A horror outing from Mexicoís much praised (and overly so in my view)
Arturo Ripstein. Itís strikingly weird, but otherwise has little to
The highly prolific Arturo Ripstein specializes in
subversive and often surreal melodramas of the type his mentor Luis
Bunuel used to make. Among Ripsteinís films are the western TIME TO DIE
(TIEMPO DE MORIR; 1966), the flamboyant drama PLACE WITHOUT LIMITS (EL
LUGAR SIN LIMITES; 1978) and the true crime saga DEEP CRIMSON (PROFUNDO
CARMESI; 1996), all of which have been wildly overrated by film
commentators in and out of Mexico. LA TIA ALEJANDRA, from 1978, is not
generally considered one of Ripsteinís stronger efforts, and thereís a
reason for that.
One day the outwardly kind old Aunt Alejandra comes to
stay with her family. This family, a normal Mexican clan who nonetheless
live in a rather forbidding townhouse, collectively decide Alejandra is
ďloco,Ē especially when sheís caught performing a weird ritual involving
candles and incense. Alejandra also takes the two youngest children to
look at mummies in a museum and teaches them how to make a table
levitate, seemingly confirming that sheís a witch with supernatural
But then one day Alejandra trips over some toys at the
top of the staircase and is badly injured. Determined to get revenge on
the family, she (seemingly) causes the death of the young Andres, who
after Alejandra spies him mocking her falls down the same stairs
Alejandra did and breaks his neck. Next the eldest daughter Malena dies
in a mysterious fire. The family patriarch Rodolfo decides heís had
enough and throws Alejandra out of the house. She retaliates--or seems
to--by making him violently sick.
Following this the young Martha falls ill. Her mother
Lucia sends the girl away before Alejandra can inflict further damage,
leaving the two women alone. An all-out battle of wills ensues that only
one will survive.
This film, while not entirely without interest,
validates all my reservations about the work of Arturo Ripstein. Aside
from being illogical and silly (why doesnít the family think to ask
Alejandra to leave before itís too late?), the film is filled with
distracting 1970s conventions, the outrageously inappropriate
synthesizer score and chintzy lighting scheme (it has the look of a
Hollywood sex comedy of the period) being foremost among them. As is
typical of Mexican cinema, the atmosphere is highly melodramatic, at
times almost comically so, and the performances wildly histrionic--for
all of Ripsteinís avant-garde predilections, his filmmaking has a very
traditional Mexican sensibility that works against the subtly
atmospheric horror fest he was trying to create.
Yet the proceedings exert an oft-kilter fascination.
Ripsteinís flair for surrealism is evident in the frequent depictions of
levitation and poltergeist activity. Such things make sense in the
context of a supernatural horror film, a form that clearly suited
Ripstein. Alas, itís a genre heís largely ignored in subsequent years,
although based on the present film maybe thatís not such a bad thing!
LA TIA ALEJANDRA
Estudios Churubusco Azteca S.A.
Director: Arturo Ripstein
Screenplay: Delfina Careaga, Sabina Berman
Cinematography: Jose Ortiz Ramos
Editing: Rafael Ceballos
Cast: Isabela Corona, Diana Bracho, Manuel Ojeda, Maria Rebeca, Adonay
Somoza Jr, Lilian Davis, Ignacio Retes