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María Félix’s High End Jewellery

A previous post has considered how María Félix is seen as an inspiration or muse for artists and creators. In my book about her I aim to challenge this idea as one that is a tired cliché frequently used about and against women in such as way that it has robbed them of creative agency in their own right. Even when women, like Félix, have close dialogues and relationships with the creatives who they commission, they are seen through a focus on their beauty or physical attractiveness rather their co-creative capacities. One aspect I have found myself exploring in depth is her jewellery.

High end jewellery is not my natural wheelhouse. I admire the craft involved, but my own jewels tend to the simple, plain, and relatively inexpensive in what I wear, so I have not cultivated an interest. But, what I have come across has been fascinating and says much about Félix, her taste, and her influence on prestige jewellery making.

From June to September 2021 in the refurbished and reinstalled Allison and Roberto Mignone Halls of Gems and Minerals at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) New York there is an exhibit called Beautiful Creatures. This is held in the Melissa and Keith Meister Gallery and is a new exhibit showcasing “more than 100 animal-themed precious jewels created by the world’s great jewelry houses and artisans, from Cartier’s iconic panthers to Suzanne Belperron’s butterflies” spanning 150 years. In coverage of the exhibit Félix has taken centre stage. For example, despite being relatively unknown in the Anglophone world, the US monthly lifestyle magazine, Town and Country, place their emphasis on Félix, alongside the Duchess of Windsor, Wallis Simpson (1896-1986), wealthy socialite and patron to the arts, Rebekah Harkness (1915-1982), and the singer and actor, Beyoncé Knowles (1981-). Félix’s jewellery is a centrepiece of the exhibit because of the value placed on the craft and skill that went into their creation.

I will get into more detail in the book. But, a taster of what the response to her jewellery in the present day can be found in Lauren Hutton’s choices from what’s in the exhibit. Hutton’s style is simple and minimalist, as can be seen from the black dress and gloves, and red cape she wears in the shoot. She delights in Félix’s crocodile and snake jewellery describing her as “badass”. Hutton finds fellow feeling with Félix and self-describes as a badass woman who is prepared to forge her own path through old age.

To get a sense of how Félix wore the crocodile necklace take a look at this colour photograph taken by the British photographer, Lord Snowdon in 1975.

Researching high-end jewellery is a fascinating, and sometimes unsettling, deep dive into a world that has its own rules and codes and valued tastemakers.

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María Félix as Inspiration

One of the chapters in my book on María Félix considers the works about her or inspired by her. These are many and varied. Some were commissioned by Félix and some were inspired by her. Of the latter, not all were positive.

Félix moved amongst the lively and prodigious artistic and creative circles of Twentieth century Mexico. She had close friendships and long-lasting romantic relationships with many artists, writers, and songwriters, some of whom wrote novels, dramas, songs or painted portraits of her in a variety of styles. These works give an insight into the complex intertwining of the performance, literary, and visual arts in Mexico and demonstrate how she acted as a benefactor to a range of artists including, Leonor Fini, Diego Rivera, Leonora Carrington, Stanislao Lèpri, Bridget Tichenor, Chavez Marion, and Antoine Tzapoff. Her life and works also proved inspiration for songwriters and novelists as varied as Agustín Lara, Frances Cabrel, Juan Gabriel, Carlos Fuentes, Luis Spota, Renato Leduc, Octavio Paz, and Pita Amor.

One way of looking closely at her home and space is an interview with Iván Trujillo for the UNAM Filmoteca in her home in which she spoke about and showed some of the works.

Interview with Iván Trujillo

Other useful sources are auction house sites and videos by news agencies of some of her possessions being auctioned by her estate. This one even has a helpful transcript:

It is also possible to look through all of the objects sold at auction on the 21st of July 2015, see their individual prices, and peruse high quality photos of her collection. It is also possible to look through the categories of item. I am most interested in the paintings (23) and a photograph (1). Of these, all but two are portraits. The sum total of the sale was $7,299,640 USD, which gives some sense of her eye as a collector of objet d’art and of the value of her collection because it was hers.

There is a new website entitled the estate of María Félix has some useful detail and overview of her life, work and the objects that she acquired as part of her collection. It is dated 2020 and the English reads as translationese, but is legible. I could speculate that it’s related to the announced film project on Félix’s life. But, I don’t know that yet.

As travel is limited and most of these are in private collections, it is not possible to see these in person. But, such auction houses take such high quality images that can be correlated with the interviews in her house that give great material for analysis and discussion.

