Reyes … Patricia Reyes Spindola
Pedro Calderon … Alberto Estrella
La Jaira … Blanca Guerra
Dona Victoria … Ana Ofelia Murguia
Klaus Eder … Alex Cox
Onate … Arturo Alegro
Luzma … Alejandra Montoya
Balmori … Marta Aura
Gimeno … Roberto Sosa
Araujo …Juan Carlos Colombo
“The Queen of the Night” is Mexican director Arturo Ripstein’s “imaginary biography” of a real-life, celebrated chanteuse of the ’30s and ’40s who committed suicide in 1944. Thanks to a strong lead performance by Patricia Reyes Spindola, Ripstein has created a fascinating portrait of a remarkable woman. Downbeat item will face a tough marketing challenge on the international arthouse circuit, but critical kudos and fest exposure should help.
Film is labeled “imaginary” because, as Ripstein has stated, this is not a realistic biography. He quotes a line from John Ford’s “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” in justifying his approach to filming the legend rather than the whole truth.
Lucha Reyes was famous for her lovely voice (singing in the popular cancion ranchera style) and unconventional behavior. “Queen” opens in 1939, when she is 33 and still living at home with her formidable mother, Dona Victoria, who ran an infamous Mexico City bordello.
Married to leftist Pedro Calderon, Reyes purchases a beggar’s daughter to raise as her own. The girl, Luzma, has a pretty rugged childhood, and is often witness to the constant sexual high jinks of Reyes.
With her songs dubbed by Betsy Pecanins, Reyes Spindola is a fine, fiery Reyes, a fiercely independent woman who is never able to make her dreams come true. Her need for love is constantly betrayed by those around her, except her loving daughter, who’s unable to help her at the end. Ana Ofelia Murguia is also impressive as Dona Victoria, whose attitude toward her daughter veers drastically as time goes by.
Among the supporting cast, buffs will spot Brit director Alex Cox, who does an impressive turn as Klaus Eder, a European immigrant who’s a fan of Reyes but who is expelled as an illegal alien once the war gets under way.
Despite all the music (Reyes dies to the strains of Puccini), the film is never operatic in the Visconti sense; rather, Ripstein goes for a subdued baroque look, with burnished, cluttered sets and dark lighting (camera work by French ace Bruno De Keyzer). It’s a rigorous film that will prove a challenge for auds and will be a tough sell.
Mexico was last repped in competition in Cannes 20 years ago with another Ripstein pic, “The Holy Office.” It seems a pity that “The Queen of the Night” was relegated to seemingly minor screening slots by the fest programmers, since it’s deserving of maximum attention.