Manuela Saenz

This handsomely mounted 1999 biopic rehabilitates Manuela Saenz, the intelligent and heroic woman whose adulterous affair with Latin American revolutionary Simon Bolivar was long condemned by the Catholic Church. Basing much of the film on Saenz's letters, director Diego Risquez re-creates the pivotal events of her life in the early 19th century, framing the story with a visit paid to her by Herman Melville in 1841, when the crippled and aging woman lived in a port city of northern Peru. At times Risquez's approach to the material smacks of gothic romance; as played by Beatriz Valdez, the title character sometimes comes across as a buxom party girl driven by lust. Yet her exploits against the rule of Spain are fascinating, and her resilience, even in the loneliness of exile, is remarkably compelling. 97 min.

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