UN REFUGIO PARA EL AMOR (weekdays at 7 p.m. ET) is in its first couple weeks on Univision. Joining ABISMO DE PASIÓN and LA QUE NO PODÍA AMAR, it makes for a fairly homogeneous primetime lineup of telenovelas for the network: all three are traditional, melodramatic romances, all three are remakes, all three are conventionally told, and, at least judging from the opening weeks of UN REFUGIO PARA EL AMOR, all three are largely successful due to the strength of their casts and production values which manage to gild the clichés in the stories they tell.
UN REFUGIO PARA EL AMOR is an adaptation of the 1977 Venezuelan telenovela LA ZULIANITA by Delia Fiallo, the story was sold along with the rights to a number of other Fiallo Venezuelan telenovelas to Televisa in the mid-1990s, which is when many of the Mexican versions of these stories were produced. The first Televisa version of LA ZULIANITA was 1994’s MORELIA. In recent years, Televisa has embarked on their second adaptations of some of these scripts, most originally written in the 1970s, so the plots are very old-fashioned – they can be described as classic by the kind, stale by the less so.
UN REFUGIO PARA EL AMOR is broadly a Cinderella re-telling, the most ubiquitous story in telenovelas: a romance between a poor servant, Luciana (Zuria Vega) and a rich man in the house she works, Rodrigo (Gabriel Soto). In a rare bit of self-reference, some friends of Rodrigo’s fiancée, Gala (Jessica Coch), joke for her to keep an eye on the new pretty maid for fear she’ll run off with Rodrigo. Gala remarks that only happens in the movies.
The opening two nights, which really encompassed the first week of the telenovela as Univision is airing two hours a night, introduce Luciana and the tiny northern village where she lives. The location footage on the mountains and canyons in these opening episodes is impressive – productions often splurge in the early episodes to grab their audience and for footage to use in their opening credits, which, of course, will be seen every night, and this show certainly got its money’s worth.
Rodrigo and his brother Patricio (Brandon Peniche) arrive at the village for some mountaineering. They encounter Luciana alongside a road and are both struck by her beauty. While mountain climbing, Patricio suffers an accident that leaves him a quadriplegic. Rodrigo, the more experienced climber, blames himself for his brother’s state and sheds many guilty tears in showers back home in Mexico City.
Aside from the Rodrigo/Patricio scenes, there is a fair bit of corniness in these early village episodes. As Luciana and her father (José Carlos Ruiz) are returning from their tiny field of crops, they are stopped by a sort of witch, Sabina (Angelina Peláez), brought to them by “the winds,” she informs Luciana she sees many tears in the young woman’s future. When Luciana’s father dies by the end of the episode, Sabina suddenly pops up again to give her an “I told you so.”
There is also a great deal of salt of the earth, simple folk nobility in these village scenes that I confess, I find awfully grating. A far bigger problem, though, is the Don Aquiles character. He is the village villain, a rich old man who controls the town, whose buffoonish nefariousness borders on the ludicrous. As played by Humberto Elizondo, it’s clear some of the humor is intentional, as when Don Aquiles browbeats his diminutive toady or sits in bed in silk pajamas, still donning his cowboy hat; but this cartoonishness results in disrupting the tone of scenes that are meant to be taken seriously such as his kidnapping Luciana and attempting to force her to marry him. The sequence struck me as over the top and silly rather than frightening - I half-expected him to tie her to a railroad track if she refused his hand - muddling the subsequent motivation for the heroine to flee her village and the threat of Don Aquiles and seek employment in Mexico City.
Thankfully, the telenovela greatly improved this week, starting with Luciana’s long journey from her village to Mexico City. While the journey is not particularly eventful, it’s the kind of sequence in telenovelas I treasure. Luciana’s journey takes the whole episode, which I think is a proper use of the expansive time a telenovela grants – it gives the story a sense of the epic which in turn gives significance to this momentous change in the heroine’s life, the upheaval of leaving her family and village. Similar attention if paid to the difficulty Luciana has in securing employment in the city.
There are a series of unlikely coincidental encounters between Luciana and Rodrigo that bring them fleetingly together. After their initial encounter along the road in her home village, they meet again when they board the same train from her village to Mexico City. When he gets off at an earlier stop, he tries to invite her for a cup of coffee only to have their communication thwarted by the window and as the train takes her away, he tosses a kiss, and the exuberant reactions from Vega and Soto in this scene are particularly charming. They meet once again when Luciana gets a job at a seedy bar called the Infierno. Wearing a naughty devil costume, Luciana waits the table where Rodrigo, his fiancée Gala, and their friends sit and Rodrigo saves her from a potential rapist.
