Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Temptress

Fred Niblo’s The Temptress (1926) is a classic black and white silent movie that recounts the love and hate relationship between a hard-working Argentinian architect and an extravagant European woman. The Argentinian Manuel Robledo (Antonio Moreno) falls in love with Elena, the Marquess de Torre Bianca (characterized by the famous actress Greta Garbo). After a quick visit to France, Robledo goes back to work in Argentine and all the plot moves there when Elena and her husband travel as well to “the land of the second chances” escaping from criticism and poverty.

Though Elena’s beauty is the center of attention throughout the movie (in France and in Argentine), Robledo’s appearance and personality too play an important role for this romantic drama since he is presented as the Latin lover, like in other films of the decade starring Antonio Moreno.

The movie begins in a masked ball where the Marquess and Robledo meet. They declare their love for each other, but the next day Robledo discovers that Elena is married to one of his friends and that she uses her beauty to obtain jewels from rich men to maintain her and her husband’s status. Here we see a Europe in crisis (probably a consequence of the Great War), even the richest person is broke. It is a place of appearances and men are not real men because women have become the real rulers (with their beauty). In contrast, Latin America proves to be a land without appearances. The rich are really rich, and the poor are really poor, and every man works hard to provide his women at home. Fixed gender roles are clearly portrayed and even prized in the movie.

Robledo is received like a national hero when he arrives in Argentine. All the people in the village get excited to know what things the architect, whose projects provide jobs for the local and the foreign, has brought from the old continent. Thus, we meet two European men (one French and one Italian) and their reason for being in Argentine. Like those two, hundreds of European have migrated to work in Latin America to pay their debts back home and support their families. Latin America then was the land of the opportunity.

Elena brings to the Argentine many things from France; her expensive clothes, her luxurious lifestyle, and of course her beauty which has become a mortal distraction for the hardworking men that now fight to earn her love. “This is not a place for European women” exclaims Robledo very worried about what could happen to the temptress woman. Elena is not only there to play the role of an elegant European woman, but to portray Europe itself and compare it to what she finds in Argentine. Thanks to her presence in the village, the high-standards of European lifestyle are compared with those ordinary practices of the Argentinian people; a masked ball versus a village party, a huge dinner wearing the best clothes versus a dinner after a long day of work. Though Argentine for Elena is better than a France full of appearances and lazy men, and that it is also the opportunity for many European migrants to overcome the economic crisis, by the end of the movie we can see that Robledo chooses to live in France. His decision as well as the fights occasioned by the temptress give us a clear message: European women and European life are better (if we exclude the economic problems).

The ways in which Latin America is portrayed in this movie are very different to later depictions of the place. In “The City of Your Final Destination” for example, we are presented with some images supposedly from around the same time “The Temptress” was filmed to explain some of the reason and conditions in which Europeans migrated to South America. In that movie, we are only introduced to rich European migrants that arrived at Uruguay to continue living in opulence and did not want to go back to Europe. Some contemporary American movies about Latin America still present the place as an opportunity to begin new lives, but that does not include economic reasons, indeed, now Latinos are the ones who migrate to North America or Europe in the movies.

Gender roles as well are particularly different than what we see nowadays in the movies. Latin America itself becomes a place to determine standards of masculinity (Latin America is the land of men), like hardworking and provider for women, and not the contrary, which helps to shape Robledo’s Latin lover personality; and the temptress, of course, is also a sample of the most desirable woman. It is evident that European women like Elena are attractive and seductive, desirable for any men. Totally opposite to what we see in Carmen Miranda’s movies, here Latinas are not an exotic sexual symbol at all.

Hearing the phrase “the land of the second chances” one might think it is talking about the Americas as a whole (including North America). However, it is clear that in this movie that phrase makes reference only to Latin America, even though both Antonio Moreno and Greta Garbo migrated to the United States for economic reasons as in the movie. So why not to film a movie in the US and choosing Argentine instead? Niblo’s Latin America is the scenario to portray a society nothing like Europe, which perhaps could not be done in a more Europeanised or modern place such as North America. Like in the movie, the idea that European appearance is better might be also the reason to present Latin America as the other with respect to North America, the different, the less European.

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