La Mujer de Mi Hermano

| April 18, 2006

Spanish-language film “La Mujer de Mi Hermano” is a study of one woman’s struggle to rejuvenate her life amidst a stale marriage. Broken-hearted over her an her husband’s inability to conceive a child, and depressed about her husband’s apparent lack of sexual interest in her, Zoe seeks solace from her wealthy but sterile lifestyle in the arms of her husband’s brother, Gonzalo. Gonzalo is everything that her husband, Ignacio, isn’t–where Ignacio is aloof and career-driven, Gonzalo is the quintessential romantic artist. He is committed to his paintings and seemingly nothing else, and his lust for Zoe seems to fill the emptiness she’s felt in her marriage. The tragedy is that Zoe hardly seems to realize (though it’s obvious to anyone watching the film) that Ignacio and Gonzalo are still enmeshed in a powerful sibling rivalry, and she is merely the latest weapon with which they duke it out.
Unfortunately for “La Mujer,” none of its three main characters has sufficient warmth or humanity to engage us in the film. Zoe (Barbara Mori) is confused about everything in her life except her desire to have a child, and her thirtysomething angst comes off more as spoiled immaturity; she justifies both staying with her husband and sleeping with his brother by stating simply, “I don’t like to sleep alone.” This lack of agency in taking a hold of her life renders her less a fully-fleshed character than a cast-adrift object, free-floating through the film. We’re provided virtually no insight into the soulless life of Ignacio (Christian Meier) until over halfway through the film, when it dawns on Zoe that perhaps her husband, who only allows sex with his beautiful wife on Saturdays, is a deeply repressed homosexual. And Gonzalo (Manolo Cardona, a Colombian Mark Ruffalo lookalike), despite appearances that he is a passionate free spirit, is the most coldly calculating and selfish of them all (though in a very strange and out-of-place scene we learn that he may have a legitimate claim to his wounded, sadistic behavior).
The direction by Ricardo de Montreuil and art direction by Wolfgang Burmann seem inclined to mimic the cold sterility of the film’s characters. Zoe and Ignacio’s modernist home has all the warmth of a doctor’s office, and the drab color palate underlines the drab lives unfolding on screen. The score by Angelo Milli is thankfully sparse, but when it does surface seems more inspired by soap operas or soft-core erotic thrillers (at least it seems Milli has a clearer understanding of the film than others involved). To be fair, the translated subtitles are atrociously riddled with typos and grammatical errors; perhaps in its native tongue the film might come off better. As it is, ultimately, with its rather dated dalliance into the effects of the mainstreaming of homosexuality and its clichéd characters, the film plays like an extended episode of “Will & Grace” taking itself too seriously. Fans of telenovelas or “Basic Instinct 2″ will get their money’s worth; everyone else would do well to stick to Debra Messing for their lessons in gaydar.

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