Place Without Limits, The (1978)

One of Ripstein’s best-known films, this sensual if sobering drama tackles machismo and homophobia in a small Mexican town and its now dilapidated brothel, featuring an intense performance by the cross-dressing Roberto Cobo.    

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #2,612

Dir. Arturo Ripstein
1978 | Mexico | Drama | 111 min | 1.85:1 | Spanish
Not rated – likely to be R21 for mature theme, sexual scenes, coarse language and some violence

Cast: Roberto Cobo, Gonzalo Vega, Ana Martín
Plot: In a small village, the gender-fluid brothel owner La Manuela and their daughter want to seduce recently returned Pancho, who feels his manhood threatened. Meanwhile, a greedy capitalist is trying to buy the whole village and Manuela’s brothel is the final holding required for a monopoly.
Source: Instituto Mexicano de Cinematografía

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Slightly Mature – Homophobia; Toxic Masculinity; Small Town Politics
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

Often regarded as one of Arturo Ripstein’s best-known films, The Place Without Limits follows up from the unholy eroticism of The Black Widow (1977), about a priest who has a sexual affair with his maid in his parish. 

Here it is more sensual than erotic as the cross-dressing Manuela, played with sobering intensity by Roberto Cobo, operates a brothel in a small Mexican town.  The brothel is now dilapidated, and the town, controlled by the old but wealthy Don Alejo, is nearly empty. 

Hoping to chase away Manuela and co. in order to sell the whole town for a sizable profit, Alejo is forced to reckon with their stubborn persistence, as well as the return of the abusive Pancho, whom Manuela has grown to love and detest. 

“An animal can go back to the place where it has been fed.”

Although there seems to be some kind of narrative structure undergirding The Place Without Limits, viewing the film feels like it is one formless, relentless episode of despair.  There is a natural momentum from scene to scene as Ripstein tackles the ills of homophobia and machismo in this sad little place. 

It’s not all gloom and doom though, with two standout sequences where Manuela performs for his audience, the latter albeit more darkly psychological.  As greed and naivety take centre stage, The Place Without Limits shows us the ugly side of society, most distinctly at the crossroads of power and prejudice. 

The title of Ripstein’s work suggests a lawless locale, which is not far from the truth.  In this town, the meaning of justice and accountability constantly shifts.

Grade: B+

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