La Virgen De La Lujuria (The Virgin Of Lust)
Lionsgate Home Entertainment // Unrated // $19.98 // February 15, 2005
Review by Carl Davis | posted July 6, 2005
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There comes a time in every reviewer's career when they stumble across a film that, no matter how much they try, they just cannot get their head around. La Virgen De La Lujuria was the film that finally did me in. Directed by revered Mexican filmmaker Arturo Ripstein, who began his career assisting Luis Buńuel, the film is certainly gorgeous to look at. Reading the plot synopsis, one gets the impression that this could be one of the greatest films ever made. Weaving together such disparate elements as a Mexican waiter, who falls in love with an opium addicted prostitute, whose own obsessions are divided between famous wrestler, Gardenia Wilson, and Spanish dictator, Francisco Franco. However, with what little action there is unfolding at a snail's pace during the film's two-and-a-half-hour running time, one need have a much deeper understanding that I do of the themes present in Ripstein's entire body of work, as well as the early history of Spain's colonization of the Americas and Franco's rise to power.

I can honestly say that a majority of this film went over my head. The ideas presented about classicism in Mexico between those of direct Spanish descent and the indigenous peoples are fairly obvious, but the interactions between expatriated Spaniards who fled after Franco's seizure of power and the citizens of Mexico are alien to me. Well, maybe not alien, but certainly meaningless, in that the self-exiled Communists hold themselves above all others, but make no actual attempts to overthrow the dictator. Content instead the creation of elaborate propaganda, specifically the recreation of historical scenes of liberation with which to inspire their countrymen to take action. However, this is all just background to the main story, a man's utter obsession for a woman he can never have.

In 1940's Vera Cruz, Nacho is a waiter at Don Lázaro's café in the Hotel Ofélia. It is here that he first encounters the beautiful and mysterious Lola. She is a drunkard, an opium addict and a prostitute, and perhaps worst of all, her heart belongs to masked wrestler, Gardenia Wilson. Nacho quickly falls for her, even though he is warned to stay away by his boss, for in his opinion she can only lead to trouble. Nacho accepts that he will never possess her, but comes to crave any and all attentions from her, including those that are base and humiliating. He becomes particularly attached to one of her lace gloves, but how many times can we watch someone drink tea from a sopping wet glove?

La Virgen De La Lujuria is quite an apt title for the film, as there is little or no actual sex going on, most certainly not between the characters Nacho and Lola, but there is definitely an S&M bent to the proceedings and much of the film deals with just how much Lola can dish out to the masochistic Nacho. Meanwhile, Gardenia Wilson is one of the few people, besides Don Lázaro, that sees Lola for what she truly is: a dangerous psychopath. He flat out admits that he made a mistake by sleeping with her, and now the poor guy can't just seem to get her off his back. The Communists who populate café Ofélia accept Lola as one of their own, even though she never makes a claim to be Spanish, and in fact gives a different story each time she is questioned about her past. It's they who plant this obsession with Franco, specifically his assassination, in Lola's head and drives Nacho to his grandiose fantasies, comingling with his love of The Mikado, about bringing down the tyrant with a single well placed shot.

What really disappointed me about this film is that even with all of it's shortcomings in terms of pacing and characterization, it looks absolutely amazing. Kicking the film off with a series of "Silent Era" title cards and quick, nourish set-ups, it seems as though we're in for an exciting ride. However, after the first five to ten minutes, things start to slow way down and the "story" gets underway. Ripstein does bring back the gimmick of the cards for the finale as well, but after two plus hours, the novelty has long worn off. With most of the film taking place in the same three or four locations, it plays itself out much like a stage production, and certainly with the few musical moments and some additional touches of "magical realism" sprinkled throughout, it easily could have been.

The DVD:

Picture: The film is presented in a 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and looks great, with a sharp, clear image and little to no grain present.

Audio: The Spanish Dolby 2.0 Stereo track (with English subtitles) sounds good, and since music plays a big part in the film, such as the few musical moments where characters actually break into song, the mix works quite well.

Extras: There are no Extra Features included on this Disc.

Conclusion: I fully plead ignorance to much of the symbolism that Ripstein employs in the visually stunning La Virgen De La Lujuria, but even if I had had a complete understanding of what Seńor Ripstein was trying to say, I still don't think I'd have been satisfied after viewing this obtuse, plodding bore-fest. Apparently, this is one of Ripstein's most audacious films, and his Buńuel roots clearly show in the effort, but unlike his mentor, Ripstein lacks the means to connect with a world audience. I'm sure that there is an audience for this film, but I'm not it, so I have to say Skip It.

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