Saturday, June 22, 2013


Mario Handler

MESTIZO           C+
Venezuela  Cuba  (82 mi)  1988  d:  Mario Handler

While this is a Venezuelan film shot in the late 80’s, it feels more like a 60’s film, an era of more radical experimentation, where due to the repressive and conservative element of the 50’s, the content of many 60’s films often explodes off the screen, where sex is more freely expressed and nakedness exposed unlike any other era.  But this film, something of a raw and sensationalist adaptation of the modernist Venezuelan novel El Mestizo José Vargas (1942) by Guillermo Meneses that attempts to graphically express the prevalent influence of racial discrimination, unfortunately ends up unintentionally expressing an egregiously misogynous view of women, which may actually be a worse crime.  Feminist social development is slow in coming to the machismo based Latn American societies where men exclusively control the ruling power, though women's presence in politics has grown steadily over the last decade, with Brazil and Chile electing female Presidents, where in the past five years, Costa Rica, Argentina, and Trinidad and Tobago have also elected women leaders.  Today Latin America has four of the world's 19 female heads of state, and while gender equity is key to achieving social justice, none of the women were elected on a feminist platform, and their inclusion in politics has not led to policy proposals advocating women’s issues.  MESTIZO, unfortunately, while radical on one front, is regressive on another, as its characterization of women is deplorable, where literally every female character is viewed as a willing seductress or whore, where women are entirely defined by having an insatiable sexual appetite, which despite an attempt to express an unbalanced power dynamic more likely reflects the male fantasy view. This unreality affects one’s view overall, as it taints any other serious social comment the film may offer. 

Part of the continuing story of the effects of slavery, this film reflects the colonial mentality where white landowners once proudly owned black slaves, a view that hasn’t evolved in the modern era.  The title and subject of the film refer to mulatto people of mixed race, where historically landowners and rulers of power have been exclusively white, though they typically have sexual relations with the black subservient class, often with the domestic help they hire, so when white aristocrats produce dark-skinned babies, these children have a curse on their heads, as they’re not perceived as white.  This film follows one such child, José Ramon Vargas (Marcos Moreno), the illegitimate son of a wealthy white landowner Don Aquiles Vargas (Aldo Tulian) and a poor black fisherwoman, Cruz Guaregua (Zezé Motta).  While the father can be seen beating his mistress once he learns she’s carrying his child, he can also be seen swearing and cursing at everything this mestizo child represents in his eyes, a stain on white civilization and a mixture of “Indians, blacks, whores, and bums!”  The film advances 18 years where Don Aquiles has raised his son strictly within white society, and while José Ramon has aspirations to be a poet, inspired by his layabout Uncle Ramon, his father scoffs at that sissy stuff and insists that he learn to be a man and hold a respectable job.  When his father takes him by the hand and drops him off at the door of a young black girl in a brothel, it’s supposed to be his introduction to sex, but José Ramon is too naïve to understand.  In his determined quest to civilize his young son, he takes him to the courthouse and places him under the care of the Judge (Omar Gonzalo), another mestizo who has risen to a position of authority and respectability.  In a modernist expression of theater of the absurd, José Ramon learns to be civilized while prisoners are dragged to the back of the courthouse and soundly beaten and tortured, where their disturbing offscreen cries are routinely ignored by the judge, as all the court employees display this same air of nonchalance.   

The Judge’s peculiar fascination with José Ramon is to first get him stinking drunk in a bar before taking him home and proudly introducing him to his voluptuous white wife Gregorina (Nancy González), who allows herself to be seduced for pleasure as the impotent Judge lecherously watches.  Afterwards, despite the apparent awkwardness, José Ramon goes back for more, away from the prowling eyes of the Judge, becoming helplessly driven by his sexual appetite, where Gregorina is more than willing, so long as her lovers are black.  Easily the most pronounced effect is the offscreen use of sound, simulating wild jungle animals and the screeching and wailing sound of her pet parrot, all accentuating the animalistic aspect of what we’re watching.  In an extended sequence that plays out more like fantasy than reality, Gregorina, along with 3 other culturally privileged white girlfriends, spend the night on the beach having sex with mestizo men, where this system of racial sexual exploitation literally defines the status quo, so long as no one upsets the balance.  José Ramon becomes so enraptured, however, that he falls in love, proposing they run away together, which, of course, Gregorina refuses, as she has all she wants at her fingertips.  When Don Aquiles gets word, he chastises the kid for failing to find a (white) civilized and reputable path, as he instructed, and for instead falling victim to his (black) lustful desires.  Afraid and thoroughly disappointed, José Ramon runs off to the fishing community with his mother, where he’s despised and immediately disowned as an unwelcome outsider, seen as an over-privileged white boy taking food out of the mouths of those that need it, becoming even further discouraged when he discovers that the only way his mother was able to buy her house was sleeping with rich white clients.  Using an attractive black housemaid to sexually lure him back to his father’s home, Don Aquiles decides his future lies elsewhere, sending him off to Caracas to study law.  Thoroughly disillusioned by the moral and racial hypocrisy of both worlds, where in each José Ramon is viewed as damaged goods, ominous city sounds dance in his restless head as he embarks upon his uncertain future.   

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