Before he could move, the men burst through the bushes and fell
upon him like hungry animals. Octavio, or maybe Pancho first,
started lashing at him with fists…perhaps it wasn’t them, but other
men who had pierced the thicket and found him and thrown
themselves upon him, their hot bodies writhing, gasping over la
Manuela who could no longer scream, their heavy, stiff bodies, the
three of them one sticky mass squirming like some fantastic, three-
headed animal with multiple limbs, wounded and seething, the three
fused there in the grass by vomit and heat and pain, looking for the
one to blame, punishing him, shuddering gratifications, excruciating
confusion, la Manuela’s frail body resists no more, breaks under the
strain, can’t even moan from the pain, hot mouths, hot hands, slavering,
hard bodies wounding his, bodies that howl and insult and grope, that
monster of three tortuous bodies, breaking and tearing and raking and
probing, until nothing is left and now la Manuela scarcely sees, scarcely
hears, scarcely feels, sees, no, doesn’t see, and they escape through the
blackberry bushes and she left alone by the river that separates her
from the vineyards where Don Alejo waits, benevolent.
Nonetheless, Ripstein’s work does succeed in recounting the arch of events which begin with La Manuela’s fears about reencountering the violent Pancho, and, throughout the day, the spiral down, like the dance itself, into her death. Throughout, Pancho is seen as a kind of brute animal, a married man who leaves his wife to the shanty while he roams about the countryside, whoring. Yet the handsome truck-driver, we suspect, has his own secrets. Forced as a child to play with Don Alejo’s daughter, a girl of his own age, and almost seen as an adopted son by Don Alejo’s now insane wife, Pancho has been torn between events that might have blossomed into an adult relationship with the girl while at the same time, playing dolls with her, he is described as a “sissy.” The film omits this tension, but it makes it clear, nonetheless, that Pancho, despite his macho demeanor, is a man of inner tensions, a man, in fact, obsessed with La Manuela, and intent on revisiting her that evening.
So too is La Manuela obsessed with Pancho, despite her fears scurrying about throughout the day to find enough red thread to mend the flamenco dress he had torn off her body months before. Indeed nearly everyone in this work might be said to be attracted to or caught up in Pancho’s animal magnetism. La Manuela’s Japonesita (Ana Martin) attempts to masturbate him and later flirts with and is nearly raped by him at the whorehouse. Octavio, selling his gas station to Don Alejo, attempts to help out his brother-in-law by giving him most his money to pay off the red truck which Don Alejo has helped Pancho to purchase. Don Alejo, although disgusted with Pancho’s behavior (he had hoped he might get an education and become an important figure) still hopes to control the young man.