DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
SUCH IS LIFE (Así Es La Vida) (director/writer: Arturo Ripstein; screenwriter: Alicia Paz Garciadiego; cinematographer: Guillermo Granillo; editor: Carlos Puente; cast: Arcelia Ramirez (Julia), Luis Felipe Tovar (Nicolás), Patricia Reyes Spindola (Adela, The Godmother), Ernesto Yanez (Pig), Francesca Guillen (Raquel); Runtime: 98; Filmania Production; 2000-Spain/France/Mexico)

 
"The overriding fault for this art-house film was that it is not poetic."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Filmed by the outstanding Mexican director Arturo Ripstein in digital video, on a hand-held camera (the video was later transferred to 35 millimeter). This film has a different look to it, as its color tones are strikingly in browns and soft yellows. Otherwise the film failed to sparkle, as it updated the ancient Greek drama Medea by setting it in Mexico City's barrio where there occurs a struggle among a low-class family. There was nothing added to the original that was novel, except a mariachi band is on hand as a Greek chorus. They added a touch of black humor.

In the Greek drama, Medea's memorable deed was to murder her two children by Jason when he left her to marry a princess.

Julia (Arcelia Ramirez) is an emotionally wrought homeopathic doctor and abortionist, who is torn apart because the one she loves with all her heart and the father of her two children, Nicolás (Luis Felipe Tovar), is a bastard abandoning her to marry a younger woman. He's a slimy unsuccessful boxer who adheres to a macho philosophy, and has taken up with his equally slimy obese slumlord's (Yanez) virgin daughter Raquel (Guillen). He plans to marry her tomorrow and also wants to keep the children; and, because they will live in the slumlord's apartment building Julia is being kicked out of her apartment. She's about to lose everything she considers important by tomorrow, and goes into a desperate rant about life's injustice. She's also fueled to anger against men by her man-hating godmother who would like to castrate all men. The slumlord is aptly called Pig. He is seen walking around the courtyard as if he were a king in a mental institution. He's dressed in a bathrobe and is usually with food or drink in his hand.

Ripstein also has a dizzying amount of extra shots of things that don't play exactly into the story but add some arty points he's trying to make about the outside influences facing the alienated Julia. There's a television set constantly playing and appearing on it is an unhappy woman weather reporter who complains about the expected rain. In another running gag, a mariachi band sings a number of boleros and ballads commenting on Julia's destiny. There's also a porn flick that plays while Nicolás and Raquel are screwing. I wasn't enlightened by these unnecessary scenes.

Almost the entire film is a rant by Julia. A fine actress like Arcelia Ramirez just overacted and failed to bring the audience over to her side. Her classical story didn't play like great drama, but felt more like soap opera or a tragic headline newspaper story one reads these days of a mother snapping and killing her children for no logical reason. All the drama evaporated, as the film's reward seemed to be a visual feast of looking at the interior of an apartment situated in an ugly apartment building's courtyard. Yet this film shouldn't be totally ignored, as the auteur director took chances with this story and was technically innovative. At least, his film wasn't stale as most commercial ventures.

The overriding fault for this art-house film was that it is not poetic and is too distant for the viewer to empathize with Julia's internal misery. It also suffers from comparison to other Medea presentations--so many were great plays, plus there are the superior film versions by Pasolini and von Trier.

REVIEWED ON 9/22/2001     GRADE: C+

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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