- Latin American Melodrama: Passion, Pathos, and Entertainment
As film scholars North and South well know, writing about Latin American melodrama presents a set of challenges given the multiplicity of national(ist) and sociocultural specificities that render such a project historically and aesthetically complex as well as theoretically ambitious. As Luisela Alvaray cogently argues, "melodrama has tended to be connected to national and regional identities as much as to the modernization of Latin American societies" (31). In that sense, Latin American Melodrama provides long-awaited and much needed analyses of a genre which, as Gilberto Perez notes, is "difficult to define" (20). Recognizing the dearth of English-language academic material on Latin American film melodrama, Sadlier has succeeded in assembling an anthology that is both strongly researched and diverse in its focus. She addresses the volume's purpose in the Introduction, where she asserts that this "is an anthology of critical writings" devoted to "films not only of the golden age but also of the present that belong in the melodramatic tradition" (2).
Compiling an anthology of this sort is no easy task, making what Sadlier has accomplished all the more remarkable. Of course, Latin American melodrama appears in different media and formats—"theatrical chronicles, the feuilleton, radionovelas, telenovelas, rancheras, tangos, boleros, and cinematic melodramas, among others" (Alvaray 33). Consequently, no collection of essays can provide an exhaustive overview. Instead, what this volume provides are several valuable scholarly contributions to the field, in particular the "melodramatic" filmic traditions of Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela.
Latin American Melodrama is composed of nine chapters, ranging in style, length, and quality. The opening chapter, Gilberto Perez's "Melodrama of the Spirited Woman: Aventurera," explores the theme of the "spirited heroine" in Mexican films of the 1940s and 1950s, highlighting such classics as Aventurera (1949), a very popular melodrama directed by Spanishborn Alberto Gout. Comparing the heroines of Aventurera and Doña Barbara (also a Mexican production from 1946, directed by Fernando de Fuentes) to those of Hollywood films of the time, Perez's concludes that although the theory of the male gaze may be applied to certain movies, "it fails with melodramas and the female perspective they frequently assume" (26). Conversely, Luisela Alvaray's "Melodrama and the Emergence of Venezuelan Cinema" contends that "Doña Barbara is only one example of a connection [End Page 230] between Mexican melodrama and its Venezuelan counterpart—a connection that influenced the emergence of Venezuelan cinema" (35). Alvaray goes on to observe the intense cross-fertilization that defines Latin American melodrama, in both its cinematic and televisual formats. The result, as she points out, is that today Venezuela is one of the major producers and consumers of melodrama, and along with Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil, has become a major exporter of telenovelas. Paula Félix-Didier and Andrés Levinson's "The Building of a Nation: La guerra gaucha as Historical Melodrama" advances a compelling close reading of Lucas Demare's La guerra gaucha (1942) as an allegory for Argentine national and cultural identity. Cid Vasconcelos's "Women as Civilizers in 1940s Brazilian Cinema: Between Passion and the Nation" also addresses Brazil's cinematic past through a careful consideration of three films (Humberto Mauro's Argila, 1940; Raul Roulien's Aves sem ninho, 1939; Adhemar Gonzaga's Romance Proibido, 1944) and their representations of women. Made during a particular historical moment—Getúlio Vargas's New State dictatorship (1937–1945), which was culturally and politically characterized by the rise of the New Man as Vasconcelos cogently argues, these films "portray the New Woman as a small-scale version of the great leader, the head of the state, who is the most symbolically charged representative of the nation's values" (65). In turn, Ismail Xavier's "The Humiliation of the Father: Melodrama and Cinema Novo's Critique of Conservative Modernization" explores the theme of family decadence in the context of the late 1960s to early 1970s military dictatorship through the work of Arnaldo Jabor's, Toda nudez será castigada (1972...