Aventurera & Mexico’s New Class of Women

Para la versión en español, clickea aquí

Synopsis

Aventurera (1950) tells the story of Elena, a young, naive middle-class woman whose life is turned upside down when she discovers her mother is having an affair and her father subsequently commits suicide. She tries to make a new life in the city but is tricked into working for Rosaura, the madam of a local brothel and nightclub. As Elena spends more time working for Rosaura, she begins to think only of revenge, and her plans become a reality when she meets Rosaura’s unknowing son Mario.

As the 1940s came to a close, world politics was changing fast. Previously the US believed in fostering a Good Neighbor Policy with Latin American countries and this manifested in the film industries of these countries in innumerable ways. Hollywood produced Spanish-language films and Latin American studios saw an increase in funding for films that supported American ideals. By the end of the war, however, Cold War paranoia took precedence over being a “good neighbor”.

US film policy shifted from one of helping Mexico’s film industry to one that prioritized Hollywood’s recuperation of lost markets in Latin America through block booking of Hollywood films, special arrangements for US distributors and exhibitors in Mexico, and trade agreements with Spain that cut into Mexico’s ability to export its films to that important market. At the same time, the Mexican state made the strategic decision to not protect the industry from the US government’s aggressive promotion of Hollywood’s interests. 

Aventurera

With this being the case, Mexico’s cinema could no longer be one that reflected the wonders of corporatism and the benevolent state. This is the environment that created the melodrama satire, Aventurera. Elena is almost immediately left without a benevolent patriarchal figure as her father commits suicide. The next person who becomes somewhat of a parental figure to her (in the worst way) is Rosaura, the madam of the brothel she works in. Rosaura is neither benevolent nor patriarchal. She represents an invasive and cruel state in which the forces of good remain unable to win.

Aventurera certainly packs the most excitement per minute to an almost ridiculous extent. By the first ten minutes, our protagonist has found her mother cheating with a family friend, her mother has left, and her father has committed suicide. It’s too insane to be by accident. Even for its time, Ninon Sevilla’s (Elena) acting is over the top and her dance sequences are long and hamfisted. Aventurera wants us to question the tired and unrealistic binaries of past corporatist melodramas like Dios Se Lo Pague. This is something all of the characters of the film have to overcome. After Elena catches her mother in the arms of another man, all she can think of are binary moral roles. She pictures her poor, humble father and then her hypocritical harlot of a mother. We start to see how these binaries are forced to change as Elena meets Rosaura.

When they first meet, Rosaura is clearly the villain. She drugs her, forces her to work for her, and lets strange men sexually assault her. Meanwhile, Elena is the young, beautiful innocent who is simply too weak to fight this level of evil. By the end of the film, when Elena has married Rosaura’s son, the roles have reversed. Rosaura is the helpless mother who only wants the best for her children and Elena is a heartless maneater ruining her husband’s (Rosaura’s son’s) life. The women begin to represent both lightness and darkness which often calls back to the more binary beginnings of the film. 

Aventurera

When Rosaura catches Elena seducing her other son, the scene is almost a mirror image of when Elena caught her own mother. And on Elena’s wedding night, her drunkenness leads her to be begged by Rosaura and her new husband to stop drinking in direct opposition to Elena’s first night at Rosaura’s nightclub where they were plying her with drinks. These juxtapositions allow us to feel sympathy for the characters we had originally written off. By being caught by Rosaura, Elena is put in the same place as her mother, but this time we have an understanding of what led her there. Maybe her mother faced similar challenges? And at the wedding when Elena is obnoxiously drunk and starting to become an unlikeable character, we are forced to recall her sad and innocent beginnings. Now is not the time to be an arbiter of morality.

Seeing how this film is not just a melodrama satire but a rumbera satire, the songs in the film also reflect this outrageous dichotomy, especially the title song. “Aventurera”. Elena first hears the song when she has just arrived at the club. The lyrics tell a sad story of a poor loveless woman. “Sell your love dearly, Aventurera, May it pay the great cost of your painful past”. The next time she hears it is after she has humiliated her husband by returning to her old nightclub act. This time the lyrics are biting. “Make him pay in diamonds, the price of your sins.” At once this song is sympathetic and cruel. Everyone around Elena faces this. Rengo, Rosaura’s henchman goes from her tormenter to her savior, and Lucio, the man who introduced her to Rosaura switches freely between these two character traits. But what does this all mean for Elena’s future and, in turn, Mexico’s?

Aventurera

This dichotomy all leads to a new middle ground. After returning to her dancing career, Elena’s husband Mario confronts her furiously wondering why he never realized she could never be as good a woman as his mother. This prompts Elena to reveal Rosaura once and for all and show that they are truly one and the same. Instead of leading to violence or punishment as in many melodramas, it instead prompts a realization on Mario’s part. His Madonna Whore complex is gone and it frees him. Unlike most melodramas, these women do not die for their sins. They are allowed to live as morally complicated and sexual women. He accepts all of Elena and he wants to be with her.

Though Lucio tries to take Elena away, Rengo is able to save her. As Elena walks away from Lucio who is pointing a gun at her, Rengo throws a knife at him and kills him. This is all done without Elena’s knowledge. Though she has gained a lot of knowledge about the ways of thugs and sexually aggressive men, the filmmakers allow her to remain innocent in this violence that has birthed her new beginning. She is allowed to embrace Mario and walk off into their new life. However, this marriage will be very different. 

She will not be an innocent wife or a seductress. She will be something else, possibly something mainstream Mexican audiences haven’t seen before. This also goes for her class status. She went from the daughter of a middle-class family to an often powerless and harassed working woman, and then to a socialite. Now she will be a working wife. With this satire, Aventurera infuses ideas of modern womanhood with ongoing class struggle. One of the earliest films to truly understand intersectionality on such a deep level, it may be a bit ridiculous but it is certainly important and innovative.

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