05 · 10 · 21

Los bienamados, Tajimara and Un alma pura

By: Rafael Aviña

The mythical First Experimental Cinema Contest, convened in 1964 by the STPC Union, brought with new production means, reduced film crews, naturalistic locations and a lot of improvisation. The movement´s high points, and four first-place winners, were: Rubén GámezLa formula secreta; Alberto Isaac‘s En este pueblo no hay ladrones; Manuel Barbachano Ponce‘s collection of five medium-length films Amor, amor, amor; and the three short films that made up El viento distante/Los niños (Salomón Laiter‘s En el parque hondo, Manuel Michel‘s Tarde de agosto and Sergio Véjar‘s Encuentro).

La fórmula secreta de Rubén Gámez

La fórmula secreta (1965, dir. Rubén Gámez)

For its part, Amor, amor, amor brought together: José Luis Ibáñez Las dos Elenas; Héctor Mendoza‘s La Sunamita: Miguel Barbachano Ponce’s Lola de mi vida; Juan José Gurrola’s Tajimara (with assistance from Bertha Navarro and Julián Pastor), and Juan IbáñezUn alma pura (with assistance from Jorge Fons). Since the final film was more than 200 minutes long, a shorter version of Amor, amor, amor was made that included only the first three shorts, along with Benito Alazraki‘s short film La viuda. Gurrola and Juan Ibáñez‘s shorts went on to make up another film, Los bienamados – the first inspired by a short story written by Juan García Ponce and the second by a story written by Carlos Fuentes, adapted by the directors themselves.

Both stories are deliberately and heavily indebted to the French New Wave and the films of Michelangelo Antonioni. A modern, cosmopolitan tone prevails with films that explore incest, the orgasm, frigidity and sadomasochism. Both star characters free of sexual inhibitions, who indulge in pleasure and urban neuroses, offering some of the best examples of cinematographic eroticism of the time that are bolstered by their literary origins. The first edition of the García Ponce‘s La noche was published in 1963 and included the short stories “Amelia”, “Tajimara” and “La noche”, while “Un alma pura” was from Fuentes’ book Cantar de ciegos, edited in 1964.

Los Bienamados (1965, dirs. Juan José Gurrola, Juan Ibáñez)

Los Bienamados (1965, dirs. Juan José Gurrola, Juan Ibáñez)

In Un alma pura, Juan Luis (Enrique Rocha) accepts a job in New York and abandons his sister Claudia (Arabella Árbenz) for whom he shares incestuous feelings that have caused him conflicts in his private life: “We had escaped the jokes, the violence and the shame of our friends… We are brother and sister… yes, but that´s an accident”. In New York he meets Clara, a young woman who is identical to his sister (played by Árbenz). When she finds herself pregnant, Claudia sends her a letter asking her to abort the baby. Both Juan Luis and Clara end up committing suicide.

Incredibly agile camera-work by Gabriel Figueroa leads the viewer through the labyrinths of memory and desire by way of two naked, entwined bodies seen in flashback. Snobbish references abound – the protagonists are constantly talking directly to the camera – as do references to the French New Wave, such as the sequence in New York where Carlos Fuentes and Juan García Ponce themselves appear, alongside other important cultural figures who remain uncredited: Carlos Monsiváis (as the priest), Mercedes Ospina, Sergio Aragonés, José Donoso, William Styron, José Luis Ibáñez and Juan Ibáñez himself, among others.

Tajimara has several similarities with Un alma pura. An innovative and saucy narrative, a la Godard, Truffaut and Rohmer; the exploration of memory and constant regressions to the past and the issue of incest as a sensual, moral burden. Cecilia (the wonderful Pilar Pellicer) invites Roberto (Claudio Obregón), a translator and her ex-lover, to a party in the small town of Tajimara where two painter siblings – Carlos (Mauricio Davidson) and Julia (Pixie Hopkin, a revelation) – live. Julia is about to get married, to her brother’s great sadness. Roberto suffers for Cecilia, who is in love with Guillermo (José Alonso as a teenager and Luis Lomelí as an adult) and for the shadows that have always burdened their relationship. More cinematographically complex, it is a masterful story of eroticism that features the recently opened Modern Art Museum in Mexico City as a location.

Tajimara (1965, dir. Juan José Gurrola)

Tajimara (1965, dir. Juan José Gurrola)The first notable thing about the film is the intriguing soundtrack, composed by Manuel Henríquez, which seems to operate as another character, with melancholy songs in English like Hugo Winterhalter’s A Kiss to Build a Dream On or Burt Bacharach’s Anyone Who Had a Heart, sung by Cilla Black. Roberto is tormented by memories of Cecilia as a teenager. “The sense of history is the least important part now, I just remember the image of Cecilia. I hadn´t seen her for six months when she showed up out of the blue to invite me to another party in Tajimara. I accepted conscious that she would never know if I loved her or hated her…” The images evoked by camera operators Antonio Reynoso and Rafael Corkidi depict ghostly scenes at a skating rink where a teenage Roberto watches as Cecilia skates next to Guillermo (José Alonso in his first role) and to whom she gives herself before turning fifteen. “We could never forgive ourselves for not being each other’s first, and we would punish ourselves mutually for it”.

In Tajimara the female protagonists give the story a limitless strength and sensuality. It is enough just to see Pellicer leaning against a wall wearing a raincoat and looking directly at the camera, to understand the answer to filmic desire. Or a scene in which the protagonists make love in her car, on a rainy afternoon. Despite her liberated sexuality, Cecilia suffers anguish during intercourse and turns to sadomasochism. Julia turns out to be intangible and fragile in an exceptional story about the loss of love, youth and innocence, with a strong dose of poetry: “We compose everything with the imagination and we are incapable of living in reality, simply…”. Los bienamados premiered on September 2nd 1965 at the Regis cinema.