Eventually, Luciana gets a job as a maid in the Torreslanda mansion and discovers Rodrigo is the eldest son in the wealthy family. The Torreslanda family is the best realized aspect of the telenovela so far. The closeness of the siblings and their cousins is a welcome change from many telenovelas where rivalries and poorly motivated hatreds are more often the norm. Even Patricio, while in a state of depression over the hand fate dealt him, doesn’t blame his brother for his paralysis, acknowledging the accident on the mountain could just as easily happened to Rodrigo. Providing the telenovela with much needed comic relief is Jana (Ilean Almaguer), the ebullient, spoiled younger sister who is studying Mandarin Chinese.
Perhaps the affection amongst the siblings is a result of coping with their mother, Roselena (Laura Flores), a cold, domineering woman. In a nice touch of instant characterization, Roselena’s first scene in the telenovela has her inspecting a foyer table for dust with her finger: she’s a control freak who tries to govern her household and children’s lives in a similarly peremptory manner.
The first weeks have set up some good soapy potential as the telenovela goes forward. I can’t remember when so many characters with antipathy toward the heroine were introduced so quickly – Luciana has at least a half-dozen enemies already. There are decent obstacles to the potential romance with Rodrigo, starting with the fact he’s engaged to Gala, but also how his interest in Luciana puts her job at risk, a job that the show has established she desperately needs; and of course there is how his mother would react to the pairing. What I think could be most intriguing of all, going forward, is how Patricio fits into the equation. Patricio was actually the first of the brothers struck by Luciana’s beauty, and the most moving scene in the telenovela so far was Luciana revealing herself to Patricio when she took him his breakfast tray on her first day at work for the Torreslandas – upon recognizing her, Patricio wept uncontrollably, his first moment of joy since his accident.
The ratings for UN REFUGIO PARA EL AMOR have been pretty low thus far. The Thursday launch date probably didn’t help. I think the two hours a night Univision is airing might also be detrimental, especially in the early stages of a telenovela when there is a lot of information to impart and characters to introduce - the double episodes accelerates that process, perhaps making it difficult for the audience to take everything in.
OJO POR OJO
This week on OJO POR OJO (Mondays-Thursdays at 11 p.m. ET on mun2), with the young protagonists out of commission – Arcangel (Gonzalo García Vivanco) recovering from his gunshot wound and Nadia (Carmen Villalobos) locked up in a basement by her father – the rival families plotted how to deal with the disloyal lovebirds of the younger generation and confirmed the Barragáns and Monsalves are two sides of the same coin as each family concluded the only way to end the love affair was by killing Arcangel/Nadia. This presents a problem for the Barragáns as women have always been off-limits in their war, but they contemplate making an exception.
As the action and gunplay let up this week, the opportunity was grasped to develop several of the supporting characters. One of my favorites so far is the lawyer, Mendez (Alberto Valdiri), who, as mediator in the war, shuffles back and forth between the Barragán and Monsalve camps, relaying messages and demands, enduring their taunts and threats, all the while dabbing away sweat from his furrowed brow with a small white handkerchief, trying to maintain a pretense of dignity, knowing he’s nothing but a lapdog for criminals, an ignominious fate for a man who went into the legal profession to help the downtrodden.
Mendez is providing a hiding place for Alina (Gaby Espino), Manny Monsalve’s (Gregorio Pernía) pregnant wife who is fed up with the war and trying to flee her husband. Mendez, a sad little man, enamored by Alina’s beauty, risks his life by giving her a safe haven, confessing to her the few hours he’s had in her presence are the happiest he’s had in years. A touching scene where Alina cooks Mendez a nice dinner and the pair dance to his favorite song is disrupted by the arrival of a liquored up Manny and deteriorates into a tense farce as Alina ducks under beds and into closets to conceal herself while Manny decides to spend the night.
Two other characters gaining prominence this week were a pair of Barragán siblings who could have walked out of a David Lynch film: Mona and Raca. Mona (Ana Soler) is a tall, scarecrow of a blonde with an androgynous physiognomy and deep voice, her languid manner suggests latent violence. Her responses and movements all seem to arrive a beat too late, as if she exists underwater, removed from the rest of the world. An enigma, Mona is in charge of watching over the captive Hugo Monsalve (Manuel José Chávez), who the Barragáns have chained up in their basement, and we can’t be clear if she wants to sleep with the prisoner or cut his throat. Probably both, and one gets the feeling it wouldn’t matter to her in which order the deeds are committed.
Then there is Raca (Héctor Garcia), a coarse and filthy drug addict who kills because he enjoys killing and is called by several character “the devil.” He is in a twisted romance with a prostitute named Karina (Sara Corrales), who is excited by danger. In the telenovela’s most disturbing scene thus far, Raca is teaching Karina to shoot; needing a target, Raca suggests Karina shoot a fisherman approaching on a boat. Karina is horrified by the suggestion. Nonchalantly, Raca takes her gun from her and shoots the fisherman. After seeing the fisherman is only wounded, Raca then whoops encouragement for the man to swim ashore.
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R.G. Morin writes a weekly column for We Love Soaps, "Telenovela Watch: A
weekly look at the world of telenovelas for non-Spanish speakers." For
feedback or questions, you can email R.G. Morin at firstname.lastname@example.org.