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María Félix – Makeup Tutorials

This is an aggregate post collecting transformations into María Félix using makeup and props.

“Vintage Icons | Maria Felix Transformation Makeup Tutorial” Vintage fashion and makeup vlogger, Vicky Bermudez, has a seven minute tutorial with keen insights into Félix’s brow and eye make-up. Her introduction to Félix is brilliant. I particularly liked her insightful assessment, “This woman had absolutely no filter. Such a strong personality and character.” Posted 11 July 2019 with 8,085 views.

” Makeup Characterization Maria Felix” Make up artist Erik Gerson has a short three minute video. The tutorial only starts 54 seconds having used a star vid by way of introduction. He starts with contouring, fast forwards to some of the eye make up, There is no speaking. It’s accompanied by Dmitri from Paris “Une Very Stylish Fille”. Posted 12 January 2016 with 54,859 views.

Maquillaje Maria Felix La Doña” Manita de Gato México has a longer 17 minutes video. It has a long preamble that is about asserting Félix’s fame to a viewership she expects to be familiar with la Doña. It is a video of its time, that is early in the evolution of beauty vlogging. It carries out the work with few edits and with pauses and close-ups. Posted 31 July 2014 with 22,072 views.

Thalía as María Félix The pop star Thalía demonstrated her fandom and ability to transform into Félix. On the Hola magazine page there is a 12 second transformation video. Posted 9th April 2020.

10 April 2020, the end result.

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Traces of the Aftermath: Uses of the Perpetrator Archive in Mexican Film

Some thoughts in preparation for a paper based on my chapter in a book.

Proposal: This paper considers the integration of real footage or hyper-realist representations of death in three distinct Mexican films that challenge the viewer to consider their implication in the use of perpetrator footage: Los de abajo/The Underdogs (Servando González, 1976), Los Poquianchis (Felipe Cazals, 1976) and Canoa (Felipe Cazals, 1976). All released in the same year and heavily influenced by the 1968 massacre yet set at different moments in the past, this paper considers how each film deals with traumatic death and its display. The films stand as examples of filmmakers grappling with what Marianne Hirsch describes as ‘an aesthetics of the aftermath’ (2014: 334). All three films employ archival footage and documentary elements which ground the films in reality. With the ghosts of 1968 haunting the films as well as the spectres from the distinct events they portray, Cazals and González’s specific uses of the archive become an exploration of the audio-visual techniques utilised by perpetrators. This paper will explore how the films navigate this controversial terrain in ways that uphold and disrupt the perpetrators’ position.

In order to talk about memory and trauma you have to find a moment and a case study (or several related ones) to focus your thinking. The problem is that both memory and trauma defy narrative and derail chronological thinking. More recent research also encourage us to think beyond boundaried locales (Bond et al 2016 and Bond 2018). Storytelling, spatio-temporal rules, and nation-space are all troubled and collapse when you think about memory and trauma. And yet, we get lost without something, somewhere and sometime on which to hang our thinking. As a specialist in Mexican culture, this is the culture I am considering and the place I am bounded by to think through these issues. There are particularities to this focus, historical factors that need to be attended to and production contexts that I have had to be mindful of when writing. But, there are also wider areas of thinking and theoretical approaches that inform our way into this singular place.

As I have been preparing to draft this paper I keep circling back around a definition of what perpetrator footage is. All three films were released in 1976. Of the three films, Canoa is the one that clearly uses footage shot to document violence enacted by those in control of the camera, Los Poquianchis draws on found footage and attempts to critique news media obsession with extreme acts of violence, and Los de abajo is a reflection by a director on his implication with perpetrator filmmaking.

