Set in provincial Mexico in the first half of the twentieth century, Dana Rotberg’s Otilia Rauda, from Sergio Galindo’s novel, follows Otilia’s contempt for her police-chief husband, Isidro, and her passionate love for the bandit he is trying to capture, Rubén Lazcano. Otilia’s father compelled her marriage. Isidro’s whoring results in Otilia’s contracting syphilis, which leaves her barren. For revenge, Otilia refuses to allow Isidro to touch her thereafter, threatening him, if he did so, with his “waking up dead one morning.” Ironically, this gives Otilia a measure of control in her life at a time when women were generally under the control of men. (A lyric of a song with which Isidro serenades Otilia refers to himself as her lover and owner.) Otilia becomes promiscuously adulterous largely to rub salt into the wound of Isidro’s sexual banishment.
Secretly, Otilia nurses a wounded Rubén back to health; but who is to say she “freely” falls in love with him? By doing so, isn’t she unconsciously reacting against her spouse? Too, her falling in love with Rubén undoes the independence and autonomy she had staked out by refusing to have sex with Isidro. Lest we miss the point, she does have sex with her spouse, once, in exchange for his promise to let her see her lover one last time. This single sexual encounter (past the earliest stage of their marriage) makes additionally sore an ironical parallel: Otilia makes love with Rubén only once.
The attraction of Otilia’s voluptuous body is rendered more intense, curiously, by the disfiguring discoloration of one-third of her face. It is the social blemish of machismo, as well as male hypocrisy, from which Otilia struggles to be free.
As was not the case with her wedding, Otilia chooses her own death.
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