The past February 3rd, one of the most beautiful, talented and elegant actress of our cinema passed away: María Elena Lamadrid Ruiz (1944-2024), best known as Helena Rojo. It is true that much of her work was in soap operas, TV series and theater. It is also true that she participated in about 50 films, among feature and shot films. Her last appearance in a film was last year in Invitación a un asesinato by JM Cravioto. However, the ethereal Helena Rojo will be remembered for her work made in between 1968 and the end of the 70's, where her best performances are to be found. In that period of time, not only she showed us the beauty and distinction that characterized her, but she was also part of the stories of some of her films.
Helena started as a model at the beginning of the 60's and later that decade she began to study theater under the leadership of Carlos Ancira and José Luis Ibáñez. It is believed that her first appearance on the screen was out of luck for she was accompanying a friend to an audition and due to her posture and free spirit they offer her a small role at Los amigos (1968) by Ícaro Cisneros, that premiered at the first contest of experimental cinema in 1965. The film once again bets on the topics of cultural modernity represented by the emerging Zona Rosa, including the presence of the painter José Luis Cuevas as himself.
Helena Rojo shows up in the first few minutes of the film alongside Enrique Rocha who plays her boyfriend, both recent college graduates. He arranges a date with her at his house to break up with her, because he wants a more relaxed life, then she leaves resigned only to run into Rocha's boss, the businessman architect Ricardo Carrión, with whom she later dances at a party at his residence. Those brief moments were enough for the camera to discover a young woman of refined, delicate features and melancholic beauty who would embark on a run of moralistic films about lost youths susceptible to the scolding of the hypocritical and double-standard Mexican society of the late sixties. The films were also immersed in the context of other young social movements that ended brutally on October 2nd, 1968, year in which Helena appears briefly in El club de los suicidas, whose shooting ended on October 1st, with Enrique Guzmán, Enrique Rocha and Juan Ferrara.
In 1969, in addition to a minor role in the melodrama Cruz de amor, she played a couple of similar roles in two highly moralistic films: Las chicas malas del padre Méndez and Las bestias jóvenes, both by José María Fernández Unsaín. The former, inspired by a true story that took place in Uruapan, is set in a small town (Tepepan), where a priest, played by David Reynoso, regenerates several sex workers (Norma Lazareno, Lupita Ferrer, Lina Marín, July Furlong, Helena Rojo and Margie Bermejo) from a brothel run by Beatriz Baz. In the latter, which launched José Alonso's career, immersed in the "dangers of lost youth" (drugs, lesbianism, car racing, music and more), Helena is one of several girls in a boarding house run by María Elena Marqués. The film features Chilo Morán and the group Los Crickets as well.
However, Helena Rojo would finally have the chance to show off her talent and distinction in Isabel, directed by Mauricio Walerstein, the third episode of Siempre hay una primera vez (1969) (the other two episodes are: Rosa by José Estrada and Gloria by Guillermo Murray). This is a highly brutal story about social differences and damaged sexuality. A beautiful and fragile Helena Rojo, daughter of a wealthy couple (Beatriz Baz and Guillermo Murray), is about to marry an elegant architect (Carlos Cortés) and spies on her father and his mistress. Sick of the party in her honor, she wanders around Zona Rosa where she is harassed by a group of men for which she decides to board a cab. The driver, played by Héctor Suárez, drives her around Garibaldi and other places until he takes her to a motel where he ends up raping her, beating her and sexually abusing her. Both actors play terrific roles with an impressive amount of acting range.
In the seventies she would appear in westerns such as: El sabor de la venganza, Indio or El Payo. Even more interesting were Una vez un hombre, Victoria, Fin de fiesta, Los perros de Dios, La casa del sur, and Misterio/Estudio Q. She also appeared in horror films such as: Mary Mary, Bloody Mary and Más negro que la noche. Overall, one can highlight her performances in the emerging Echeverrista cinema as shown in: Jorge Fons' Los cachorros (1971), adapted from the novel by Mario Vargas Llosa, starring José Alonso in the role of Cuellar, a confused, aggressive and frustrated young man, after growing up emasculated by a dog, and his aggressive relationship with the beautiful young liberal woman portrayed by Helena Rojo. In Ángeles y querubines (1971), written by Carlos Illescas, and directed and shot by Rafael Corkidi, the outcome was a disturbing surrealist-gothic-vampiric film, with nudity by Ana Luisa Peluffo, Helena Rojo and Cecilia Pezet. We can also remember her through her roles in Arturo Ripstein's El santo oficio and Foxtrot, Sergio Olhovich's Muñeca Reina and Felipe Cazals' Aquellos años, in the role of the Empress Carlota.
Finally, it is worth mentioning Aguirre, la ira de Dios (1972), by the German Werner Herzog, shot in various regions of Peru, such as Machu Pichu, Cuzco or the Urubamba Valley, starring his recurrent actor Klaus Kinski and the beautiful and delicate Mexican actress Helena Rojo in the role of Inez de Atienza. With a stunning soundtrack by Popol Vuh, the film tells the story of the mad Spanish conqueror Lope de Aguirre, who in 1560 embarked on his quest for the legendary land of El Dorado.
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