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TELENOVELA WATCH: LO QUE LA VIDA ME ROBÓ Premiere; PORQUE EL AMOR MANDA Finale; MENTIR PARA VIVIR; A CORAZÓN ABIERTO; Karla Álvarez

LO QUE LA VIDA ME ROBÓ premieres tonight on Univision at 9 p.m. ET, a mere three weeks after its debut in Mexico. LO QUE LA VIDA ME ROBÓ is based on a story from Caridad Bravo Adams that has already yielded two highly regarded telenovelas - BODAS DE ODIO in 1983 and AMOR REAL in 2003 - raising expectations which may work against this new version. The previous two versions were both period novelas, the latter set more than a hundred years in the past; this remake, adapted by Juan Carlos Alcalá and produced by Angelli Nesma (ABISMO DE PASIÓN), moves the story to the present.

The story is a classic love triangle. Monserrat, a young woman in love with José Luis, a humble soldier, is manipulated by her mother into marrying a rich man, Alejandro.

Angelique Boyer (ABISMO DE PASIÓN) plays Monserrat and Sebastián Rulli (AMORES VERDADEROS) plays Alejandro. The two were previously paired as protagonists in 2010 in TERESA. Luis Roberto Guzman (EL PANTERA) makes up the third side of the triangle. Daniela Castro (MI PECADO) plays the mother.

The fine cast includes Sergio Sendel (DESTILANDO AMOR), Grettel Valdez (AMORCITO CORAZÓN), Alberto Estrella (ENTRE EL AMOR Y EL ODIO), Ana Bertha Espín (LA QUE NO PODÍA AMAR), Juan Carlos Barreto (MENTIR PARA VIVIR), Gaby Rivero (EL ROSTRO DE LA VENGANZA), Verónica Jaspeado (UN GANCHO AL CORAZÓN), Margarita Magaña (UN GANCHO AL CORAZÓN), Carlos de la Mota (CORAZÓN INDOMABLE), Alejandro Ávila (PORQUE EL AMOR MANDA), Ferdinando Valencia (MENTIR PARA VIVIR), Alejandra Procuna (SOY TU DUEÑA), Alexis Ayala (ABISMO DE PASIÓN) and Eric del Castillo.

PORQUE EL AMOR MANDA
PORQUE EL AMOR MANDA (weeknights at 8 p.m. ET) enters its final week on Univision with its finale scheduled for Wednesday. I did not much care for this telenovela, perhaps biased from seeing the Colombian original, EL SECRETARIO, just a few months prior. Each featured abundant low comedy, but EL SECRETARIO was energetic, slick and quirky where PORQUE EL AMOR MANDA was laborious and cartoonish, replete with dumb sound effects and music cues and mugging acting to murder every joke.

Central to my problem with PORQUE EL AMOR MANDA and a recurrent flaw in Televisa telenovelas in general is the lead protagonists were both too old for their roles. Fernando Colunga, in particular, is at least fifteen years too old for this role, the second telenovela in a row where this has been the case. Perhaps to overcompensate for an aging galán, the telenovela made his ex-lover the primary villain, a major shift from EL SECRETARIO, ensuring Colunga was the focal point of two much younger women’s sexual desires; literally driving one insane.

Sadly, this reduced the ex-lover character played by Claudia Álvarez, the bright spot in the unfortunate DOS HOGARES, into an abominable, eventually murderous, harpy. Actually, Álvarez probably would have been pretty good as the female lead of this telenovela, possessing some of the vivacity and kooky appeal Stephanie Cayo showed in the Colombian version. Blanca Soto, as the lead, while never looking more beautiful in a telenovela, remains a pleasant, but vacuous actress.

The performer I enjoyed the most was María Elisa Camargo. After being, frankly, overtaxed by the heavy drama in her previous telenovela FLOR SALVAJE, Camargo proved a sparkling comedic actress in PORQUE. A brief subplot featuring her character job-hunting with increasingly disastrous results was, for me, the only genuinely funny bit I witnessed in my sporadic viewings of this telenovela.

MENTIR PARA VIVIR
MENTIR PARA VIVIR (weeknights at 10 p.m. ET on Univision) is one of the best telenovelas of the year and by a wide-margin the best from Televisa since AMOR BRAVÍO. There is a clarity to the storytelling which inspires a refreshing sense of confidence in the audience – you know from the writing, acting and direction that the creative personnel behind MENTIR PARA VIVIR know what they’re doing so you can just relax and enjoy the ride.

The plot often seems effortless. In an episode last week, a single line tripled the number of murder suspects making the characters and audience question what they thought they knew. The story moves fast and the revelations come quickly, but unlike Telemundo’s careering novelas, the speed is not at the expense of the characterization. Rather, it is the strength of the characters that propels the plot forward, their intelligence and resourcefulness do not allow secrets to remain so for long. There is an abundance of common sense here often missing from telenovelas. The character motivations are credible, you know where everybody is coming from psychologically and emotionally.

There is obvious care taken by the writers and actors to make even the most minor seeming subplots complex and minor seeming supporting characters come alive. A character like Eliseo, played by Luis Fernando Peña, the henchman of the big bad, is more comprehensively conceived, with a greater attention to detail paid to his manner and dialogue, than the leads of a shallow Telemundo thriller like EL ROSTRO DE LA VENGANZA or SANTA DIABLA. The characters in MENTIR PARA VIVIR breathe. They are all afforded humanity and genuine emotions. An antagonistic harridan like Matilde, beautifully acted by Leticia Perdigón, is allowed a moment of real tears when she is rebuked by her rich aunt over her poor treatment of the old woman’s granddaughter. The aunt, kind through most of the novela, is allowed a moment of cruelty, the limits of her patience breached.

