A LIFE OF SIN, which traces the life of an impoverished Puerto Rican woman who becomes a powerful and wealthy madam, is a somber, vaguely arty film with an anti-clerical slant.
Isabel La Negra (Miriam Colon), a Caribbean island's premiere madame, has been murdered and will not be given a Catholic funeral. A TV commentator outraged by the local Bishop's censure delves into the infamous Madame's life.
Isabel's story begins with a visit to a fortune teller. Isabel asks about love, but the mystic sees only money in her client's future. Cash doesn't come immediately, and neither does romance--Isabel soon discovers her wealthy lover, Armando, has married someone else. She takes up with a rich
American factory owner, who showers her with money but doesn't appreciate her cultural traditions. When he blows out her candles on All Saint's Day, she returns to her house, which has gained a reputation for its loose-living women tenants. Isabel announces that the women in her house will now
start charging for their favors, and her small house soon becomes a nightclub and brothel. She commands everyone's respect--the mayor is in her pocket, and the U.S. Navy even offers her an exclusive contract to provide entertainment to their men.
While the empire flourishes, Isabel has flashes of temper. Drunk and possibly jealous, she delivers a potentially lethal blow to her hired man, Paulo (Raul Julia), and later points a gun at her philandering lover. But interviews, which pop up in the final third of the film, shed more light on
Isabel's gentle side. She takes in an orphan boy, and generously buys presents for many children. She visits the Bishop (Jose Ferrara) and pays for repairs to the local cathedral, but though her money is good enough for the church, her soul isn't. After Isabel is mysteriously shot to death, the
film ends with a sermon from the Bishop, who reminds his parishioners that no sinners "shall inherit the kingdom of heaven."
Although A LIFE OF SIN makes some obvious points about class consciousness and social hypocrisy, director Efran Lopez Neris's film moves slowly and unevenly. The device of a TV journalist investigating Isabel's story disappears for about half the film, and then, as if Neris had suddenly
remembered, it is slapped back into the movie. The film also suffers from poor sound, an added obstacle in trying to decode a film whose relatively simple plot is obscured by its confusing structure. (Violence, sexual situations.)
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