Thursday, January 17, 2013

Tintorera (1977) dir. Rene Cardona Jr.

Logline: Two Mexican playboys (Hugo Stiglitz and Andrés García) ditch their rivalry and decide to live the sweet life in Cancun together as they bed and swap a bevy of bikini-clad vacationers. Though this hot beach-side action keeps the two friends well occupied, they dedicate what remains of their spare time to harpooning sharks. It's all fun, games, and profit until they encounter Tintorera, the infamous tiger shark.

Animal of Choice: A wheezing/growling 19-foot-long tiger shark with a taste for nubile foreign women and hunky Mexican men.

Thinking Ecologically: Ecology is not a pertinent concern in Tintorera. The film is uncritical of its heroes' ruthless hunting of fish and sharks, being somehow justified as a business enterprise (though we never see them sell their kills and the two pals are, collectively, already fabulously wealthy). There's also one scene in which Stiglitz and his latest lady toss their empty drink glasses into the ocean, polluting the sea with their sloppy drunkenness. That's all I've got.

Thinking About Animals: The lead tiger shark is large and ferocious, but not abnormally so. In his every appearance he's portrayed by an actual shark (it's stock footage, meaning that there's no animatronics here). But, then, he's not all that realistic: he growls like a jungle cat as he glides through the water near Cancun's shore, though the film's Wikipedia page summary ponders whether or not he's emphysemic. Moreover, while his attacks appear to be largely standard dangerous shark behavior, at times they also bear the trappings of intentional spite: on one occasion, he (perhaps) deliberately ruins one of our shark hunters' catches by ripping it in a half and making it unsaleable. A display of fishy solidarity.

A sticking point for many viewers will be the fact that Tintorera records, in full and lingering detail, the deaths of numerous aquatic specimens. A variety of fish and sharks are harpooned by the actors and/or their stunt divers. We watch as a tortoise has its throat slit so that its blood can pour out into the ocean to lure the shark. A devil fish is harpooned underwater for similar ends and, unnervingly, the camera returns multiple times to capture blood pouring from its gills into the water around it with every dying breath it takes. These moments are all tough to watch. While one can perhaps assume that some if not many of these fish were then eaten or sold at the local fish market (which may make the killing somewhat preferable to the pointless animal slaughter of a film like Kingdom of the Spiders (1977)), there's no guarantee of this nor does it ultimately provide much comfort. During an early (and messy) fishing expedition, Stiglitz's character opines, "Killing these sharks makes me sad, even though they're animals." Stiglitz soon changes his tune (they're only animals, after all), but we don't forget that it makes us sad too.

Evaluation in Brief: Without question the most perplexing entry in the Animal Terror canon. Tintorera is only intermittently a horror film, and a reluctant one at that, as it more closely resembles an Erotic Island Paradise/Endless Beach Party flick disrupted only by infrequent shark attacks. Clocking in at an astonishing two hours and six minutes, the film is never particularly dull, spending the majority of its running time developing and exploring the fascinating just-shy-of-homoerotic relationship between its two male leads. However, it is fair to say that anyone turning towards Tintorera for Jaws-y thrills is destined to be disappointed. Rather, it's an almost sophisticated ramble through a seemingly endless string of  emotionless ménages à trois as Stiglitz and García's characters start to realize that all this free love has opened them up to new, previously unfathomed romantic possibilities. Sadly, soon after the subtle blossoming of this realization one of them is snapped up by the bloody jaws of fate (read: the tiger shark), and it's left to the survivor to exact revenge and come to terms with his grief at whatever cost. Poetically, that cost is his right arm.

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