If you strip “Unfaithful” of Adrian Lyne’s touch or filter Kubrick out of “Eyes Wide Shut,” they remain provocative looks at adultery. But, if you deprive desperate-housewife yarn “La mujer de mi hermano” of helmer Ricardo de Montreuil’s polished approach, all that remains is a tawdry Telenovela. Soapy melodrama and a small-screen cast undermine the first-time director’s efforts to dress up screenwriter Jaime Bayly’s adaptation of his novel about a sexually unfulfilled married woman who beds her hubby’s brother. Successful South-of-border run suggests Latin interest with limited crossover potential if Lionsgate positions the pic properly.
Although Uruguayan-born beauty Barbara Mori, a Spanish-speaking TV star, could easily cross over to English-language roles, this revealing lead perf does more to showcase the skills that landed her in the January 2004 issue of Maxim than those needed to put her in competition with Salma Hayek or Penelope Cruz.
Zoe Edwards (Mori) grows tired of her rich husband Ignacio (Christian Meier) and finds passion in the arms of his spontaneous younger brother Gonzalo (Manolo Cardona).
For at least the first half hour, pic sustains the illusion of artistic ambitions thanks to an elegant opening-credits sequence in which fallen leaves and doomed insects float adrift on water. Those images correspond to Ignacio’s routine of cleaning his designer swimming pool, going out of his way to rescue a drowning beetle.
The pool provides a symbol (so does the impressive modern “glass house”) as de Montreuil tries to bring class to a story destined to drown in its own suds.
Viewers needn’t wait long for the hanky panky to commence: Things are already tense between brothers Ignacio and Gonzalo, while Zoe resents that her disinterested husband can’t have children. There’s little to suggest why Zoe and Ignacio are together in the first place, much less how they have lasted for nearly 10 years of marriage.
She is, as her gay best friend Boris (Bruno Bichir) suggests, far too beautiful to be ignored.
This daytime-TV-caliber setup favors shallow titillation over deeper psychology. The lovers are perpetually on the brink of discovery, but it’s Zoe’s inevitable pregnancy that thrusts everything out in the open.
For a modest South American melodrama, “La mujer de mi hermano” manages to tackle everything from adultery to incest to abortion and homosexuality, spanning roughly a year in the lives of its characters in 89 overcrowded minutes. A mesmerizing score from Angelo Milli (“Secuestro Express”) and polished cinematography by d.p. Andres E. Sanchez (who also lensed de Montreuil’s award-winning short “Amiga”) give Zoe’s marriage an almost chlorinated feel, but heat up when Gonzalo is around.