Mexican auterist-filmmaker Arturo Ripstein’s experimental modern take on Medea is perhaps more interesting as a technical exercise than drama. Shot with a handheld camera on digital video, he has transposed the story to a slum apartment house in Mexico City where Julia (Arcelia Ramírez), a kind of medicine woman/abortionist, finds herself betrayed for a younger woman by her boyfriend, Nicolas (Luis Felipe Tovar), a second-rate boxer. Not only is Julia saddled with two children (meaning she can’t go back to her village), but the landlord is throwing her out, since Nicolas’ future bride is the landlord’s daughter and things would be awkward. This, of course, paves the way for Julia’s descent into madness and the murder of her children.
This sounds better than it actually plays, despite several clever, Buñuelian touches, like a Mariachi band standing in for a Greek chorus and the omnipresent commentary of TVs playing in the background (and sometimes participating in the story). The problem is that Ripstein is too enamored of his labyrinthian apartment-building setting and the freedom to shoot in long, mobile takes afforded by the medium in which he’s working. Every scene is one unbroken take, done without editing. It’s clever for a while, but the approach ultimately wears thin and overpowers the drama. All the same, it’s an interesting experiment, and the way Ripstein frames shots to take advantage of mirrors is fascinating. Worthwhile, but more interesting than good.