Classified as science fiction and horror, the film was more of a fantasy to me. A scientist decides to inseminate a prostitute with a mandrake root that grew thanks to the semen of a murderer who was hanged on a tree. In the first scene, we learn that it is a full moon night and that someone will dig directly under the hanged man's body to remove the root. It will be used for the experiment. The result will be a living creature: Alraune.
The film (or the copy I saw) makes a discreet ellipsis when the prostitute enters the scientist's experiment room, and in the next scene, we see young Alraune (mandrake, in German) in a boarding school ruled by nuns, from which she will escape with the scientist's worthless nephew. In the story that continues, there is no science fiction or terror, but the drama of a woman who ignores her origin. Her attempts to love and live freely are frustrated every time her "father" intrudes. He is convinced that Alraune has inherited anti-social traits from her prostitute mother and murderous father. However, what Alraune really wants is to enjoy life: she escapes with a magician to a circus, flirts with the animal trainer and meets a good viscount who falls for her and proposes marriage. But papa scientist does not give up, so she decides to take revenge.
Brigitte Helm, who, as in "Metropolis", alternates between innocent sweetness and malicious eroticism, contributes to the fascination of the story. Director Henrik Galeen uses expressionist images, although the realistic approach predominates. It is a pity that the restored version is not available and what circulates is a vile copy of a VHS edition in English, with music often out of place and with the name of the protagonist changed to Mandrake. However, curiosity is curiosity and there is no one who can beat our archaeological passion for cinema.
Ana Luisa Peluffo plays a beautiful woman with half her face disfigured by a bad surgeon, after she was in a car accident. This "marked woman" will go in 97 minutes through a physical, emotional and professional transformation similar to other films, but with some attractive variants. Within the framework of melodrama there is an elaborate development of her character (Ana first, Lucy Morán afterwards), motivated by love, a desire for revenge, fear and remorse. Ana suffers and resigns to her condition, but when she finally finds the responsible of her misfortune she seduces, deceives, becomes Lucy, and reaches the inevitable tragic outcome.
On the "noir" side of the drama there is an original elaboration of the underworld, with characters that contaminate medicines and commit crimes among those seeking health without any scruples. In addition, an erotic subplot permeates the entire film: it is a story that demands nudity (but has none) to reveal Ana/Lucy's body, which does not match her disfigured face. The strange thing is that Ana Luisa Peluffo, a pioneer in nude scenes in Mexican cinema, is shown in demure shots that hide that sculptural part of hers that awakens the passion of the villain, Rodolfo Morán (Alberto de Mendoza).
The film is also the story of composer Germán Álvarez (Joaquín Cordero), who is the first to show compassion for Ana. He not only prevents Ana from committing suicide, but also invites her to live with him. Germán is a valid excuse for several musical numbers (so dear to Mexican cinema in those years), and that also leads to the multifaceted ending that includes bullets, a touching torch song, detectives and a jealous girlfriend.
I believe that, in part, the artificial but effective screen story is the responsibility of several people of letters, including Mexican poet Adolfo Torres Portillo, Spanish playwright María Luisa Algarra and Mexican novelist Luis Spota. Although the cast is too emotional in certain scenes and Luis Hernández Bretón's music is extremely dramatic, all contributions which also include some effective expressionist sets by production designer José Rodríguez Granada, good cinematography by maestro Jack Draper, and direct mise-en-camera by Morayta help to make "The Marked Woman" a good film that has aged with dignity.
I felt it since the film began, when car drivers stuck in a traffic jam and under a hot sun, sing a little song that, in the harsh reality, would translate into insults, curses and maybe blows. However, I followed the game and began to like it, the more so when the plot antagonized two realities, two personalities with two very different goals. Ryan Gosling plays the pianist Sebastian, a musician who is trying to rescue forms of cultural expression from oblivion or extinction, anguished because jazz is dying and he does not have a space of his own to practice it and spread it. Emma Stone is Mia, a girl who is after that old aspiration of actors since the early 20th century, who lined up to enter the "factory of dreams" (or nightmares, you name it) that is the cinema of Los Angeles - which is not the same as the cinema of New York or Texas.
Immediately, my identification was with Sebastian, although as a theater person I understood Mia. However, it did not take too long before the character disappointed me: Mia has no assistance to stage her show and only gives one performance of her monologue because the opening night was not what she expected and returns home. I have seen openings with fewer people than those who went to see her. In addition, to make matters worse, in one of the most unlikely dramatic (and ridiculous) turns of the plot, some producers propose her to make a film about her ideas. Of course, this may happen, no one denies it, but director-screenwriter Damien Chazelle does not let us see what she did on stage, so we can say, "Sure, such a good actress deserves that opportunity." But no, we must imagine that the monologue was great, although, truthfully, at that point of the movie Mia has not shown any trait of genius.
To be fair, Sebastian does not either, but his character has conviction, strength and determination, and he has his great "commercial moment" before Mia's, when he plays with a standard band a bad song in front of an entranced crowd shouting and dancing to the tune. Luckily, the pianist reacts and says, "No, this is not my thing". Count the awards that Emma Stone won, and those Ryan Gosling got and you will know this world goes only wants «The Voice» and «American Idol»... All in all, I admit that Mia's option is valid, there are many people who want to be the art world and have families. To the effect, the presence of Tom Everett Scott, a nice actor who plays her husband, helps a lot, but Chazelle (and Stone and Gosling in their performances) insinuate sadness and regret for what could have been but was not, as each followed their dreams.
In short, this central conflict between art and personal fulfillment is adorned with musical numbers tinged with romanticism that work very well (those that my friends call "pretty") or are very cheesy (like the dance by the stars in the Observatory Griffith) and overloaded with special effects. I guess many miss the expertise of Gene Kelly, Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire when dancing, or the voices of Julie Andrews and Mary Martin. But the earth trembles and the hurricane is coming, so nobody has time for the la-la-la of this romantic comfit.
As a simple description, this work is something like a political thriller in the Constantin Costa-Gavras style, mixed with family drama, all based on facts. Andrés' father is cinematographer Jorge Lübbert, brother of Chilean filmmaker Orlando Lübbert, who gave shelter to Jorge when he arrived in Berlin as an exile. Jorge went from East to West Germany and finally to Belgium, and for little Andrés his father's behavior was a puzzling mystery. Eventually he became a filmmaker and decided to make this movie. The result is a highly dramatic account of the lives of these two men who went through a painful process to learn their past. It is a powerful motion picture about the force of truth and the horror perpetrated by those persons who seek world dominance, as Latin American oligarchies and militia, and those whose fascist leaning determines the United States foreign policy (as the creation of the School of the Americas in Panamá, to train torturers and assassins all over the continent).
I would say that this motion picture is for emotionally grown up people, not for those only seeking entertainment. The unfolding of truth in "The Color of the Chameleon" is quite interesting and on its own way entertaining, while simultaneously contributing to our getting of wisdom. The film hardly lets you down, as it consciously follows its investigation (which is its main objective), but it also goes straight to your heart in emotional little moments between father and son. Works like this do not let you escape to the Kingdom of Men, Skull Island or Gotham City to watch fantasy tales. Those settings and stories are fine when you want to watch them. However, "Chameleon" takes us to other reigns, mind spaces of horror, solidarity and love. If we are not looking for the land of Kong, Frodo and Bruce Wayne, "Chameleon" is something quite different and probably more rewarding for us viewers, as human beings.