Ripstein’s startling work is the OG ‘Dogtooth’, about a man who has locked his wife and children in his house for nearly two decades, at once so infuriating to watch and a bleak satire on the hypocrisy of toxic patriarchy and the extremes of parental love.
Dir. Arturo Ripstein
1973 | Mexico | Drama | 108 min | 1.85:1 | Spanish
Not rated – likely to be M18 for mature theme, nudity and sexual situations
Cast: Claudio Brook, Rita Macedo, Arturo Beristain, Diana Bracho, Gladys Bermejo
Plot: Determined to protect his loved ones from the evils of the world, Gabriel keeps them locked up at home, where his wife Beatriz and their children help run the family business—making rat poison. As they grow older, the kids begin to challenge their father’s version of life beyond the “castle” walls.
Source: Instituto Mexicano de Cinematografía
Subject Matter: Slightly Mature – Extreme Parental Love; Toxic Patriarchy; Captivity
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
Although less shocking than Yorgos Lanthimos’ breakthrough film, Dogtooth (2009), The Castle of Purity is the OG, a startling early work from Arturo Ripstein that might just be his finest film.
Ripstein, one of Mexico’s best-kept secrets outside of his country, is no stranger to provocative filmmaking, daring to challenge political and religious institutions with his thinly-veiled allegories on Mexican society.
In The Castle of Purity, we see him at his most thematically piercing, centering on a man who has locked his wife and children in his house for nearly two decades.
His son and two daughters have never seen anything other than the interior of their house—its open courtyard where it is perpetually raining, the candle-lit cellars where they go to when they are punished for disobedience, and the kitchen lab where they help their father make rat poison.
Killing rats has been the sole source of income for the family; it’s also an ideology that seems to have poisoned the father’s mind—he believes the world outside to be evil and corrupt, and hence, justifies the necessity of keeping his children safe.
“It’s bad to go outside.”
Ripstein’s work may be about the extremes of parental love, but it is also about the hypocrisy of toxic patriarchy. The father, in his trips outside to sell his homemade poison, becomes susceptible to some of these ‘corruptions’, including having sexual affairs.
The Castle of Purity is at once so infuriating to watch and works effectively as a bleak satire, though there is little in the humour department that might put a temporary smile in the audience.
Despite mainly being set within the four walls of the domestic prison, Ripstein’s mise-en-scene and mood setting are always foregrounded—the incessant rain, the neatly-arranged living room where the children undergo their ‘education’, the dinner table where everyone eats vegetables.
The wife, most of the time complicit in all the lies, has grown attached to the tormentor-in-chief. It’s hard to believe that this was based on a true story and happened in the heart of a bustling city.