Mexican director Arturo Ripstein borrows the premise behind Medea for his Asi es la Vida a.k.a Such is Life (2000). Set in the slums of Mexico City pic favors a minimalistic structure which isn't too far off what a theatrical rendition of the notorious Greek tragedy might have looked like.
A long and continuous monolog welcomes the viewer to Such is Life. A poor woman (Arcelia Ramírez) is abandoned by her husband (Luis Felipe Tovar) - she cries, curses, and damns the man she once loved. Her Godmother (Patricia Reyes Spíndola) attempts to console her but further exacerbates the anger and frustration raging in the abandoned woman's soul.
Driven by emotions rather than events Such is Life presents a contemporary take on Medea where the main characters have been replaced with low-income Mexicans. As expected the tone of the film is somber while the actual story not too far off what takes place in Medea - a family tragedy.
Ripstein introduces an edgier environment as a background for his rendition. The main protagonist not only fights her own demons but also shares the misery other women are faced with, she performs illegal abortions. As a result the sense of gloom in this film becomes incredibly heavy, practically unbearable.
Recitations and extensive monologues are the foundation for the drama. The latter in particular tend to overshadow key events from the story. There is a tendency to exaggerate the pain the main protagonist struggles with rather than analyze what led to it. For example the break up which has caused all of the commotion in Such is Life isn't addressed until the story is past the half mark.
The contemporary setting on the other hand is far less attractive than one would have hoped it would be. It appears that the crime element from Medea is replaced by an outspoken social message. Ripstein's brush paints such a negative picture of everything and anyone who comes in touch with the main protagonist that at the end it feels as if he intentionally meant to ridicule his key protagonist. Logically, Such is Life evolves into a bleak and dark hallucinatory tale.
Tech credits are equally controversial. Cinematographer Guillermo Granillo opts for a mixed panorama of darkly-lit shots which occasionally feel out of context. On the other Ripstein's camera plays the role of an "observer" (specifically during the love-making scenes) and switching into a "friendly" mode only when the main protagonists recite their monologues.
How Does the DVD Look?
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 but not enhanced for widescreen TV's the print for this DVD release gravitates around the "passable" mark. What we have here is a PAL-NTSC port with a great deal of "ghosting" which most of you with more sensitive set-ups will find disturbing. Colors are unimpressive and "bleeding" while the contrast is, at best, tolerable. The actual print is free of damage and debris but given the above mentioned conversion issue the presentation hardly benefits from it.
How Does the DVD Sound?
Presented with a Spanish DD track and optional English and Spanish subtitles the audio treatment does not reveal any major issues of concern. Dialog is easy to follow and I could not detect any hissings/dropouts to report here.
Aside from a small photo section and a gallery of trailers for other Facets releases there is collection of interviews where the cast share their thoughts on the production and intent of Ripstein's rendition of Medea. The majority of the comments however deconstruct the main protagonists and the social environment they belong to.
Ambitious but somewhat lacking originality Such is Life isn't likely to gain Arturo Ripstein new fans. The main protagonists are "locked" in their own misery hardly offering a logical read to the pains that trouble their souls. Hence, the film is tolerable only as an observation of the events it portrays, not as a unique analysis of the thesps with their agonies. The DVD by Facets is, at best, of average quality.