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Movie Review

Melodrama With a Message in 'Tricky'

The story of a Uruguayan woman spotlights a national problem while showcasing the radiant Mariana Santangelo.

January 25, 2002|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Beatriz Flores Silva's lively and entertaining "Tricky Life" opens with its fiery heroine, Elisa (Mariana Santangelo), in a screaming match with her mother as she flees the older woman's tiny shack and heads in pouring rain to a phone booth with all her possessions, including a beauty salon hair dryer and her two small sons in hand.

She's calling her boss, who is also her married lover, to find shelter for herself and her kids. Her mother, in parting shots, has a point: Why doesn't her lover marry her? Why didn't he pick her up in his car?

Headstrong but astonishingly naive, Elisa, for all her beauty and vivacity, has a bad record with men. Her sons have different fathers, neither of whom married her, and it's clear that this new guy, who runs a food stall in a huge Montevideo market, is not about to leave his wife for her.

When this sinks in at last, she explodes, publicly, and she and her best friend, Loulou (Andrea Fantoni), decide there is no other way to finance their dream of opening a beauty salon than to prostitute themselves.

They just might have succeeded if Loulou hadn't crossed paths in the El Rey de Paris bar and bordello with Placido (Silvestre), a 40-ish man with handsome, lounge lizard looks and manner. He's as shady as they come and has bad news written all over him, but Elisa is a slow learner. She and Loulou are soon off to Barcelona with Placido, who then will be able to exploit them in earnest.

Placido is a pimp, a white slaver and a forger who's into all manner of criminal activity.

Elisa and Loulou walk the streets of Barcelona, with Elisa in love with yet another loser to whom she inevitably poses her perennial question, "Why can't you marry me?" If and when Elisa finally does see the light, the question is: How is she to get out of Barcelona and back to Uruguay without papers and money?

"Tricky Life," Uruguay's first official Oscar entry, has been freely adapted from Maria Urruzola's novel "The Serpent's Egg," which in turn is based on a real event.

The movie is, above all, a splendid showcase for stunning Santangelo, who gives a powerhouse portrayal of a vivid, sexy woman more hotheaded than truly stupid. Elisa's story calls attention to the white slavery widespread across South America that ensnares young women, transports them to Europe and exploits them.

"Tricky Life" is a melodrama with a message, gloriously lurid and atmospheric, seething with Latin passion and--clearly--deliberately devoid of subtlety. The plight of women like Elisa has to be a lot grittier in reality, but "Tricky Life" socks over its consciousness-raising sentiments with such endearing vitality that in Uruguay it not only was a box office hit, but has been credited with reviving the Uruguayan film industry.

*

Unrated. Times guidelines: some sex and violence, seamy adult themes and situations.

'Tricky Life'

Mariana Santangelo...Elisa Sanchez

Silvestre...Placido

Josep Linuesa...Marcelo

Andrea Fantoni...Loulou

A Bavaria Film International presentation of a co-production of BFS Producciones (Uruguay)/Saga Film (Belgium)/Avalon Producciones (Spain) and ICAIC (Cuba) with the participation of Via Digital. Director Beatriz Flores Silva. Producers Hubert Toint, Silva, Stefan Schmitz. Executive producer Hubert Toint. Screenplay Silva, Janos J. Kovacsi, freely adapted from the novel "The Serpent's Egg" by Maria Urruzola. Cinematographer Francisco Gozon. Editor Marie-Helene Dozo. Music Carlos da Silveira. Costumes Solange Guillemette. Production designer Mateo Tikas. In Spanish, with English subtitles. 1 hour, 40 minutes.

Exclusively at the Music Hall through Thursday, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869.

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