Just last week as part of the 2021 Birkbeck University’s online edition of the Essay Film Festival I watched Cabra marcado para morrer [Man Marked for Death/Twenty Years Later] (1984) by the Brazilian filmmaker, Eduardo Coutinho. It’s a metatextual and even palimpsestic film in which Coutinho returns to the space and people in 1981 about whom he was making a fictional film in 1964 based on the army killing of João Pedro Teixeira, a leader of the Ligas Camponesas in Pernambuco, Brazil. In Cabra marcado para morrer I was struck by the use and re-use of a photograph taken by the army after Teixeira was murdered. This form of death mask is forensic, for the family and movement it is evidence that he is dead, it is indexical in that it captures the moment of death and the power of the government and its army (Torchin 2012), and it conjures a Christian iconographic tradition of devotional images (Noble 2010). For the Teixeira family it is proof of his death. But, it also a grotesque image of a man with bullet wounds and covered in blood who appeared in other photographs and artistic reproductions. It is worth noting that the other photograph that is repeated is of his wife, Elizabeth Teixeira, and their 11 children, João Pedro is absent from this frame. His spectre haunts the image because the focus of the documentary is the consequences of his death on the family unit (see Ribas-Casasayas and Petersen 2016, on haunting). The repeated use of the photo evokes a tension between the necessary evidence of the killing – as opposed to being disappeared or other forms of unseen violence – and the repeated use of perpetrator image that is central to my reflections in my paper.

Andrea Noble (2010, 131-135) has written about memory and forgetting as an integral feature of this use and re-use of photographic images of death. Her case study in this instance is the death mask of the Mexican Revolutionary leader, Emiliano Zapata, whereby what was forgotten was the manner of his death and, instead, the photograph became a means of mythologising him as a revolutionary figure. Like Teixeira, Zapata is a named individual. In contrast, the photographs and moving images that I consider are mostly of unnamed individuals whose temporal attachments are poorly defined. This anonymity creates greater challenges in the comprehension and ethical dimensions of these audio-visual images. Who were they, why were the images captured, and who are we complicit with in their audio-viewing? The perpetrator? The director? And, whether our role in this as an audience can be described as being complicit?

This is where the issue of who the filmmakers are matters. But, as with much in this account of memory making and understanding trauma none of that is as clearcut as may first appear.

There are three films mentioned in my proposal: Los de abajo/The Underdogs (Servando González, 1976), Los Poquianchis (Felipe Cazals, 1976) and Canoa (Felipe Cazals, 1976). All released in the same year and heavily influenced by the 1968 massacre yet set at different moments in the past.

Los de abajo is set during the Mexican Revolution, but it has been my contention that it’s really about the director’s troubled relationship and compromised decisions related to the workers and student protests and then massacre in Mexico City in 1968. Mid way through what is an arthouse war film, he pauses the action of this fiction feature to show found footage of the corpses of people and animals from the Mexican Revolution. These are edited in a way that foregrounds their different sources. The shots do not match, the cameras move in different directions, the cuts are hard. He accompanies it with a slowed-down version of the normally lively corrido, ‘Si Adelita se fuera con otro’ [If Adelita were to go with another]. This director was someone who was out of favour because of his decision to work for the government at a time when his contemporaries allied themselves with the students and workers. And yet, the footage makes for a powerful statement against violence and warfare.

Los Poquianchis is an intervention into a story about the mass murder of sex workers and an attempt to counter the salacious tabloid coverage of their deaths. A novel, Las muertas, by the crime novelist and satirist Jorge Ibargüengoitia published in the same year was from a perpetrator’s point of view (see, Wolfenzon 2016). The use of found footage in Los Poquianchis is as a commentary on the political situation where the fictional elements focus on the women’s stories. In a film about women’s murders the social conditions of rural male labour force is foregrounded through footage of rallies in town squares and bureaucratic queues for aid.

Canoa is the story of the lynching of young university workers mistaken for students in a Mexican village in 1968. Guillermo del Toro described it as “a political horror masterpiece” and “a truly great, brutal, precise piece of filmmaking” (2017). In its pre-credit sequence Cazals uses footage directed by the army of unnamed men who have been assaulted. The camera person is clearly compromised in their filming, which is a commentary on and a sign of complicity with the violence that follows. That Canoa was criticised for making the villagers and not the army culpable for the violence further complicates any celebratory reading of the film and the footage it uses.

Both Los Poquianchis and Canoa are made by a highly venerated director, Felipe Cazals, whose place in the cultural firmament is solid, unlike his contemporary, Servando Gonzalo. Two questions I keep reflecting on are: 1. Should Gonzalo’s work be forgotten because of his controversial decision to work on behalf of the government? He filmed the protesting students and workers being murdered on behalf of the army and the government. 2. How do we assess found footage that is employed as commentary when it is sometimes ambiguously that of the perpetrator?

Much of the challenge in discussing the audio-visual images used by these directors is that the found footage used does not always convey what Avery F. Gordon (2008) called “complex personhood” whose lives Judith Butler has described as being grievable. That is, a measure of whether they fit within a recognisable frame of reference and have lives that we can apprehend. My key concern in examining these films has been: should lives be presented – such as they often are by news media -as instances of violence that merely fit with prior understanding of them as reduced to otherness and object or can violent death and assault be merely reproducible to advance an argument or for creative expression?


