Intermittently engaging, occasionally surrealistic and briefly erotic, Fine Line's "Esmeralda Comes by Night" is about a 42-year-old woman who has five husbands and almost manages a sixth. A showcase for veteran Mexican stage and screen star Maria Rojo -- who has made several films with writer-director Jaime Humberto Hermosillo
-- but not sensational enough to easily market, the subtitled limited release won't attract many non-Spanish-speaking viewers, indicating a short honeymoon in most theatrical engagements.
Hermosillo favors long takes and chatty characters -- a deadly combination for some. It doesn't help that the salacious material is softened to resemble a sexy fairy tale and the heroine is so happy all the time that there's not much tension. Based on a short story by Elena Poniatowska
, the film opens with night-shift nurse Esmeralda (Rojo) waking up in the arms of law student Pedro (Ernesto Laguardia
), her fifth husband and the only one suspicious enough to follow her when she leaves one morning.
Stopping at her father's place to change into a wedding gown, Esmeralda takes a taxi to church, where bridegroom No. 6 awaits. Pedro follows her and demands that she be arrested when he discovers what she's doing. In custody, but still smiling and not at all worried, Esmeralda is interviewed by a shocked Chief Inspector (Claudio Obregon), who expects her to be ashamed and repentant. She's anything but apologetic, with the bulk of the movie recounting her exploits and profiling the men in her life.
With nifty flashbacks wherein the inspector and stenographer Lucita (Martha Navarro
) become interested observers and soon voyeurs of Esmeralda's sometimes racy stories, the nonlinear structure includes welcome touches of magic realism -- from Esmeralda's flower-sprouting dress to other displays of her magic. Too often, however, the pace is slowed by static shots of characters going through routine exchanges of dialogue, while one waits for the plot to go off on another unexpected but not always enchanting tangent.
So potent a woman that she can carry on with a committed gay man (Humberto Pineda
) who married her for convenience, Esmeralda is a lying, cheating angel of love with the soul of a saint. Not surprisingly, the public and sundry husbands rally around her. "Polygamy is the future" reads one sign held by a supporter, and for some viewers, the message of "love without limits" will be refreshingly tolerant if somewhat radical.
Although Esmeralda emerges spiritually unscathed and even morally superior to the conservative inspector, she has a few too many husbands for the good of the movie. From Alberto Estrella
as a charismatic pop musician to Pedro Armendariz Jr. as a boisterous Italian opera star, the heroine's most interesting mates don't get enough screen time.
ESMERALDA COMES BY NIGHT
Fine Line Features
Writer-director: Jaime Humberto
Executive producers: Carlos Taibo
, Fernando Camara
Sanchez, Salvador de la Fuente
Director of photography: Xavier Perez Grobet
Art director: Lourdes Almeida
Editors: Sebastian Garza, Jaime Humberto
Costume designer: Federico Castillo
Music: Omar Guzman
Esmeralda: Maria Rojo
Chief Inspector: Claudio Obregon
Jaime: Alberto Estrella
Don Virginio: Roberto Cobo
Jorge Luis: Humberto Pineda
Antonio: Pedro Armendariz Jr.
Lucita: Martha Navarro
Pedro: Ernesto Laguardia
Running time -- 106 minutes
MPAA rating: R