Mujeres insumisas

[Untamed Women]

(Claudio Prods.-Televicine-Univ. de Guadalajara-Gobierno del estado de Colima-Univ. de Colima-Fondo Estatal para la cultura y las artes de Colima, 1994) Exec Prod: Manuel Cristino; Prod: Jaime Casillas; Dir/Scr: Alberto Isaac; Photo: Toni Kuhn; Music: Walterio Pesqueira; Prod Mgr: Nacho Elizárraras; Asst Dir: Jaime Kuri; Film Ed: Carlos Savage; Art Dir: Tere Pecanins; Union: STPC

Cast: Patricia Reyes Spíndola (Ema), José Alonso (Felipe), Lourdes Elizarrarás (Clotilde), Regina Orozco (Chayo), Juana Ruiz (Isabel), Juan Claudio Retes (Homero), Margarita Isabel (Rosa 4), Héctor Ortega (Urtiz), Miguel Ángel de la Cueva (priest), Graciela Lara (gypsy), Jorge Rocha (Terencio), Jorge Arau (Santos), Angélica Guerrero (Cuca), Jaime Casillas (don Atilio), Alberto Isaac (doctor)

Notes: Mujeres insumisas could be accurately described as a "feminist" film, although it was written and directed by a man, Alberto Isaac. The core of the film is the friendship between three women, and while not all of the male characters are unsympathetic, they are certainly depicted as less admirable than the "unsubmissive wives" (a literal translation of the title).

Like many of Isaac's films, Mujeres insumisas begins with a quotation, this time from Saint Onofrio: "Woman, with respect to man, is neither worse nor better; [she] is something else." Intercut with the credits are introductory scenes with each of the three protagonists: Clotilde is horribly beaten by her husband, who punches and kicks her, then callously snaps several of her fingers; Chayo struggles to spoon-feed her obstinate, elderly mother-in-law; Ema endures her husband Felipe's lovemaking, even though he crosses the finish line while she's still rounding the first turn, so to speak. Ema, Chayo, Clotilde, and their friend Isabel meet at a sewing class; although all four are married and have children, their lives are far from happy and fulfilled. Finally, they board a train for Guadalajara, leaving behind a note for their spouses.

Felipe questions Isabel.

In Guadalajara, Isabel changes her mind and goes home. Ema, Chayo, and Clotilde have to take jobs in "Las Rosas," a restaurant and bar, in order to finance the rest of their journey (to the USA). Ema begins an affair with Homero, a young man who turns out to be a drug dealer; Homero murders his supplier and steals money and drugs, planning to flee the country with his other girlfriend. Instead, tipped off by the concerned Chayo and Clotilde, Ema beats him up, taking his plane tickets and money so she and her friends can fly to Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, Ema's husband Felipe has been trying to find his wife. He finally convinces Isabel--sporting a welcome-home black eye from her husband--to give him Ema's address in Guadalajara. However, by the time Felipe reaches the city, Ema and the others have departed. Homero and a henchman, thinking Felipe knows where Ema (and the money) is, beat up Felipe and leave him for dead. He awakes in a hospital, and Rosa 4 (one of the numerous "Rosas" affiliated with the restaurant) befriends him. During his convalescence--through Ema's postcards to Rosa 4--Felipe learns Ema, Chayo, and Clotilde are going to open a Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles, "La Flor de Comala."

Felipe arrives at the restaurant on opening night. He tells Ema he left his job, his child (staying with his mother), and was nearly killed trying to find Ema; he says he'll do anything to reconcile with her. As the film ends, Ema and Felipe are tentatively a couple once more, although she refuses to return to Mexico.

Mujeres insumisas thus has a (mildly far-fetched) "happy ending," although there are numerous loose ends (although Ema's "papers" are in order, Felipe isn't a legal immigrant, and their child is still in Mexico; both Chayo and Clotilde are separated from their children as well). But Ema, Chayo, and Clotilde have achieved some degree of independence: indeed, the moral of the film might be that everyone--even a married woman with children--has a right to happiness. This directly contravenes the longtime Mexican cinema tradition of self-sacrificing mothers and submissive wives. The film's depiction of Ema's sexual needs and desires is also somewhat at odds with the old-fashioned image of the "virginal" wife who is not supposed to have any sexual feelings. In fact, Ema's disappointment with Felipe's performance in bed is the most visible reason for her desertion from marriage: Felipe is not shown to be abusive or exploitative, as Clotilde and Chayo's husbands are.

While the actions of the women in Mujeres insumisas are out of the ordinary, the most touching and impressive aspect of the movie is the representation of the true friendship and support which exists between the three protagonists. It is a tribute to Isaac's ability as a writer that he could construct a relationship which seems extremely naturalistic and admirable.

The performances, especially from the main characters, are uniformly good. Patricia Reyes Spíndola, as Ema, gets the lion's share of the footage, but both Regina Orozco (who gets to sing) and Lourdes Elizarrarás are fine. José Alonso is also excellent as Felipe, who doesn't pursue Ema because she "belongs" to him, but because he sincerely misses her company and loves her. Margarita Isabel also makes a strong impression as the worldly but kind Rosa 4, and further down in the cast, Isaac regulars Héctor Ortega and Jorge Rocha can be spotted. Director Isaac and producer Casillas appear in non-speaking cameos.

Mujeres insumisas was not intended to be Alberto Isaac's final film, but in a way it comes full circle back to his first feature, En este pueblo no hay ladrones: both are contemporary films set in a small town (although Mujeres moves on to Guadalajara about one-third of the way through the picture), whereas most of the director's other films were period pieces. Mujeres insumisas is also a tribute of sorts of Isaac's home in Comala. However, Mujeres insumisas is not an old-fashioned movie, or one which appears to be the "nostalgic" work of a director aware his career is coming to an end (cf Reclusorio, directed by Ismael Rodríguez); it is modern and vital in theme and execution, and deserves the critical accolades it received.

In the 1996 Ariel Awards, Mujeres insumisas received 16 nominations, but won only two: Best Supporting Actress (Margarita Isabel), and Best Editing (Carlos Savage). The other nominations were for Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor (José Alonso), Best Actress (Reyes Spíndola), Best Co-Starring Actress (Orozco and Elizarrarás), Best Supporting Actor (Retes), Best Screenplay, Best Original Story, Best Photography, Best Makeup, Best Costumes, Best Art Direction, and Best Set Decor.

Mujeres insumisas may be purchased from Oxxo Films.


Back to the Alberto Isaac Page. This review completed 10 May 2001 by David Wilt (dw45@umail.umd.edu).