Bond, Emma (2018), Writing Migration Through the Body, London: Palgrave MacMillan

Bond, Lucy, Stef Craps, and Pieter Vermeulen (2016), ‘Introduction: Memory on the Move’, in Lucy Bond, Stef Craps, and PieterVermeulen (eds), Memory Unbound: Tracing the Dynamics of Memory Studies, New York & Oxford: Berghan Books, pp. 1–26.

Butler, Judith (2009), Frames of War: When Life is Greivable, Calcutta: Seagull Books.

Gordon, Avery F. (2008), Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination, Minneapolis & London: University of Minnesota Press.

Hirsch, Marianne (2014), ‘Connective Histories in Vulnerable Times: MLA Presidential Address’, PMLA, 129:3, pp. 330–48.

Noble, Andea (2010), Photography and Memory in Mexico: Icons of Revolution, Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Ribas-Casasayas, Alberto, and Amanda L. Petersen (2016), ‘Introduction: Theories of the Ghost in the Transhispanic Context’, in Alberto Ribas-Casasayas and Amanda L. Petersen (eds), Espectros: Ghostly Hauntings in Contemporary Transhispanic Narratives, Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press.

Torchin, Leshu (2012), Creating the Witness: Documenting Genocide on Film, Video, and the Internet, Minneapolis & London: University of Minnesota Press.

Wolfenzon, Carolyn (2016), ‘Las muertas y los relámpagos de agosto: la violencia como esencia de lo mexicano en la obra de Jorge Ibargüengoitia’, Bulletin of Spanish Studies, 93:5: pp. 859–75.

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Versions and Re-versioning

I have preparing some extra material for students as they study from home. In the past, I have started some classes with a song and link it to that day’s topic. In the absence of this I have compiled some of the songs and in my earnestness to add value and being some pedagogy into the mix, I found myself looking at versions of ‘La Bamba’. This brought me to its origins. The earliest recording I listened to is from 1939 and the most recent from 2014, which says much about its enduring appeal and its mutability.

As I read up about the song words that recur are adaptation and origins. Adaptation is a term that I explore in one the chapters of my book about the different versions of Los de abajo as book and film. When thinking about this song, versions and re-versioning are better terms than adaptation because it gets away from a hierarchical sense of source text and the purity of an original source and thinks through the wider contexts and codification that takes place when recording a new version. This is particularly pertinent when thinking about folk and popular music that circulate among and across communities. Here is what I found in what was a pleasurable dive into recent musical versions and re-versioning.

These versions of the well-known song, ‘La Bamba’ vary according to who recorded them and when they were recorded. What becomes clear on listening to these versions is that what may seem like a light and airy rock ‘n’ roll song has been an act of resistance and an assertion of belonging and identity.

Ritchie Valens, a significant figure in Chicano rock (alongside Lalo Guerrero), released ‘La Bamba’ in 1958. It was a big hit. His version is a 1950s US-style rock adaptation of a Mexican traditional musical song written in the Son Jarocho style. This makes it a melding of multiple influences from Spanish, indigenous, African styles with the melting pot that is rock ‘n’ roll, that is, a mix of Scottish and Irish traditional music and the African inflected musical genres that emerged from black musicians in the deep south of the US, in particular, blues..

Los Lobos released this version in 1987 to coincide with the release of the biography of Ritchie Valens, La Bamba (Luis Valdez, 1987). It was a major world-wide hit. Listen to the guitar picking towards the end of the song. That is an homage to the Son Jarocho style. Note, also, the different size guitars the musicians play. Again, these are guitars that are widely used in Mexican music.

This brings me to the East Los Angeles version of ‘La Bamba’ here by Las Cafeteras called ‘La Bamba Rebelde’. It draws on the original Mexican folk version, the subsequent Valens and Los Lobos versions and adds extra elements in the lyrics. It is also polyphonic, that is, it does not rely on one singer. Instead it gives prominence to several different voices. This gives it the effect of being a song that emerges from a community or group. The style of this version is very driven by recent movements in US folk music that is, in turn, influenced by the folk music supported by the Austin, Texas-based SXSW . See, this interview for some reflections on this emerging style. The polyphonic nature, the lyrics that reference immigrant rights and the Zapatista movements, and the visuals* that celebrate diversity and resistance amongst the self-identified Chicanos of East LA signal a political inflection to this version that is not as explicit in the earlier versions. The first two version are about being seen and asserting a place in US popular culture. ‘La Bamba Rebelde’ is about demanding more than visibility. It is about rights and pride in their distinctive place in a particular city.

