A Critic's Meta Review: 5/5
The Incredible And Sad Tale Of Innocent Eréndira And Her Heartless Grandmother by Gabriel García Márquez (REVIEW)
I cannot tell you how ecstatic I am to be writing this review right now. When I decided that I was going to review this story, I zipped over to my MacBook like a giddy little schoolgirl and fired up a fresh Google Doc like a log in a pile on a cold winter’s day. This is not just because I am an enormous fan of Gabriel García Márquez (I mean, I am, but that is not the true cause of my gaiety), nor is it because I am aching to acquire acute early onset carpal tunnel syndrome.
No - the reason I am feeling rather rapturous right now is because, for the first time in my entire reviewing career (a career which has gone on far longer than I had anticipated, for which I am immensely grateful), I will be discussing something about which I can actually recall all of the specific details. This is due to the fact that not only did I just finish reading this story less than three hours ago, but, immediately afterwards, I watched the 1983 film adaptation.
I will be discussing both the story and the film, mostly as it relates to the story (and, to give you a bit of a sneak preview as to how I feel about that, I’d say it relates pretty damn well). First and foremost, however, shall come my thoughts on the original source material.
One of the first things that indicated to me that I was going to enjoy reading this tale (aside from who it was authored by) was the title. Very rarely do you get a title that does such a swell job of taking care of all of your expository needs and, yet, this title does just that. There is not much else in the form of an introduction that you would need upon seeing such a title. It establishes not just the primary subject of the story (Eréndira), but also characterizes her (innocent), sets the tone (sad), and clarifies the scope (incredible); furthermore, it mentions a secondary character (Eréndira’s grandmother), and characterizes her (heartless) as well.
All that before you ever make it to the first sentence - what a feat!
This story contains several hallmarks of classic Márquezian writing, from its forays into the supernatural (like when the Dutchman’s son, Ulises, touches a glass and it turns blue, which supposedly shows that he is in love with someone) to its recurring motif of continuing to move and speak even during sleep - referred to as somnambulism, which is a word that I actually learned the meaning of from reading the works of Gabriel García Márquez; indeed, even though it is an English word, it seems to be used much more often by those writing in Spanish (as somnambulismo, of course), as the only other time I have ever encountered it has been while reading the poetry of Federico García Lorca.
There are also a number of other references to Márquez’s previous works - Senator Oneisimo Sanchez, from “Death Constant Beyond Love”, is repeatedly mentioned, and Blacamán The Good from “Blacamán The Good, Vendor Of Miracles” makes an appearance towards the end. Both of these little easter eggs were a nice touch - at least, in the story they were (more on this in a bit).
As for the story itself, well, it only serves to further demonstrate the fact that Márquez is a master of his craft. One particular instance of his brilliant command over da art of storytellin’ can be seen in the way he casts the missionary as a marked improvement over the roadside whorehouse, Eréndira’s previous place of residence, while simultaneously acknowledging the multitude of issues at play within the religious community (such as forced marriage, for example, which is described in fairly graphic detail).
The only critique I really have is in the characterization of Eréndira’s grandmother. On the one hand, she is shown to be delusional - ranting and raving about ostriches and dead relatives; on the other hand , however - at least when it comes to finances - she is a cold, formula-running machine, crunching numbers with the quickness of a human calculator.
Maybe this is intentional, but it definitely threw me off a bit - though not enough to warrant a reduction in my rating, as my overall enjoyment of the story was unaffected by this little instance of ambiguity. I am a holistic reviewer, after all.
I am also quite a wordy reviewer, as I have just realized I am nearing the end of this review and have not yet delved into my thoughts regarding the film adaptation, of which there are many to sort through. I believe that, rather than try to cram them all in the tail end of this review, however, they might be best fit in their own, standalone piece. I would strongly recommend reading that review after reading this one, though, as it will serve as a fantastic companion piece (which the film, to me, was for this story).
See you there!
PART II: Cinema Time!
(I Said Cin-ema, not En-ema mate!)
Man, I cannot tell you how stoked I was to find out that a movie had been made based on this story. This is not necessarily to say that the story was so confusing that it needed to have some sort of visual companion in order to make its plot more decipherable; as a matter of fact, that could not possibly be what I am saying here, because it simply is not true.
Nay, I was thrilled to have stumbled upon this film for two reasons, and two reasons alone: one, that it was in Spanish, which would allow me a chance to brush up on my foreign language comprehension skills (a great way to rewire your partially focused mind, folks) and two, that it would give me a glimpse into what exactly magical realism looks like when taken to the big screen (or laptop-sized screen, in my case).
Well, consider my expectations more than met, as I was far from disappointed. I do not think I have ever seen a film adaptation of anything that has remained so loyal to the plot while still managing to be entertaining and captivating in its own right; indeed, it is such a well made piece of cinema even on its own (outside of the context of the story on which it was based) that I would even recommend it to those who have not read the original story, or anything by Gabriel García Márquez for that matter, simply due to the fact that anyone who likes a quality flick with an interesting and unique plot that features dynamic, engaging characters will get something out of watching this.
This film does an absolutely impeccable job of sticking to the original story, with very few embellishments and very little fluff to be found. In fact, so loyal is it to the way in which the story is written that, having just finished reading the story only mere moments before watching it, it was essentially more of an extended Spanish practice exercise for me than anything else, as I already knew exactly what was to unfold and how it was to unfold.
This is not to say that the film does not add its own touches to enhance the overall themes of the story, as it certainly does. One instance of this that I really appreciated was the scene in the missionary, after Eréndira had been captured and brought there, where the nun is playing this sweet, calming melody on the piano. This serves as a terrific contrast to the piano playing of Eréndira’s grandmother, who will just wax nostalgic about the days of yesteryear and bang on the keyboard like a drunken English sea captain who has just found out he is surrounded by armed galleons of Spaniard aggressors.
On that note, I think that this film does a superb job in its portrayal of Eréndira’s grandmother as simultaneously selfish beyond repair yet strikingly sultry and - to me, at least - strangely sexy. This latter component is not something I would have ever picked up on just from reading the story itself.
That brings me to my next point, which is that this film carries with it a sense of authority that allows it to add missing elements to the story that almost seem like they were supposed to be there in the first place. Let me explain what I mean by this in the form of an example: after eating the rat poison infused cake, Eréndira’s grandmother goes on a long rant in which she admits to killing Eréndira’s father. Ulises is shocked at this revelation, just as he is in the story; unlike the story, however, is Eréndira’s casual response to his alarm that, following the murder, her grandfather took her (the grandmother) out to live in the desert. It may seem like a very small addition, but this is precisely what makes it so well placed; I found myself just as captivated as I was when reading the story, nodding along as if it were something that Márquez himself added later on. Very few films are able to pull something like this off without it catching you off guard, but this did not distract from the plot at all; to the contrary, it enhanced it.
One notable exception to this strict adherence to the structure of the story is the subplot featuring Senator Oneisimo Sanchez, who is referenced throughout the story but is not a featured character (he was a prominent character in one of Márquez’s other stories, “Death Constant Beyond Love”, in which he was in his time of dying). According to my sleuthing, the inclusion of these scenes with the senator are to explain to a general audience, one that may not be familiar with Márquez’s previous works, who this so-called “Oneisimo” was.
If it weren’t for this scene, the film would have no doubt earned a perfect five-wheel rating; however, since it does feel sort of shoehorned in and adds an overall sense of clunkiness to the act within which it has been placed, it must be knocked down a peg.
It’s only fair.
Great flick though. It will definitely go a long way towards coloring (in a very literal sense) your understanding of the original story.