Review: Devil Between the Legs
- Arturo Ripstein and Paz Alicia Garciadiego once again prove that there’s no self-censorship in their Mexican tragedies, bristling with sex, jealousy, shadows, misery and callous humour
Last year, the Málaga Film Festival handed the Silver Biznaga for Best Director to Mexico’s Arturo Ripstein, who is now 77 years old, for his sterling work at the helm of the co-production Devil Between the Legs [+see also:
film profile]. Those familiar with his filmography will know that flanking this great filmmaker is an equally great (make that amazing) screenwriter: Paz Alicia Garciadiego. They form one of the most daring, unbridled and interesting duos, not only on their own country’s film scene, but on the global one as well, as they are not bothered in the slightest by fads, fears or censorship (whether imposed by others or self-inflicted).
Proof of this can be found in their previous feature, Bleak Street [+see also:
film profile] (2015), and this one, which is now landing in Spanish movie theatres. Appearing in both titles is the director’s pet actress (Patricia Reyes Spíndola), but the former’s urban and nocturnal squalor, populated by dwarves, pimps and prostitutes, has been swapped out for a more diurnal, home-based story, but one that’s just as audacious when it comes to serving as a mirror of the human being and its basest of acts.
Here, it’s just one married couple, their maid and the husband’s lover whom we see (plus the odd brief appearance, such as the dancing partner played by Daniel Giménez Cacho), but the viewer should certainly not expect to find the domestic harmony of Roma by Ripstein’s fellow countryman Alfonso Cuarón. No – in this house, shadows dominate everything, and not just in its various rooms, but also in the very souls of its inhabitants.
For example, the Old Man is jealous to such a degree that, while beating his wife with a neighbour, he accuses his spouse of constantly being horny and of having slept with countless men in her youth. They are both getting old now, but the man’s insistence on punishing his wife will achieve the opposite effect: Beatriz will rediscover that carnal desire that seemed to have fizzled out over the years. And so, in this way – and this is where Garciadiego’s pugnacious but steady writing hand can be felt most clearly – female sexuality, in a country where male chauvinism is more potent than Cantinflas’ ghost, is what sets itself up as the underlying focus of this Greek-flavoured tragedy, with its unmistakable Mexico City accent and its cinematography in gorgeous – although not pretentious – black and white.
Boasting a classical, theatrical mise-en-scène, without even a single close-up, but with plenty of sequence shots – the one that brings the film to a close is particularly praiseworthy on account of its sleekness and forcefulness – where the camera occasionally seems to dance a seductive tango around the actors, Ripstein and co once again ooze smart, dry humour as they return to ruthlessly ridicule the cesspit-like underbelly of their country and of the (supposedly) most intelligent species on the planet. Demonstrating that, much like the valiant female protagonist, who shouts, “I’m old and randy!”, they are, too.
Devil Between the Legs is a Spanish-Mexican production by Alebrije Cine y Video, Oberon Cinematográfica, Carnaval Films, Fina Films, Fidecine and Estudios Churubusco Azteca, made in collaboration with the Ibermedia programme. It is being distributed in Spain by Wanda Visión, which releases it in theatres on 26 February.
(Translated from Spanish)
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