This final version is a mix of multiple musicians from Africa and the Americas playing the song that nods to its multiple influences and the re-versioning that has happened with this song. For me, this version speaks (sings) to why adaptation is a poor word choice and weak analytical category when talking about these versions.

*A note on one of the locations, Home Girl Café. Take a look at their site and read more about it in this fascinating book on food culture in the US.

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Reviewing the Muse

Or, what happens when you read multiple biographies at once

I often read multiple books at the same time. Whilst researching my forthcoming book on María Félix I have been reading two biographical studies concurrently. The first is a biography of one of Félix’s husbands, Agustín Lara and another is to gain some insight into the lives of Leonor Fini and Leonora Carrington, both of whom painted Félix’s portrait. As biographies they take very different approaches, most obviously because the first is about a single individual and the second follows the lives of multiple individuals. As biographical studies they also cover much ground in providing the historical, political, and cultural contexts for their subjects. The differences lie in a gendered understanding of the world that is inflected by distinct attitudes to women’s roles in the creative process. For me, this can be best understood through a central theme in both books, the idea of the muse. This is made explicit in Whitney Chadwick’s book, but runs throughout Andrew Grant Wood’s book without due analysis. I want to write a brief reflection on their different approaches. But, first a brief summary of the books and their subjects.

The subject of Wood’s book, Agustín Lara (1897-1970) was a musician and songwriter with a long connection to the film industry in Mexico. He had a romantic relationship with Félix from 1942-1947. They married in 1945 and divorced (acrimoniously) in 1947. Their relationship and break-up was followed closely by the popular press and gossip sheets. The most lasting legacy of their relationship was the bolero, “María Bonita” which he purportedly wrote for her on their honeymoon in Acapulco. It was one of Lara’s biggest hits and was often sung to Félix when she made public appearances.

Lara’s fame and popularity was (and is) considerable. Despite this, as Andrew Grant Wood points out in his book, there is little scholarly research carried out on his life and work. Wood’s book is a great place to start to understand Lara’s significance and place in Mexican culture. The book is fittingly given the subheading, “a cultural biography” because Wood provides insights into the broader developments in Mexico. in particular, he focuses on the six year shifts in political presidential cultural policy, the evolution of the radio, and the importance of the film industry thus giving a sense of how and why Lara emerged as a significant figure in mid-century Mexico. His book is well-researched, scholarly, yet accessible. In places it is overly dense with details of places, people and events and could do with more signalling of the significances of these facts. That being said, it is highly readable and provides an informed and applied introduction to Lara’s life, career and the context in which he worked and created.

The primary focus on Lara’s very full life and interpersonal relationships is wrapped up in Lara’s persona as a romantic lover attached to multiple and (often much younger) partners who acted as muses. Among the many long-term relationships, Félix’s is the only one that is dedicated a full chapter in Wood’s book. In part, this is because they were of equal standing when they were together, both at the peak of their fame which, when combined was the centre of much attention. This counters the idea of the muse especially when considered in the light of the Leonora Carrington quotation used in much of the publicity for Chadwick’s book, “I didn’t have time to be anyone’s Muse … I was too busy rebelling against my family and learning to be an artist”. Similarly, Félix was too busy with her career to adopt the typical backseat or passive role of the muse. It could be that for this reason, in the chapter on Félix and Lara’s relationship, Wood falters and is less convincing in his accounting for the pair’s romantic dynamic. All other relationships are put forward as opportunities for the woman to access fame and fortune with the added potential to be immortalised in song. Félix did not need added attention or career advancement and in her biography she spoke about her ambivalence towards the song, “María Bonita”, when it was sung to her after their break-up.

