The story on which the movie is based has the feel of a legend or a folktale, and, by remaining consistently faithful to that work, Guerra's film does as well. Its mythic structures, and the peculiar, fantastic charm with which Erendira's various adventures and trials are frequently infused, give the movie a liminal quality and strike at something deep within the viewer's heart, arousing therein real compassion for the innocent, victimized girl. The director has, consequently, crafted a fabulous, intoxicating, and terribly sad tale.
Few screenplays have any literary merit, but Marquez's script for Erendira does. Many of the lines spoken in the movie have been taken verbatim from his story and are clever, intelligent, and frequently very funny. There are, for instance, allusions to the great hero of Spanish romantic literature, Amadis de Gaula, who is made into Erendira's ancestor. The protagonist's world is thus connected with the fantastic tales of that hero and with their wondrous, otherworldly magic. This feeling of enchantment is further increased by the girl's grandmother's ravings and by her own conversations with Ulysses, all of which are filled with playful, delicious gibberish. The whole of the film is brought to life by the beauty of the quirky, inventive dialogue.
The director does not, however, rely only on his screenplay to infuse his movie with an intoxicating sense of wonder. In fact, the film is greatly enriched with a variety of other bizarre touches. Ulysses' Dutch father smuggles oranges, each of which grows a diamond in its center. Countless thousands of men queue to have sex with Erendira as she travels amidst the troupes of performers, musicians, animals, and freaks that have accumulated around her. While she sleeps, Erendira's grandmother howls and babbles weird, nonsensical tales about her youth. Paper birds tossed into the air at a political rally metamorphose into living birds. A butterfly flying by Erendira is transformed into a painting on a wall when it alights there. One strange, dreamlike moment follows the next, lending the movie an otherworldliness that greatly enhances both its beauty and its sorrow.
The film's concluding scenes, in particular, are wildly exaggerated, oddly funny, and fantastically evocative. Their strange, hallucinatory qualities suffuse the final confrontations between Ulysses and Erendira's grandmother with a weird terribleness. The grandmother emerges as some supernatural ogre, a fearsome, unkillable witch who bleeds green ichor, and yet Ulysses' battles with her are decidedly comic. By so divorcing the events depicted from those of the ordinary world, Guerra prevents the emotions elicited from being directed towards particular individuals. The viewer's experiences of the characters' struggles, of Ulysses desperation, of Erendira's wretched misery, and of her grandmother's evil, transcend the limitations of their persons so that the viewer does not merely delusively sympathize or detest various fictitious beings, but feels desperation, sorrow, and cruelty as such, as pure emotions divorced from any objects.
Finally, I should note that the film's actors consistently acquit themselves well, although the two female leads deserve particular recognition for their work. Claudia Ohana's performance is subtle, gentle, and evocative of a profound sympathy. She infuses her character with a simple decency and a dreadful sadness. Irene Papas' portrayal of the girl's grandmother is, however, not only just as memorable but is also truly stunning. She brings to life all the woman's monstrous, unearthly cruelty so that she emerges as a figure of dreadful awe
Erendira is a beautiful and harrowing film. While it leaves the viewer deeply saddened by the horrors it has shown him, it also reminds him of the profound beauty to be found even in sorrow.
Review by Keith Allen
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