"Erendira was bathing her grandmother when
the wind of her misfortune began to blow.
The enormous mansion of moonlike concrete
lost in the solitude of the desert trembled
down to its foundation with the first attack".
Erendira is servant to her grandmother
who inhabits a mansion in the desert wastes
of Mexico. The story begins with a "wind of
misfortune" in the course of which the house
is burned to the ground. The grandmother forces
the teenage Erendira into prostitution to repay
the damage. Her young admirer, Ulysses,
attempts to poison and otherwise dispose of
the old crone, but she only gains in strength.
Finally fate shows its hand.
"She ran against the wind, faster than a deer,
and no voice of this world could stop her. Without
turning her head she ran past the saltpeter pits,
the talcum craters, the torpor of the shacks,
until the natural science of the sea ended and the
desert began, but she still kept on running with
the gold vest beyond the arid winds and the
never-ending sunsets, and she was never heard
of again, nor was the slightest trace of her
misfortune ever found".
The film is remarkable for its surreal ambiance
and the superbly grotesque character of the
Cross-Cultural Film Guide/ Patricia Aufderheide
The American University/ ?1992
Plot: Erendira (Claudia Ohana), a young girl in a
nameless Latin American land, lives with her witch-like
grandmother (Irene Pappas) in a ruined mansion. One night
she accidentally sets the place on fire, and her grandmother
says she must work to pay back the damage. She and her
grandmother set out on the road, where Erendira becomes a
travelling whore. An itinerant photographer accompanies them.
Episodes with a nunnery and a political campaign demonstrate
the repression of the Church and the charlatanry of politics.
Erendira meets a young idealistic man, Ulisses, who decides
to rescue her and slay the grandmother. The grandmother proves
harder to slay than expected, Ulisses' idealism is daunted, and
Erendira's newfound freedom leaves her with an uncharted path
across the desert.
In an interview with Pat Aufderheide on the film's 1984 release,
Guerra said, "This is a story about the liberation of a human being.
What is left open at the end of the film is what she will do with it.
There are subsidiary themes--the refusal of love, because love can
be repressive if it is not exercised responsibly. The grandmother
is simply selfish in her love.
"Their relationship also reflects the terms of underdevelopment.
The girl only has her sex and the grandmother uses that asset
cynically. She, the grandmother, believes that the ends justify the
means, that the conquest of power is enough. Ulisses is a 'prince
charming,' but he's really empty. His love is about three oranges
and a pistol. The photographer is someone who is limited to seeing
what is happening in front of him. And he ends up getting eliminated.
It's not safe on the margins. He doesn't want to get his hands dirty,
but an artist has to get his hands dirty, more than anyone else."
Style: This is an explicitly allegorical film, made in an attempt
to bring the "magical realist" style of Gabriel Garcia Marquez,
who wrote the script, to the screen.
Magical realism is a term used to capture the living contradictions of
societies in the active process of underdevelopment and
neocolonialism, although it originated in Weimar Germany, where it
referred to the mystery in the mundane. The great Cuban writer Alejo
Carpentier refurbished the term as "our marvellous American reality"
in the '50s, and in the heated days of '60s militant cinema in Latin
America, filmmakers tried to put it on screen. "The fiesta of
metaphors, of allegory, of symbols is not a carnival of subjectivity;
it is the attempt at a rational analysis of a deformed reality,
deformed by European culture and suffocated by American imperialism,"
said the late, mad but brilliant Brazilian cinema novo director
The tale, which is fabulous in style, is told with fairy-tale
intensity--bright, symbolic colors; acting and mise en scene that
abjures the psychological; deliberately cheap special effects.
Guerra explained in interview, "I wanted to portray the fantastic as
normal. All the special effects are the simplest possible--the
butterflies, for example. I wanted for the spectator to take off in
his own imagination, from the material, not to resolve the fantasy for
him. I've heard criticisms that these were simply bad special effects,
but the goal was to create special effects that fit in with the
reality we were trying to describe. Magic is false, but it exists.
That is the great contribution of Garcia Marquez. He shows us that the
most fantastic is very close to us.
"Magical realism is appropriate to a culture where technology hasn't
yet dominated the life of man, where mankind still has the capacity
to grant the unknowable as real."
Background on director/film: Ruy Guerra, who was born in 1931 in
Mozambique, educated in Europe and has worked most of his creative
life in Brazil, was one of Brazilian filmmaker Glauber Rocha's
foremost compatriots. Erendira, like his later films such as Malandro
and Fable of the Beautiful Pigeon-fancier, has impressive production
values, differing dramatically from his earlier work as a practitioner
of "poor" cinema committed to Brechtian distancing. But there are
continuities, embodied in Guerra's search for the 'irrational magic,'
as Rocha once put it, of Latin reality.
His first feature, the 1962 Os Cafajestes, putting front and center
of the frame violent thugs and tracing their coming to self-awareness,
shocked audiences so much the film was banned at home and in the U.S.
In the internationally-heralded Os Fuzis (The Guns, 1964), the army
arrives in the desert northeast where millenial prophecy is as common
as hunger to suppress a peasant movement; the film coolly documents
the event--from both sides. It's two films in one, colliding with each
other in a brutal motion that replicates the social reality. After
years of suppression under dictatorship, Guerra's next film, The Gods
and the Dead (1971) plunged frontally into the magical world where
allegory expresses a higher reality. He was making, among other
things, a bold filmic answer to stern leftists who demanded a cinema
verite of misery. Guerra spent some time in Mozambique after
independence, making among other things a re-enactment of a ritual
drama in which villagers recall a famous massacre, Mueda.
He continues to produce features with an international market,
although his latest films have not been received well.
Film production context: This film has a 16-year long history. Garcia
Marquez wrote Erendira as a film script, which was then lost. He then
wrote it as a novella, and worked with Guerra on the new script. He
was pleased with the result, claiming that it was the first film that
truly captured the magical realism of his prose. (Many films have been
made of his scripts, starting perhaps with the Mexican Arturo
Ripstein's Tiempo de Morir in the early 1960s.)
The film was made as an international co-production, with some help
from the Brazilian government film agency and with private
international money. The international cast, including Irene Pappas
as the grandmother, helped to raise finances. This is an example of
an international co-production that does not lose its cultural integrity.
Importance: Erendira is an example of a filmic style that
imaginatively expresses felt cultural reality. It is also an example
of sophisticated production on themes of underdevelopment.
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