Chadwick’s book gives an account of how friendship amongst a selection of women artists provided an informal support network that enabled them to continue their creativity and bolstered them when the formal networks ignored them or simply recognised them as muses. Each chapter is focused on a pair of women and considers how their friendships and careers play out. This is not the story of perfect harmony, but of key moments in the women’s lives as they overlap, mingle, and support one another. When reading this book, my focus is on Fini and Carrington’s relationship in order to understand their lives and works, but I have also been compelled by the chapters on Frida Kahlo, Jacqueline Lamba, Claude Cahun and Suzanne Malherbe, Alice Rahon Paalen, Lee Miller, and Valentine Penrose. Some of these women had romantic relationships as well as long-lasting friendships. The premise of Chadwick’s book is that solely seeing these women as muses debilitated them in life and glosses over their importance as artists when viewed from the art historian’s lens. Seeing them as merely muses privileges their male partners and frames them as mere decorative or domestic crutches for these male geniuses. Chadwick’s account of a series of interconnected women artists gives an insight into the personal and creative toll that it implies to be solely seen as a muse when your personal ambitions lie elsewhere.

When reading Wood’s book at the same time as Chadwick’s, it is impossible to ignore the terrible, actual, and psychic damage on women caused by being simply seen as a muse. While Félix continued her career whilst being in a relationship with Lara, it is clear that many of the other women he was involved with did not. It is possible to speculate on the reasons for their lack of advancement. This may have been because of the fits of jealousy Félix and Wood both say Lara was prone to that limited their behaviour, or it could have been because of the burden of being a muse. To know this is to look at the biographies of each of these women, which would take a community of scholars. With the available information he had to hand, Wood picks up a well-worn and unhelpful trope of woman as muse that allows for a lesser reading of Lara. What would Lara’s life story look like if Wood had reflected on Lara’s multiple relationships with women from a different perspective that acknowledged their agency? I cannot know for sure, but Wood is uniquely placed to answer that and it would be interesting to see where he could go with that. What is clear from Chadwick, is that the word muse should not be used idly or as a limiter to someone’s agency and only ever with great caution.


Chadwick, Whitney (2018) The Militant Muse: Love, War and the Women of Surrealism London: Thames and Hudson.

Wood, Andrew Grant (2014) Agustín Lara: A Cultural Biography Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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Versions of María Bonita

María Félix had a long term relationship with the bolero songwriter and musician Agustín Lara. They married in 1945 and went on their honeymoon to Acapulco. As legend has it, amongst the many songs he was inspired to write “María Bonita” on their honeymoon. They divorced in 1947. Despite this, the song was frequently sung at public occasions in dedication to her. In recent years, it is often use by fans in compilation fanvids dedicated to Félix. This post will be used as a type of archive of versions which means that it will be occasionally updated.

The lyrics to the song can be found here. The opening lines, “Acuérdate de Acapulco” [Do you remember Acapulco] give an indication of the romanticism, nostalgia and longing that characterise boleros. For those who do not speak Spanish, here is a literal (and not very poetic) translated version of the lyrics. Bolero as a term is attached to a musical form in eighteenth century Spain. The Merriam Webster gives a sense of the style of the Spanish form. It has some commonalities with the Bolero in Latin America, but has its own distinct rhythmic and lyrical patterns. The Bolero form that Lara was renowned for originated in Cuba in the nineteenth century. It came into Mexico via the Yucatán peninsula on Mexico’s Caribbean coast, was adopted by Mexican musicians and composers, and in the 1940s and 1950s became popular in the capital city and throughout Mexico.

A version sung by Lara compiled by a YouTuber:

One of the more famous recordings by Pedro Vargas:

Here’s Plácido Domingo in 1987 in Acapulco singing with Félix in the audience:

Julio Iglesias giving his syncopated version:

A contemporary recording by Natalia Lafourcade:

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When you find that film…

Previously, I have written about the happenstance of research and, today, I had another. I am writing a monograph about María Félix and found an article in my big Félix file by the actor Diana Bracho. She is critical of Félix and finds her to be representative of a type of character that she is glad has disappeared. To give her comments the time and space they deserve I’ll discuss them in detail in my book. But, there are curious twists to this piece that I want to pause on. Bracho’s article was written in 1985 at a time when women filmmakers were getting the opportunity to make films. Evident in her writing is a combination of a sense of crisis about the low level of output in commercial film alongside optimism about a changing Mexican film industry. In this context, Bracho’s sometimes harsh criticism of Félix make a lot of sense. Subsequently, she has had a full and varied career, largely in arthouse and realist films. In 2016, she starred in a short as María Félix, María Bonita (Amanda de la Rosa), which I have sought out over the years and finally found on de la Rosa’s YouTube channel. These twists and turns are reflective of how attitudes can change and how a single career contains multitudes.

