From Mexico, a caped crusader who fought like no woman before her | ET REALITY


There is trouble in sunny Acapulco. Someone is kidnapping the city’s powerful fighters, the beloved fighters. They appear dead, with a rare gland removed. No one knows how or why this is happening. But the police only trust one person for such a serious case: Batwoman.

That’s the premise of, you guessed it, “the batwoman,” a 1968 Mexican caper starring Maura Monti as the masked (and swimsuit-clad) heroine. Popular cinema of this type in Mexico has not typically received the same respect as classics from the industry’s Golden Age in the 1940s and 1950s. But recent critical attention and new restorations have highlighted these films. “The Batwoman” (now in the Academy Film Archive collection) stands out as charming, warm-hearted entertainment with a hand-crafted quality, featuring a star with a natural charm (and a story of her own).

Wrestler movies, such as those starring wrestling star El Santo, were a staple of Mexican cinemas, featuring wrestlers who led double lives as monster-defeating superheroes and mad scientists. But “The Batwoman” adds some twists to the genre. Monti’s character, Gloria, has several activities: she fights crime as Batwoman, fights in the ring, and teaches classes at a gym, but she usually appears to be a rich woman with worldly hobbies. She does exactly what she wants, which in this case means fighting a mad scientist obsessed with creating a fish-man hybrid.

“In Mexican cinema you see women playing submissives” (submissive) “as if they didn’t deserve anything,” said Viviana García Besné, who spearheaded the restoration of “La Batwoman” and other Mexican titles through her company. Voluntary Permanence. “I love the fact that this is a woman who is a hero!”

García Besné comes from a family of producers (men); His grandfather helped pioneer wrestling movies. But he credits his grandmother for suggesting they try female wrestlers as characters. That led to a series of films that culminated with the hybrid comic book hero of “Batwoman.”

Monti cuts a cheerful figure as Bat Woman, arriving to meet the police by parachuting onto a beach and then nonchalantly climbing into their car. That’s a big part of the film’s charm: the elegant but practical way she goes about her business and the sweet relationship she has with her friends, Mario and Tony. Although the popular American television series “Bat Man” 1960s was a likely inspiration, there’s not even a hint of camp here. The action (underwater fights, kung fu skills, and a limp-handed fishman named Pisces) has a nice, casual pace (as does the stylish soundtrack).

There is a glamor to Monti’s ease, a sense of independence that feels true to an era of change in the nation. “The films about fighters are released at a time in Mexico in which the transformation of the feminist movements and the creation of the modern girl is taking place,” Vinodh Venkatesh, a Virginia Tech professor who wrote a study on Latin American superheroes told me. Monti even did his own stunts, except for the brief wrestling sequences. He left these to real fighters in a gesture of solidarity, because the fighters were prohibited from accessing public stages at that time.

“Batwoman” was the high point in Monti’s more than 40-year film career, which included films starring Cantinflas, El Santo and Boris Karloff. She “went unnoticed,” according to Olivia Cosentino, a Tulane scholar who co-edited a collection on Mexico’s “lost cinema” (productions after the Golden Age but before the industry’s renaissance in the 1990s).

“Someone like El Santo has received a lot of coverage and has become more and more famous over time,” she said, “but it seems to me that women haven’t really been studied as much as male figures in the industry.”

Monti’s life could be a biopic in itself. Born in Genoa, Italy, Monti traveled to Mexico with her mother and, according to García Besné, she immediately had a stroke of cinematic luck: a winning lottery ticket. She started out as a model and then acted in a series of genre films (first role: Mary Magdalene). Hand-picked by director René Cardona for “The Batwoman,” she enjoyed the role and stripped down to her bikini and boots for a walk around the city. But despite her star turn, her film career petered out. García Besné attributed the fade to her marriage to a producer – “producers at the time didn’t want their women to work,” she said – while Venkatesh speculated that Monti was not interested in the nude roles that became more popular in the 1970s. .

Whatever the case, Monti adopted a new professional identity (journalist) and did not look back. He wrote for magazines and co-presented an artistic program for television, with guests such as novelists Mario Vargas Llosa and Carlos Fuentes, actress María Félix and directors Emilio Fernández and Roberto Gavaldón. Then, with a boldness worthy of a screen heroine, she took another leap in the early ’90s. She began teaching in San Cristóbal, which became a stronghold of the leftist Zapatista movement that took over Mexican territory in 1994, and she settled with her second husband, the poet and educator José Antonio Reyes Matamoros. (“Imagine! It was incredible,” said García Besné).

Or as Monti herself told me: “I radically changed my life from a bourgeois environment to start training students in a nothingness full of misery.” While answering some questions on WhatsApp from her home in Mexico, the 81-year-old artist happily confirmed several facts about her film career. But she, long retired from acting, said she had dedicated herself to painting, writing and teaching. “That is the most impressive and fundamental work of my life,” she wrote.

However, it seems likely that Monti’s audience for “The Batwoman” will grow thanks to its easy availability on streaming (it’s on various platforms). Next year will arrive the first Blu-ray edition of the restoration, which García Besné made sure was faithful to the brighter colors that the original film aspired to.

“My family said it was filmed in Mexicolor; They just made up words,” he recalled of his relatives who produced him. “But I said, ‘What would Mexicolor look like?’” The results: intense blues for Batwoman’s suits and a sinister red for her nemesis, the fishman Pisces (who might remind some viewers of the creature from Guillermo del Toro’s film). “The Shape of Water”).

Today, the unpretentious fun of “The Batwoman” seems even more precious compared to many of today’s stodgy superhero franchises. It’s easy to wonder what Hollywood might think of the 1968 film’s light-hearted use of a character straight out of DC Comics. García Besné responded with a smile: “My uncle always said: How come these gringos come to us and tell us we can’t use the name ‘The Bat Woman’? First of all, the wrestling culture in Mexico is older than its comics. And also in Mayan culture there is already a Bat Woman!”

To coin a phrase, Batwoman is forever.

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