Jun 13, 2019

45th Annual Seattle International Film Festival: Mexican Superstars Maria Felix and Pedro Armendariz in Enamorada (1946)

Before I put SIFF to rest for another year, I wanted to share one more film I enjoyed at the festival. It is the Mexican drama Enamorada (1946), starring María Félix and Pedro Armendáriz. For years I’ve admired the Mexican superstar Félix’s laser-focused gaze in photos from the forties and fifties and wondered about her films. I was delighted to finally see why she is a legend in her home country. I’d seen and enjoyed Armendáriz in the Hollywood films Fort Apache and 3 Godfathers (both 1948), but here I saw him for the first time in a leading role.

Félix is the staunchly feminist daughter of the richest man in her town and Armendáriz is a revolutionary who kidnaps him to try to force him to give him money before he kills him. When he also falls in love-at-first-sight with Félix, he decides call off the firing squad in the hopes that returning the old man will give him a chance with his daughter. Of course that is a ridiculous plan. Of course it works.

In his introduction to the film, SIFF programmer Marcus Gorman mentioned that Félix had only done European films outside of Mexico. She understandably felt that the roles available to her in Hollywood would be too demeaning. While Armendáriz found essentially dignified roles in American films, he rarely had the chance to star. One starring role Armendáriz did win in Hollywood was in The Torch (1950), a remake of this film, opposite Paulette Goddard. It is likely that Félix would not have had the opportunities he did, and that at best she would probably have ended up in supporting roles similar to those Katy Jurado did if she wanted to keep her dignity as well.

Enamorada is light on plot, focusing more on the fireworks between Armendáriz and Félix. For the most part this is satisfactory, though occasionally the pace slackened and I wished for something a little meatier. It is a gorgeous film though, with several beautifully-shot scenes in a cathedral that are effectively filmed to show the all-encompassing power of the church in this conservative community.

Armendáriz and Félix are the true draw of the film and they are a lively pair. They both have eternally raised left eyebrows and fire in the belly, but other than that, they are contradictory in a novel way. This is because in a way they switch traditional gender roles. With his long eyelashes and tender eyes, Armendáriz is almost pretty; as ruthless as he can be, he tends to lead with his heart in a traditionally feminine way. On the other hand, Félix is more handsome than pretty and with the liberal use of slaps and firm determination to have things her own way; she is somehow vigorously feminist in a time and culture where that was rare and her behavior would have been seen as masculine.

This odd juxtaposition gives the film its energy. The pair has great chemistry in their comic bits and the subtle role reversal adds an extra layer of interest in these scenes. When they inevitably connect, it makes sense, because in thoroughly irritating each other, they have also awakened themselves to new possibilities.

I’m glad I finally got the chance to see Félix in action. It was amazing to see her for the first time on the big screen. I would love to see more of her and Armendáriz’ work in the films they made in their home country. Maybe another screening next year SIFF?

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