Film Reviews
Photo courtesy of Janus Films.

Melodrama emphasizes and foregrounds excessive emotional indulgence, by both the characters on screen and, if the director is successful, the audience. A no-holds bar, prime example is celebrated Mexican writer/director Emilio “El Indio” Fernandez Romo’s “Victims of Sin” (Victimas del pecado). Set in México City’s red light district, Violeta, a spectacular Cuban dancer, propels the action start to finish.

The featured performer at the popular Cabaret Chango (a reference to a Yoruba deity), Violeta has as much heart and courage as talent. After Rosa literally leaves her baby in a trash can so the macho father Rodolfo will not reject her, a furious Violeta rescues the baby boy. Supported by other women performers, Violeta courageously stands up to Rodolfo. In stark contrast, Santiago, another cabaret owner, respects and supports Violeta. This being a melodrama, tragedy will soon strike in multiple ways.

As Violeta, legendary performer Ninón Sevilla dominates every aspect of the story. She exudes a proud dignity, fully in control of her passionate commitment to moral behavior. As explained in press notes, interwoven throughout the film, Violeta’s animated dances contrast Cabaret Changó’s “mambos, boleros, and musical [Afro-Caribbean] fusions to entertain a middle-class audience” with the more erotic dances in rival La Máquina Loca featuring “smaller-scale rumbas tailored to a working-class clientele.” In both instances, Sevilla’s extraordinary energy and flair enliven the cultural collisions of middle class versus working class, exploitation amidst modernization. Choreographing her own dances, often incorporating “Santeria rituals,” Sevilla achieved exalted star status in Mexico.

Equally formidable, “Victims of Sin” lays on the melodrama, with tears aroused from tender and agonizing moments. This is a black-and-white, 1951 film well worth the restoration. In Spanish with English subtitles, “Victims of Sin” screens at Webster University’s Winifred Moore auditorium Friday, January 12 and Saturday, January 13, plus Thursday, January 18, at 7:00 each of those evenings. For more information, you may visit the film series website.

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