Director: Armando Bó
Unlike many countries I’ve featured on this blog so far, Argentina has a wealth of successful and popular films spanning decades of history. Counter-intuitively, this makes my job much more difficult. Overwhelmed with potential entries, I decided to watch an old Argentinian classic of sorts, rather than another recent art-house drama like my previous entries for Afghanistan and Albania.
The film which my research led me to was Fuego. The lead actress, Isabel Sarli, is a cultural icon in South America – the Marilyn Monroe of Spanish-language cinema. With a career spanning decades, her most famous films are trashy, low-budget “sexploitation” dramas directed by her lover Armando Bó in the ’60s and ’70s. Fuego, from 1969, is one of these films, and features Bó himself in a starring role alongside his muse.
Fuego begins with Sarli’s character Laura and her maid Andrea having an illicit encounter on a beach. We learn that Laura is addicted to sex, to the extent that no single man can ever satisfy her. Many have tried, but only Andrea has come close. As Andrea confesses her love for Laura, they are spotted by Carlos, played by Armando Bó himself, who is passing by on his way to visit Laura’s boyfriend George.
Back at George’s extravagant country mansion, Carlos is properly introduced to the seductive Laura, and falls in love with her almost immediately. He proposes marriage within the film’s first 20 minutes. Laura reciprocates his feelings, but knows that ultimately he cannot be enough for her. What follows is essentially an hour of corny sex scenes and melodramatic outbursts of emotion. At various points it is melodramatic, pornographic, and just plain camp. The plot, thin as it is, involves Laura’s search for a ‘cure’ to her insatiable lust, and Carlos’ increasing obsession with her.
Fuego is lurid and tacky, but unashamedly so. From the gaudy mansions and soaring mountaintops that make up its setting, to the laughably out of place theme music that plays over every single love scene with its marching drum beat and screeching strings, the film is a celebration of superficial beauty.
Exploitation cinema, and the sexploitation subgenre in paticular, is often neglected or derided by mainstream film criticism for being low-brow, vulgar, and “cheap” – therefore unworthy of study or appreciation. However, Sarli and Bó’s films have enjoyed massive cult followings in recent years, and have had a lasting impact on other filmmakers across decades and continents. Elements of the subgenre’s distinctive visuals, music, and acting styles have all carried over into later works. Fuego has been cited as a personal favourite and major influence by American auteur John Waters, for instance. In my mind, this demonstrates the significant place that sexploitation film has played in the history of cinema, and makes it worthy of representing Argentina on this blog.