Most telenovelas lag when the protagonists are not on the screen, but not in MENTIR PARA VIVIR because the characters are so richly drawn. One episode moved the leads, Oriana played by Mayrín Villanueva and Ricardo played by David Zepeda, to the background as it focused almost entirely on forging a relationship between the mentally ill Maria, played by Mariana Garza, and her ne’er-do-well son Sebastián played by Alejandro Speitzer.

The cast works together beautifully. The relationships all feel authentic – mother/daughter (Mayrín Villanueva/Ana Paula Martínez), friends (David Zepeda/Felipe Nájera and Cecilia Gabriela/Altair Jarabo), hen-pecked husband and bitter wife (Juan Carlos Barreto/Leticia Perdigón), brother/sister (Lucas Velásquez, Geraldine Galván), grandmother/granddaughter (Adriana Roel/Villanueva).

From a production standpoint, MENTIR PARA VIVIR is a reminder that Televisa at its best is still capable of making the most visually sumptuous and strikingly directed telenovelas outside of Brazil. It has been a year of brilliantly directed novelas with the whiz-bang flair of MADE IN CARTAGENA and the modernistic mood indigo of SECRETOS DEL PARAÍSO. MENTIR PARA VIVIR, with direction credited to Daniel Ferrer and Manuel Barajan, is more classical in its approach, with occasional Hitchcockian borrowings. A recurring visual theme finds characters framed within the frame by decor, boxed in and claustrophobic.

The catastrophe that sets the plot in motion, the murder of the hero’s father with the heroine’s little girl discovered with a gun in her hands is set up like a reverie, extreme slow motion, fractured sound, a shattered pitcher of orange juice echoing the image of the dead man falling into a swimming pool, whip pans, then a series of three near-axial cuts moving the camera farther and farther from the scene of the crime until it is a mere blip in a landscape, the placidity and isolation of the locale emphasized before a sudden shock zoom to a witness of the aftermath screaming from a balcony above.

The protagonists’ first night together features a prolonged passionate kiss, moving from station to station around the house, like the long kiss in NOTORIOUS; with Zepeda playfully clumsy – he sets the woman on the table only to spill the wine, later tripping on some stairs as he is backpedaling in their clinch. The camera movements are silky with hidden wipes moving the camera to reverse angles, first closer, then farther from the lovers, all while a bossa nova inspired version of “A Fuego Lento” plays on the soundtrack. The playfulness of the lovers is resumed their second night together when Zepeda and Villanueva suddenly break from a passionate kiss and turn directly to camera, regarding the viewer, first with a smile, then laugh, before proceeding to the bedroom.

During another kiss, this time in a restaurant, the lovers break to reveal, distorted in a mirror in the background between them the heroine’s thought-dead criminal husband, watching, seething, like a stalking specter. When the heroine meets her husband again, the encounter is slightly unreal with wide-angle lenses and tilted camera angles reflecting the heroine’s internal turmoil.

A CORAZÓN ABIERTO
A CORAZÓN ABIERTO returns to US screens Tuesday at 11 p.m. ET on MundoFox. This Colombian telenovela adaptation of GREY’S ANATOMY was a critical and ratings success in Colombia, but struggled to find an audience here when an edited version aired on Telemundo in 2010. It’s definitely worth another shot. The ensemble cast includes Verónica Orozco, Rafael Novoa (EL TALISMÁN), Carolina Gómez (LA TEACHER DE INGLÉS), Jorge E. Abello, Jorge Cao (SECRETOS DEL PARAÍSO), Rolando Tarajano, Juan Pablo Espinosa (EL SECRETARIO), Aida Morales, Natalia Durán (SECRETOS DEL PARAÍSO) and Sandra Hernández.

KARLA ÁLVAREZ
Sad news broke Friday afternoon of the passing of Mexican actress Karla Álvarez at the age of 41. Perhaps best known in telenovelas for her antagonist roles in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it was one such role where I first saw her, a 2004 rebroadcast of the 1998 telenovela LA MENTIRA. Her telenovela debut, MARÍA MERCEDES from 1992, was rerun last year in the US, providing what now is a sad bookend with her final screen role in this year’s QUÉ BONITO AMOR. There was a melancholy, tremulous quality in Álvarez’s recent performances; this imbued a fairly cliché character in QUÉ BONITO AMOR with an unexpected depth and poignancy beyond what was written – your sympathies went beyond the character to the actress.

R.G. Morin writes a regular 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 argeemorin@hotmail.com.

1 comment:

  1. Such sad news about Karla Álvararez. My mother watched and enjoyed Qué Bonito Amor. I must admit, I haven't followed telenovelas closely in ages but that theme song was so melodic and memorably, I found myself singing it from time to time. May she rest in peace.

    Porque el Amor Manda. My mother watches that one too, I guess she doesn't mind the campy aspect but, I tried to tune in and like you, didn't find it engaging. And I found those baby cooing sound effects especially creepy. And the plot lines were very formulaic but I guess at least they got their money's worth for the hospital bed they paid for--almost everyone on that show ended up in the darn hospital!
    Oh well, it was still better than La Tempestad, which was unwatchable for me.

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