Lucha Villa and the impact of her presenceBy: Rafael Aviña
Haughty and imposing, Luz Elena Ruiz Bejarano (1936), known artistically as “La grandota de Camargo,” “La ronca de Chihuahua,” and “The queen of the palenques,” Lucha Villa got her name from Argentine businessman Luis G. Dillon, for whom she worked as a model and dancer. She continues to be one of the most memorable ranchera performers in the artistic milieu and, in turn, an actress who managed to overcome the stereotypical roles that Mexican cinema had to offer to become a greatly charismatic cinematic figure.
With a sensual presence and a stirring voice –one of those thick voices made to whisper in someone’s ear– the Chihuahuan woman found, through Mexican folk music, the best way to reach the media, from radio to cinema to television with a very peculiar style. It is no coincidence that her name seems to take up two explosive elements of her personality. On one hand, the patronymic “Lucha,” also serves as a tribute to the great rancher singer Lucha Reyes, and, at the same time, as an appellation of “fight” and combat. The surname Villa refers to the adventures of the “Centauro del Norte”, a figure with which she can be compared in terms of their musical and cinematographic “strategy”.
An incomparable interpreter of José Alfredo Jiménez and later Juan Gabriel, Lucha Villa began her career in cinema in 1962 with a series of inconsequential country comedies and “caballitos” films when the genre was at its lowest; El Norteño, El Charro Negro contra la banda de los Cuervo, El jinete enmascarado, El mariachi canta, among others. However, it would be a rural drama, El gallo de oro (1964) by Roberto Gavaldón, based on a story by Juan Rulfo, that launched Lucha Villa to film stardom. Cleverly, Lucha decided to experiment with other genres, including urban portraits and social and period comedies, where the actress showed off her enormous acting chops.
With a filmography of close to 80 films, Lucha Villa debuted in El terror de la frontera (1962), by Zacarías Gómez Urquiza, accompanied by the famous northern comedian Eulalio González “Piporro” with whom she would work in other films such as El Pocho (1969), a consecrating comedy about the condition of Mexican immigrants on both sides of the border directed by Piporro himself. Grítenme Piedras del Campo begins a series of comedies showing off female revenge with very macho protagonists by the standards of the time, such as Los apuros de dos gallos, Tres palomas alborotadas, or Dos inocentes mujeriegos.
However, Lucha Villa’s charisma, style, voice, heart, sensibility, and her affair with the camera would lead her to star in other dramas with movies that paid tribute to her talent as a ranchera singer: Me cansé de rogarle, Guitarras lloren guitarras, and Amanecí en tus brazos. In turn, her presence served to embellish ranchero action dramas with historical and corrido heroes such as Los hombres de Lupe Alvírez, Los amores de Juan Charrasqueado, El Centauro Pancho Villa, or El corrido del hijo desobediente.
At the same time, Lucha participated in some generic curiosities such as El imperio de Drácula, with a burly vampire played by Eric del Castillo and El Fiscal de Hierro, a saga directed by Damián Acosta, starring Mario Almada and an unleashed Lucha Villa as the criminal Ramona Pineda, a drug trafficking leader with reddish hair, skirts, and dozens of colorful scarves.
Lucha Villa demonstrated her ability as a great movie star in a handful of films, beginning with El gallo de oro, which won her Pecime’s Diosa de Plata for Best Actress in her role as Bernarda Cutiño “La Caponera”, the femme fatale and explosive songstress who brings luck to a poor gallero by singing heartfelt Rubén Fuentes songs. She was also intense and great in her dramatic role on El Principio (1972), by Gonzalo Martínez Ortega. Filmed in her native Chihuahua, the historical fresco, set around 1914, got her an Ariel nomination for Best Actress. She lost to Katy Jurado for her role in Fe, esperanza y caridad.
Impossible to forget her as the sensual Chabela, Manolo Fábregas’ wife in Mecánica Nacional (1971), directed by Luis Alcoriza, where she flirts with the norteño played by Fernando Casanova in a great bacchanal on the side of a road – which got Villa her first Best Actress Ariel Award. She won a Best Supporting Actress Ariel Award as “La Japonesa”, her role as a miserable brothel owner in Arturo Ripstein’s El lugar sin Límites (1977). Here, she shines in a scene where she seduces “La Manuela” Roberto Cobo to win a bet with the old man played by don Fernando Soler.
Finally, two films released in the nineties, a time when she abandoned her career due to severe complications from a disastrous plastic surgery, corroborate her versatility. Encuentro inesperado (1991), an unusual drama by Jaime Humberto Hermosillo, and tribute of sorts to Lucha Villa herself: the story of an actress in decline and the meeting with her daughter (María Rojo). Then, with the role of a mature and sensual woman with fiery scenes alongside Alonso Echánove in Francisco Athié’s haunting drama Lolo (1992).