In Adventurera, Elena Tejero (Ninon Sevilla) is a peppy young girl from a well-to-do family in Chihuahua, the kind who skips across the dining room to plant a happy kiss on her loving father's indulgent cheek. When her mother leaves home for another man and her father kills himself, a sad Elena decides to go to Juarez and find a new life as a secretary. It's not long before she learns men want more than dictation. Thanks to Pretty Boy Lucio, a pimp and gangster, the innocent Elena winds up drunk, drugged and debased in the brothel/cabaret owned by a woman known as Rosaura. This cruel queenpin of crime oscillates between Mother Gin Sling and Joan Crawford on a fraught day. Elena's future is simple, Rosaura tells her. She'll entertain the customers on the nightclub floor and then entertain them again upstairs...or she'll feel the lame, mute Rengo's knife slice across her cheek. Elena does what she must, gains popularity as a dancer, never meets a man worth more than a piece of wet chewing gum and moves on as soon as she can.
It's not long before Elena is a smash as a dancer and singer in Mexico City. She becomes engaged to a young lawyer of impeccable family...but there is a twist to the story about to happen that will shock and daze us. Elena by now has turned into a hard young woman who is determined to wreak vengeance on those who have ruined her life. She may be an ultimate victim but she's going to see that those who wronged her get theirs. Her curdled milk of human kindness would choke Mother Teresa. The twist, when it comes, is going to give Elena a lot of gimlet pleasure.
Aventurera is Elena's story. Hold on to your hats, your wallets and keep your zippers zipped. We're talking corruption and revenge; songs and production numbers; diaphanous costumes and pineapple hats, melodrama and death; sex and sin...lot's of sin. The movie is a type of Mexican film called a cabaretera, a cabaret/crime/melodrama movie that was hugely popular in post-WWII Mexico. The girls are fallen doves. The cabarets and nightclubs are just a step above brothels. The owners, hustlers and crooks are cruel and corrupt. The customers are hypocrites. And the songs are great.
Ninon Sevilla may not have been a great actress but she had energy to burn. When she's strutting, stomping and shaking across the stage you'd swear she was channeling a cross between Rita Hayworth and Carmen Miranda. As a dancer, her hips do most of the work. They must have been double jointed. There are five songs and three full-blown dancing-singing productions. Her Chiquita Banana number is impressive...
"Chiquita Banana, girl of Martinique, dresses in banana leaves. She doesn't wear dresses, she doesn't wear pants. Winter, summer, she doesn't care. It's no difference what she wears, And she rightly says she's ready if someone wins her heart."
Aventurera, for all the shameless melodrama, is also something of a statement about feminism. Elena might become a bitter, unforgiving heroine, but there's not a man in sight worth worrying about. They're all just macho weaklings, selfish drunks, groping bosses, sleazy crooks and horny adolescents. I could see Aventurera as an unusual American B-movie written by Edgar Ulmer, directed by Busby Berkeley and produced by Betty Friedan.
With all the songs, dances and theatrics, is Aventurera as campy as some say? Probably, I suppose, but no more than those Bollywood extravaganzas of passion, tears, dances and flashy costumes. It's most likely a movie you'll enjoy even if you say to yourself, "What next could possibly happen?" Just remember what that smooth singer early in the movie crooned to us with a Latin beat...
"Sell your love dearly, Aventurera. May it pay the great cost of your painful past. And he who awaits the sweet honey of your kiss Must pay the price in diamonds for your sin. Make him pay in diamonds for your sin."
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About the reviewer
C. O. DeRiemer (Charley2)
Since I retired in 1995 I have tried to hone skills in muttering to myself, writing and napping. At 75, I live in one of those places where one moves from independent living to hospice. I expect to begin … more
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