Black Widow, The (1977)

One of Ripstein’s more transgressive works, this seductive tale of a priest who, out of spite, begins a sexual affair with his maid in his parish, asks us to reconsider the meaning of immorality.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #2,602

Dir. Arturo Ripstein
1978 | Mexico | Drama | 88 min | 1.85:1 | Spanish
Not rated – likely to be R21 for sexual scenes, nudity and mature theme

Cast: Isela Vega, Mario Almada, Sergio Jimenez
Plot: In a small Mexican town, the orphan Matea assists parish priest Father Feliciano. When the village doctor fails to seduce her, he spreads rumors that she is involved with the priest.
Source: Instituto Mexicano de Cinematografía

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Mature – Sexual Affair; Immorality; Religion
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

We all know what sin is, but what if sin is relative?  A priest who has a sexual affair with his maid in his parish might paint a disgusting picture of immorality, but is it any more sinful than the townsfolk who accused them of such an affair, and that in fact, drove them to such a state? 

Banned in Mexico for a good number of years, The Black Widow is one of Arturo Ripstein’s more transgressive works.  This is already evident in the opening montage which features a young girl who gets punished by priests for being ‘naughty’, a signal of the subversions that are to come. 

The titular character, Matea (played by Isela Vega, who became one of Mexico’s sex symbols in the 1970s), finds work in a parish led by Father Feliciano (Mario Almada).  After rejecting the advances of a local doctor, rumours quickly spread regarding the relationship between Matea and Father Feliciano. 

“I’m no saint, but I’m not a sinner.”

Fed up by the incessant hate and hypocrisy (well, the townsfolks aren’t exactly saints themselves, and as we learn, are nasty exploiters of violence and sex), the duo lock themselves in the parish, only to begin a passionate affair out of spite. 

It’s a seductive tale, with erotic scenes to boot within a space regarded as pure and holy.  For much of Ripstein’s film, we become privy to their salacious acts, and particularly, Matea’s increasing disdain towards everyone who resides outside of the church doors. 

The Black Widow forces us to reconsider the meaning of immorality as well as—and in relation to—the power of the church.  What if it is God’s will that sin be unfettered in order to make a point about the dastardly nature of human beings?

Grade: B+

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