Work cited

Bracho, Diana (1985) “El cine mexicano: ¿Y en el papel de la mujer…Quien?”, Mexican Studies/Estudios mexicanos 1.2 Summer, pp. 413-423.

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How reviews have changed…

I have been watching and re-watching films starring María Félix. To get a sense of what others think of them, I seek out reviews. They are often illuminating and insights into the author, the time they were written, as well as adding to my understanding of the films. For this purpose, I came across these two different takes on the same film.

The New York Times review of Les Heros Sont Fatigues/Heroes and Sinners (Yves Ciampi, 1955) begins, “The French seem to be fascinated by those flea-bitten tropical ports, where the heat and humanity are oppressive and sex is rampant and raw” and continues its jaunty way through some reductive statements about European films set in Africa. It’s dismissive and a little snide, containing language that was usual then but is definitely not okay now.

José Arroyo’s take is more nuanced and gives a better sense of what the film achieved as well as some of its failings.

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El monje blanco (1946)

El monje blanco [the white monk] was the first of three films directed by Julio Bracho starring María Félix. The other two are La mujer de todos (1946), set in1912 during a brief pause in the fighting in the Mexican Revolution, and Canasta de cuentos mexicanos (1956), an adaptation of a book of short stories by B Traven. El monje blanco is another adaptation, this time from an unlikely source for a film made in Mexico: a play by a member of the Catalan modernist movement, the playwright, novelist, and poet, Eduardo Marquina. The adaptation is credited to Julio Bracho and his longtime collaborator, the poet Xavier Villarrutia. They keep the verse form of the original rendering it archaic in style and lending the performances a theatrical effect albeit one with relentless delivery of dialogue and few pauses.

Félix as Gálata Orsino

Félix is Gálata Orsino, a beautiful, but unworldly, woman whose life is ruined when she falls for ‘El conde’ [the count] Hugo del Saso (Tomás Perrín). She goes to a monastery in thirteenth century Italy on a day many other pilgrims are there to celebrate a statue of the Virgin Mary. She is disguised as a monk and confesses to the chaplain about her past. Told as a series of flashbacks and intercut with El conde’s story. He is now living in the monastery as Fray [Brother] Paracleto and is also confessing his side of the story to the chaplain. Their stories unfold as a melodramatic romance with a utopian ending.

Perrín as Fray Paracleto

The bare bones of the narrative are fairly straightforward. Fearful that her beauty would lead to her downfall (just as it did with her mother), Gálata’s father shelters her from the world in a hut in a remote corner of the woods owned by the count. But, in fairytale fashion, this is not possible. When the count is out hunting, he happens upon Gálata, they fall in love and she goes to live with him in his castle. She is lavished with gifts and fine clothing but feels compromised by these excesses. She leaves the castle. Is pregnant, has the child back in the hut. The count seeks her out, has her taken away, considers murdering the illegitimate baby. Recants while a monk implores him not to kill the baby. He is next seen at the monastery tearful and remorseful. Gálata is reunited with her son and the count leaves the monastery and the family walk off into the woods as the monks and priest look on in delight.

The film is shot beautifully by Alex Philips, a skilled cinematographer who has not gotten the same attention as his peer, Gabriel Figueroa. Nonetheless, it is difficult to watch for two fundamental reasons. The first, is the script and its performance. Villarrutia did try and elevate a source text whose lines are “casi siempre fríos y mecánicos” [almost exclusively cold and mechanical] (Taibo I 2004, 103), and the relentless pacing in the delivery of the script does not enhance it. There is little time to absorb the rather convoluted telling. The second, is down to mis-casting. For this role, Félix is called on either to be an innocent or a fallen woman. The latter she did successfully and regularly over the course of her career. The former, less so, and rarely with conviction. In El monje blanco, her age, her physicality, the wardrobe, and the lighting that goes with her star presence all indicate a woman of the world, not a naive young woman unaware of her charms. Perrín is a poor choice as a leading man. There is something camp in his performance that could have worked if the direction was different, but does not convince in this film. He is also someone who has a symmetrically composed face that suggests good looks, but he has little screen presence.

Félix and Perrín in opulence

There is more to be said about this film and it is one of considerable interest to those keen on Philips and, a necessary watch for a Félix completist, but, as entertainment it falls short.

Work Cited

Taibo I, Paco Ignacio. (2004), María Félix: 47 pasos por el cine. Mexico: Ediciones B.

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