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La Mujer de mi Hermano

A Smooth, Empty, Spanish-Language Soap Opera

Stop me if this storyline sounds familiar: a young, attractive, upper-middle class woman, bored and restless in a stifling, conventional marriage to a stuffy, repressed businessman, finds herself irresistibly attracted to her husband's young brother, a shaggy haired, bearded artist. Flip through the channels, stop at Univision or Telemundo (Spanish-language television networks), and the chances are good that you'll find this storyline playing out, night in, night out, on one or another long-running Mexican soap opera featuring histrionics from teary-eyed, overemphatic, and over made-up actors. This stale, generic storyline is also the basis for the latest Latin American import to obtain a limited stateside release, La Mujer de mi Hermano ("My Brother's Wife").

But wait, La Mujer de mi Hermano has to have something else going for it, right? After all, it was a box-office hit throughout Latin America and as an international co-production aimed squarely at the regional market, a sign of things to come. The film has slick, upscale production values, steamy sex scenes, and attractive, photogenic stars with cross-demographic appeal, and one or two topical plot turns meant to suggest "serious" engagement with difficult, controversial issues. All of that might have worked on American audiences ten years ago, but arthouse and Spanish-language audiences are probably too sophisticated (read: jaded) to be shocked or moved by whatever La Mujer de mi Hermano's filmmakers cynically throw at them.

If you're still reading this review, you probably want to know something more about the characters and their dilemmas (or not, as the case may be). Here goes. Mexico City, Mexico (actually Santiago, Chile, standing in for Mexico City). Zoe (Bárbara Mori), the aforementioned beautiful, restless, young housewife finds her marriage to Ignacio (Christian Meier), the stiff, overworked businessman, going nowhere fast. They can't have a child (he's infertile), she doesn't want to adopt, and their sex life has been reduced to a once-a-week, Saturday morning ritual.

Ignacio's mother, Cristina (Angélica Aragón), can't help but raise the issue of grandchildren every chance she gets. The local priest, Padre Santiago (Beto Cuevas), counsels Zoe to support her husband. Ignacio's younger brother, the wooly-haired painter mentioned above, Gonzalo (Manolo Cardona), offers Zoe passion, unpredictability, and, of course, hot sex. Zoe seeks out the advice of her best friend, Boris (Bruno Bichir), a stereotypically swishy, promiscuous gay man. Not surprisingly, Boris is all for hot, sticky sex, regardless of the consequences to Zoe's marriage.

La Mujer de mi Hermano goes along the well-worn path of previous infidelity dramas until, shock of shocks, a dramatic plot turn reveals that someone not named Zoe or Gonzalo is leading, get this, a shocking double life. Or is he? And does it really matter? It would if we honestly cared for Zoe, Ignacio, or Gonzalo. We don't. They're all stock, one-dimensional characters, minus meaningful inner lives. For example, we learn next-to-nothing about Zoe or her background. She has exactly one friend, Boris, and no immediate family of her own. We learn that Zoe and Ignacio met and married ten years ago. How they met or why they fell in love is left offscreen (and presumably, it's unimportant).

Directed by Ricardo de Montreuil (Amiga) from Jaime Baylys' screenplay (adapted from his novel) with the kind of glossy professionalism that would make mainstream Hollywood producers proud, La Mujer de mi Hermano is all surface and little depth. We need only get as far as the first shot of Zoe and Ignacio's upscale home to prove this point. Ignacio and Zoe's home is antiseptically, depressingly modern, a concrete and glass structure. It's also as lifeless as the vacuous caricatures that drape themselves languidly over the immaculately pristine furniture.

And while it's easy to criticize the actors, who give uniformly unmemorable performances, with the exception of Manolo Cardona in one scene that mines childhood trauma for cheap sympathy (and promptly drops this revelation and its implications), most of the blame has to be laid at the computer screen of Jaime Baylys who uses every cliché available from the infidelity drama sub-genre, adding nothing new or subversive to the storyline. It's a measure of La Mujer de mi Hermano's conventionality that the film almost ends where it began, with the lead characters willfully trading in personal fulfillment for the external constraints of patriarchical "normality".

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars