Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Arturo Ripstein | Profundo carmesí (Deep Crimson)

don juan with migraines
by Douglas Messerli

Paz Alicia Garciadiego (writer), Arturo Ripstein (director) Profundo carmesí (Deep Crimson) / 1996

For several decades now, Mexican filmmaker Arturo Ripstein has been making memorable films about people who are propelled into dangerous or complex relationships by the sometimes near-inexplicable forces of love. Some of the best of these, such as Love Lies, Foxtrot, and Hell Has No Limits have been internationally shown, nominated for and winning film awards. Others such as the 1996 Deep Crimson, recently released by Criterion Films, are lesser known, but should be more renowned, at least as well known as the other cinema version based on the 1940s true story "Lonelyhearts Killers," made into the 1970 cult film, The Honeymoon Killers.

     Ripstein’s version begins with a short almost sepia-colored portrait of the heavyset nurse, Coral Fabre (nicely played by opera singer Regina Orozco), who works mostly out of her home when she doesn’t go to the hospital to help with embalming or simply lay in bed reading romances under a portrait of her favorite lover, Charles Boyer. She clearly resents the existence of her two children, the eldest of which tries to remind her mother of her familial duties. In this first sequence, the children go to bed hungry out of punishment for their mother having tortured an old man by failing to find a vein in which to properly inject his medicine.
     Boyer, who played cads and murderers in several love films (Back Street, Gaslight, The Earrings of Madame de…) is perhaps the perfect match for this self-obsessed woman, desperate to find a lover. She finds that lover in another low-minded cad, Nicolás Estrella (Daniel Giménez Cacho), who a bit like Hitchcock’s Charles “Charlie” Oakley in his Shadow of a Doubt, who, if you recall, marries and kills off wealthy widows for his financial benefit. Estrella, however—although fairly handsome when he dons one of his hair pieces—is far lower on the totem pole of shadiness. His victims are single, divorced, or widowed women of limited means, whom he romances and, without bothering to marry them, engages in sex before he steals their purses, jewelry, or cars.
       Coral, however, is below even his standards. She smells of formaldehyde and, despite her complete readiness to give in to any requests for sex, she is no beauty. Claiming a migraine headache—a real infliction suffered by this third-rate Don Juan—he, upon saying hello immediately claims he “must be going,” his quick departure signaling the Marx brother comic elements of much of this movie.
        But baby, “it’s raining outside,” and the gigolo soon returns to take his prize, a quick fling with the large breasted woman and the contents of her coin holder, a robbery she spots without saying anything, as if she had already expected that she might have to pay for sex, later joking that she was charged by the pound.
        But this is no fragile victim who might believe the lies he tells. The next day she shows up in his house with her two children in tow, demanding that he take them in. Shocked by her hutzpah, he insists that his life has no room for children yet permitting them to spend the night.
      Without blinking an eye, Coral trots off her kids to the local adoption agency, returning to pry open her new lover’s front door before rifling through his files to perceive the true nature of his vocation.
        Hardly bothering to drop a tear, she suggests that they go into business together, she acting as his sister, while serving, so to speak, as his manager, selecting and arranging for possible victims.
        The remainder of the film is a gradual deterioration into another kind of hell, as they uncover all the wrong women and she, jealously, spins the team into murderous behavior beginning by sickening with rat poison one rather elderly woman who, to escape her boyfriend’s observation has met them at a seedy, outlying bar. They give her a bus ticket to home, while driving away in her rather stylish red sedan, later exchanging it for a far cheaper model.
        But it is clear that preying on women to steal their love and assents is no easy job. As film critic Keith Phipps quipped “there's no thrill to the kill, because there are always those bodies to bury and stains to clean.”
       When they decide that they have to kill one of their would-be victims, along with her bratty little girl, because of her demands that Estrella work as her mechanic for several months while she insists on almost daily sex, they finally are so exhausted that they turn themselves it, and openly accept their execution. Given the permission to run for their lives as the local police stand behind them with their guns cocked, the worn-out lovers simply stand in place, accepting their Bonnie and Clyde-like end.
     There is often a very dark humor in all of Ripstein’s films, but this has to be one of the most notable examples in history of the clichés that not only “crime doesn’t pay” but that “love can make you crazy.”

Los Angeles, July 3, 2018

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