer, will use it to set up a tragedy
about the Spanish revolution, with help from Nacho and Raquel to create the
Nacho looks for Lola in Chinatown, scouring dark rooms full of stoned people.
Nacho finds out accidentally who Gardenia is: he is the chef of the cafe`,
Gerardo. Now Nacho dreams of becoming a wrestler, hoping that this would
conquer Lola's heart. Gerardo's dressing room is where Nacho sees Lola again:
she is desperate for Gardenia's love, but he despises her and warns Nacho
against getting addicted to her. But Nacho can't help it, and she moves back
into his apartment, treating him in ever more humiliating ways. Nacho even
volunteers all of his savings to convince Gardenia to flee with Lola to
Hollywood. Eventually, Gardenia disappears, and Lola becomes even more
neurotic. Nacho finds her a job at the cafe`, hoping that this would heal
her depression, but, instead, she flirts with the customers, and Nacho has
to suffer the torments of jealousy. Despite the fact that they live together,
Nacho never tries to have sex with her. He is happy to kiss her feet, even
when she humiliates him in front of everybody.
Eventually she leaves him again, for a man whom she believes to be Gardenia.
Nacho volunteers to kill Franco, again hoping that this will get him Lola's
love. This turns into Gimeno's tragedy, performed in the basement. A
sequence of silent scenes with subtitles (in the style of the old photonovelas)
tells how the humble waiter becomes a hero by killing the dictator. (When he
shoots Franco, the crowd rushes out and is trapped by the gate of the first
scene). But Lola is trapped again in her addiction to drugs and to Gardenia.
Nacho burns his erotic pictures (which Lola hated). The story becomes more
and more oneiric. Lola enters the cafe` and kisses Nacho's feet: Nacho's
imaginary ending to Gimeno's tragedy?
El Carnaval de Sodoma (2006)
Las Razones deL Corazon/ The Reasons of the Heart (2011) is an
adaptation of the last chapters of Gustave Flaubert's novel "Madame Bovary".
La Calle de la Amargura/ Bleak Street (2015)
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