TELENOVELA WATCH: Brazilian LA VIDA SIGUE Premieres Tonight on MundoFox; LO QUE LA VIDA ME ROBO Hits Its Stride; Thoughts on ALIAS EL MEXICANO and POR SIEMPRE MI AMOR

LA VIDA SIGUE premieres tonight at 8 p.m. ET on MundoFox. Produced by Globo in 2011, LA VIDA SIGUE (aka A VIDA DA GENTE) is the first Brazilian telenovela to air in prime time on US network television since CAMINHO DAS ÍNDIAS was shown on Telefutura in 2011. After finding some success with a number of Brazilian miniseries based on Bible stories, it is a welcome move by MundoFox to try a Brazilian novela, long the best produced in the world, but in recent years, in this country, relegated to cable/satellite channels like Pasiones.

The story of LA VIDA SIGUE from the press materials: Ana, a promising tennis player, falls into a forbidden love affair with her stepbrother, Rodrigo. Despite strong opposition from Ana’s parents, who have raised Rodrigo and Ana as brother and sister, their love blossoms. Ana discovers that she is pregnant with Rodrigo’s child and decides she will escape from her mother’s possessive grasp when the child is born. She devises a plan and flees with her sister, Manuela, and the baby to start a new life. As the sisters leave their home with the child, they are involved in a terrible car accident which leaves Ana in a coma, forever changing their destiny and that of Ana and Rodrigo’s baby.

After the horrifying accident, their mother blames Manuela for her sister’s misfortune and banishes her and the baby. Devastated by Ana’s coma, Rodrigo and Manuela do their best to raise the child while still grieving over the sad turn of events. As life goes on, the plot thickens and Ana suddenly awakens after five years to discover that her life is not hers anymore.



LA VIDA SIGUE stars Fernanda Vasconcellos as Ana, Marjorie Estiano as Manuela, Ana Beatriz Nogueira as their mother, and Rafael Cardoso as Rodrigo.


ALIAS EL MEXICANO
After three episodes, there is an unfortunate ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD experience to watching ALIAS EL MEXICANO (weeknights at 9 p.m. ET on MundoFox) - as the subject of a TV drama, its central drug-trafficker, Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha, is just so much less interesting than his eventual associate, Pablo Escobar, you find yourself waiting impatiently for the more flamboyant, charismatic monster to make his appearance. Matters are not helped by Juan Sebastián Calero’s dreary, stoic, frowning performance as Gacha; nor by the ugly, murky photography. I see the characters played by Carolina Gaitán, Rafael Novoa and Flora Martínez enter the story more prominently in episode four, maybe they can enliven the dull narco-novela trappings.


LO QUE LA VIDA ME ROBÓ
After a year mired mostly in mediocrity, we are finally seeing some decent telenovelas in Univision's prime time from Televisa. The very fine MENTIR PARA VIVIR (weeknights at 10 p.m. ET) continues to chug along ably, but the best telenovela last week was LO QUE LA VIDA ME ROBÓ (weeknights at 9 p.m. ET on Univision) as it finally hit its stride. It is a high drama novela of big emotions and performances, old-fashioned bodice-ripping, Gothic-tinged melodrama.

The story has been done twice as a period novela set a hundred years in the past, but this version is set in the present. The central premise – a mother convinces her daughter to give up the love of her life and marry a rich man, in effect, using her daughter as a business transaction: her daughter in exchange for the rich man paying her family’s debts. That arrangement falls within the societal norms of the story in its past settings, but it becomes an anachronism here which actually heightens the drama – the mother seems even more wicked, the rancor between the new husband and wife, more spiteful.

There is an annoying sugar plum fairy affectation running through the performance of lead actress Angelique Boyer, she often suggests the labored emoting of Aracely Arámbula, but with a far greater range of expression so that unlike Arámbula – an actress who cannot even breathe convincingly on screen – pockets of truth sometimes trickle through Boyer’s meretriciousness. But what truly lifts Boyer’s performance is her fiery and intense screen chemistry with co-star Sebastián Rulli - their vitriolic sparring, in particular, was thrilling this week.

Daniela Castro is pure dragon lady with her smoky croaking voice, tacky and cruel, but full of sly humorous touches as when rising from her seat to fetch her daughter for the galán, she suddenly darts forward to caress his face, like she can’t help herself, drawn like moth to flame by his beauty. Some of the supporting actors have started to come into focus, most notably Margarita Magaña as a very likable, kittenish hoyden who helps bring some life to handsome, but bland Carlos de la Mota; and the fabulous Verónica Jaspeado as a daffy ugly duckling rich girl being conned by doltish layabouts Osvaldo Benavides and Ferdinando Valencia - so far a low comedy subplot, but an amusing one needed to leaven the darker storylines of the novela.


POR SIEMPRE MI AMOR
After only five episodes, it is too soon to know if POR SIEMPRE MI AMOR (weeknights at 8 p.m. ET on Univision) will continue the streak of decent Televisa productions we’ve gotten on Univision since October, though it has potential. Like LO QUE LA VIDA ME ROBÓ, the pace of the story at the start is measured; but unlike that telenovela, the drama of POR SIEMPRE MI AMOR is pitched at a human rather than operatic scale.

The tragedies of the first week – the death of the male protagonist’s wife and the female protagonist discovering her husband is a thief and bigamist – were exquisitely acted by Guy Ecker and Susana González. Another highlight of the first week was a scene between González and Gabriela Platas, two women victimized by the con man, that was well written and beautifully played, full of nuance, pain and embarrassment. Dominika Paleta is a properly loathsome villain – she had a wonderful, ambiguous reaction upon hearing over the phone her attempt to kill her cousin was successful, a gasping paroxysmal fit, as if overwhelmed by shock and grief, only to reveal, when she spoke, it’s actually irrepressible joy we were witnessing at the fact her cousin’s husband, the object of her obsession, is now free.

The male villain played by Héctor Suárez Gomís is convincingly slimy in his cons, but a difficult sell as a lothario. There are good supporting performances from Martha Julia and Alejandro Ruiz. The telenovela feels a bit underpopulated in these early episodes, but that will no doubt be rectified when the story moves to the present – the current stage is set in 2003 – and the younger cast can get involved in the drama.

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.

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