Whatever style lies just beyond over-the-top, “The Lady Is Back” explores it to the hilt. Lavishly art-directed tale of revenge orchestrated by a once pure-hearted innocent who returns in triumph to the town where she was abused is a telling role for buxom Latino screen legend Isabel Sarli, now 68. Confident in its constant excess, pic may wear out its welcome with conventional auds, but provides an ironic, frequently outlandish forum for many unflattering observations about the evolution of Argentine society.
Although Sarli — a sort of Betty Page meets Mae West by way of Elizabeth Taylor — is not nearly as well endowed in the acting department as she is in decolletage, her sheer iconographic oomph carries the pic. This marks her 30th film since the late ’50s — with time out during the dictatorship years — and the title refers as much to Sarli as it does to the character she plays. Well-known throughout Latin America and to a lesser degree in Spain, Sarli exposes her nearly septuagenarian knockers with aplomb.
Pic moves from one flamboyant set piece to another, bouncing between past and present. Peppy lyrics provide a Greek chorus–style commentary as Aurora (Sarli) arrives in her humble hometown with a lavish menagerie in tow. Although she has come to rescue the mayor from a financial scandal involving industrial quantities of pig excrement, she also intends to humiliate every last citizen who took advantage of her as a virginal lass.
Flashbacks reveal she was forced to leave her parents’ home, was taken in by a lascivious pastor who raped her, and was abused at a girl’s school but got out of town, studied nursing and found employment with a cultured wheelchair-bound senator who left her his massive fortune in thanks for a rekindled libido.
Film indicts contemporary Argentina as a nation where money is seen as a cure-all and guiding principle. Nobody is honorable, everyone can be bought.
Pic looks as if Federico Fellini and Ken Russell had worked with Siegfried & Roy in Las Vegas. A densely arrayed supporting cast of barnyard animals, transsexuals, bodybuilders and transvestites keep things visually lively. Garish colors and lighting abound. The musical score is awash with irony and mockery, and tech aspects all help elevate bad taste to a very refined pedestal.