Do you ever have the yen for a good Mexican domestic melodrama? I certainly do, which is why I very much enjoyed Une Mujer sin Amor (1952), and I’m sure you will too. Adapted from a Maupassant story (’Pierre et Jean’) it tells of the brief, idyllic liaison between bourgeois wife and mother Rosario and a handsome young engineer, Julio. When Rosario’s husband Carlos has a heart attack, their plans to run away to Brazil are put on hold as she tends to her husband, and Julio departs alone.
Flash forward twenty years or so and her son, Carlitos, has a brother Miguel. Both are graduating as doctors and with their father’s financial support they plan to open a clinic. But Carlos is comically obsessed with not being cheated in his business transactions and fails to raise the funds. A large and unexpected inheritance for Miguel appears to be the stroke of luck they need, but instead sows discord, resentment and jealousy amongst the family.
One probably wouldn’t guess it, but the director of this film was the great Luis BuÃ±uel. The story had been filmed once before, and BuÃ±uel was required to deliver a straightforward remake; he considered it his worst picture but that judgment is too harsh. The film may be completely lacking in his characteristic surrealism and fetishism, but it does exhibit discrete and elegant camerawork and fine pacing. And BuÃ±uel finds fun in the father’s ignorance of his wife’s dalliance, Carlitos’ sudden thundercloud mood and the reason for Miguel’s windfall; the men in BuÃ±uel’s movies are usually subjected so some sort of cruel sexual torture, but here he also allows Carlos a couple of spirited defenses of the pleasures of alcohol (a subject close to the director’s heart) and shows compassion in sparing him a final revelation of Rosario’s indiscretion.
Also of interest to BuÃ±uel were Maupassant’s stated aims for the original story: to show “how one loves, hates, fights in each social milieu, and the struggles of bourgeois interests, interests of money, family and politics.” Politics doesn’t much enter into it, nor indeed does variety of social milieux, but money and family are what drive Carlitos in the second half to bitter resentment, shame and repulsion, exacerbated by his now-wealthy brother’s engagement to a female doctor he himself had courted (Carlitos is not the only one suspicious of her motives). JoaquÃn Cordero does an excellent job as a man barely able to suppress or even process his feelings, tortured by shame and secrecy.
But in the end the film is about the woman. The tension set up between traditionally reverential feelings for one’s mother and Carlitos’ sense of betrayal (his inability to see his mother as a woman) plays out mostly from his point of view. Rosario Granados’s small quiet presence is a reminder throughout that this woman abandoned her one chance at true love and happiness for the sake of her family. Her own marriage was explicitly a business transaction, as she came from poverty, and she remains dutifully bound to the ideals of the bourgeoisie. No other character seems interested or even aware of her depth of feeling – the usual plight of the wife and mother – but the short final scene is a poignant reminder of her self-sacrifice on the twin altars of family and society, and of the pleasure and pain that have accompanied her throughout her restricted and obedient married life as she treasures in her bosom the memory of what was not the shameful affair all others would have it, but a beautiful, impossible union.