On paper, “Tear This Heart Out” has it all — a passionate love story set against the backdrop of the post-revolution ’30s and ’40s Mexico, sumptuous visuals and a sweep that sometimes touches the authentically epic. But onscreen, thanks mainly to a script that clings too tightly to stock formulas and an unpersuasive central perf, writer-director Roberto Sneider’s melodrama is strangely bloodless. Mexico’s costliest film production to date and its selection for the foreign-language film Oscar did aces B.O. at home following its September 2008 release, with offshore prospects looking healthy in Spanish-speaking territories for this thoroughly mainstream item.
Born into a humble rural family, 15-year-old Catalina Guzman (Ana Claudia Talacon, from “The Crime of Father Amaro”) is swept first into bed and then down the aisle with ruthless general Andres Asensio (Daniel Gimenez Cacho, with Zapata-esque heavy moustache).
Catalina’s fearful sexual awakening is carefully described — though innocent, she’s aware there’s a larger world to explore out there, as her thickly laid-on voiceover continually reminds.
Asensio has political ambitions and becomes governor of the province, but not before he’s spent time in jail for murder, something that doesn’t seem to unduly bother his young wife. Similarly, when it emerges that he has a lover and children by other women, Catalina stands by him, despite brief flashes of rebellion. He has his eye on the presidency.
One interesting notion here is that, for political reasons, the powerful Asensio might need Catalina as much as she needs him, and she may be using his power to serve her own ends. But the idea is not dealt with until much later, and then only superficially, after Catalina has fallen in love with orchestra conductor and left-wing activist Vives (Jose Maria de Tavira), all floppy-haired charm and PC ideals.
There are too few surprises dramatically, and the script lapses too often into the cliches beloved of Latin American melodrama, including the first trip to see the ocean and visits to a fortune teller. Gimenez Cacho hams it up enjoyably, and successfully conveys the insecurities behind his displays of Mexican machismo, but he’s unable to illuminate a character obsessed only by the pursuit of power: We hear much about his corrupt exploits, but he never feels authentically dangerous.
Talacon matures from girl to woman convincingly enough, but the script ties her to one register, and there is not enough suffering or joy in her to make her interesting. There is the sense that the really exciting stories are happening somewhere else in Mexico at a crucial time in its history, but too little of that complexity or drama makes its way onto the screen, where Catalina’s revisionist Cinderella story is always at the fore.
Visually, pic is outstanding, with esteemed Spanish d.p. Javier Aguirresarobe convincingly exploiting a range of locations and some well-handled setpieces. Art direction pays all the necessary attention to period detail. Beautiful Mexican boleros from the period, like the one that gives pic its title, bring some necessary lyricism to the party.
English title was “Tear My Heart Out” on print caught.