The secret of writer-director Leopoldo Laborde's "A Beautiful Secret" is the late, Oscar-nominated thesp Katy Jurado ("Broken Lance"), who gives a magnificent performance in what is otherwise a forgettable and overlong coming-of-age story. Pic is a mostly slick, commercial enterprise that pushes its emotional buttons so forcefully it leaves bruises.

The secret of writer-director Leopoldo Laborde’s “A Beautiful Secret” is the late, Oscar-nominated thesp Katy Jurado (“Broken Lance”), who gives a magnificent performance in what is otherwise a forgettable, hopelessly contrived and overlong coming-of-age story. Pic, which world premiered at L.A. Latino Film Festival as part of a tribute to Jurado, is a mostly slick, commercial enterprise that pushes its emotional buttons so forcefully it leaves bruises. But Jurado’s imposing presence in her final screen role gives pic a significant boost that may cause fests and distribs which would ordinarily turn up their noses at such fare to take a second look.

Well-worn plot features a lonely old spinster (Jurado) living by herself in a decaying mansion who is charmed by a youthful free spirit (Imanol Landeta) a 12-year-old troublemaker being raised by his single mother. When young Jorge kicks a soccer ball over old Esperanza’s garden wall, the two meet, and, of course, it’s hate at first sight.

But the boy is entranced by Esperanza’s mystery, and the old woman, it turns out, doesn’t really mind his visits after all. As they bond, it comes out Esperanza was once a writer who counted Diego Rivera, Dali and Bunuel among her friends, before their fame eclipsed hers and tore them away. But Esperanza never craved fame anyway; she only cared about her art.

Jurado makes something much greater of a cliched role. With impassioned eyes and deliberate movements, she brings to life what might otherwise be static scenes in which she relates her life to the boy.

Indeed, the part has been constructed as something of a valentine to Jurado’s own legend as Mexican screen star and cultural ambassador; even though she’s playing a writer, in many respects, she’s playing herself, too, and the film is peppered with flashes of the young Jurado in the company of Brando, Wayne, et al. It is one of those great farewell performances — like Robert Ryan in “The Iceman Cometh” or Viveca Lindfors in “Last Summer in the Hamptons.”

When Jurado isn’t onscreen, however, “A Beautiful Secret” is a train wreck rife with overly familiar adolescent pranks and classroom hijinks, as well as a subplot about Jorge’s mother looking for a new boyfriend. And Laborde seems to forget anything he knows about staging or shooting scenes when he doesn’t have Jurado’s aura to guide him, frequently cutting to an extreme wide-angle lens in the middle of a scene, creating dramatically distorted perspectives for no apparent reason.

The performances of the other actors are much too broad; and the film is padded with lots of unnecessary 1980s nostalgia (pic is set in 1984), including a Madonna lookalike and several montage sequences set to the Pointer Sisters’ rendition of “I’m So Excited.” Worse, pic continues for another half-hour beyond what feels like a logical stopping point, with a none-too-subtle fourth act set in the present and involving the grown-up Jorge rediscovering Esperanza’s message of “be yourself.”

A Beautiful Secret

Mexico

Production

A Creative Works presentation. Produced by Benito Salerno. Executive producer, Moy Jafif. Directed, written, edited by Leopoldo Laborde.

Crew

Camera (color, Technovision widescreen), Carlos Aguilera; music, Juan Manuel Langarcia; art director, Arturo Ramirez; set decorator, Mario Alfaro; sound (Dolby Digital), Abel Flores; associate producers, Aquiles Enriquez, Roberto Trujillo; assistant director, Dadis Quintos Dimitrova. Reviewed at L.A. Latino Film Festival, July 26, 2002. Running time: 132 MIN.

With

Esperanza - Katy Jurado Jorge, 12 years old - Imanol Landeta Lety - Ana de la Reguera La Mama - Maria Karunna Beto - Michel Corral Melquiades - Roberto Cobo Jorge, 26 years old - Jaime Aymerich La Maestra Conchita - Amparo Garrido Madonnita - Mariana Gaja Armando - Gustavo Laborde Boyfriend - Roberto Trujillo
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