Film Review: ‘Without Men’ and without plot
By: Melissa Gonzalo
On Sunday night, the 15th annual Los Angeles Latino Film Festival presented a special screening of Without Men, starring Eva Longoria and Kate del Castillo and based on the best-selling novel Tales From the Town of Widows by Colombian writer James Cañón. Adapted and directed by Gabriela Tagliavini (Ladies Night) the film has an interesting premise and plenty of star power with a roster that also includes Christian Slater, Oscar Nuñez (The Office), Judy Reyes and María Conchita Alonso. But even though the screening was sold out and hopes were high for everyone in attendance, the film turned out to be trite, with no real plot development.
The story is set in a small town in a generic Latin American country (in the novel it is set in Colombia) that is stripped away of all its men after they are recruited by the guerrillas. In the original novel, Cañón does a fairly good job of maintaining a serious tone despite the absurdity of the idea that an entire town would be void of any men, striking a chord with the real-life political turmoil in Colombia. Without Men, however, plays up the comedic aspect of the situation, giving it a satirical, absurdist tone, which intends viewers to “just go with it,” as Tagliavini explained during a Q&A after the screening. The colorful setting of the picturesque town she creates lends itself to a world of magic realism full of Latin flavor to the extreme: characters speaks English with a Mexican telenovela accent, the much-hyped “lesbian” scenes are just simply clichéd. No matter how fantastical the setting of Without Men intends to be, it results unconvincing. This isn’t Isabel Allende or García Márquez.
Rosalba, (Eva Longoria) is left to take over her husband’s position as mayor and attempts to maintain some order in the town after the women become hysterical over the fact that their men are all gone. One solution she comes up with in order to procreate is to have all the women sleep with the only man left in the town, the priest, to which everyone obliges. A woman in attendance at the screening on Sunday night told me afterward that she was offended at the way the film mocked religion in such manner.
Like viewers, Christian Slater’s journalist character enters the town seeking a hot story, but doesn’t stay long, deciding to keep the story of the town full of women a secret in order to protect them. Unfortunately, his scenes in the movie are uneventful.
The most anticipated scene in Without Men, the love scene between Eva Longoria and Kate del Castillo, is also anti-climactic, leaving those who were waiting to see it wanting more. Spoiler alert: the characters end up falling in love and staying together, an ending that received praise from some members of the LGBT community who were present at the LALIFF screening on Sunday. This is definitely not a typical Hollywood ending, and that is a good thing.
Tagliavini said after the screening that the film was shot in only 18 days in Ventura, California, with no rehearsal time and a very small budget, which is no small feat. For that, she deserves credit. As Marlene Dermer, Executive Director of LALIFF put it during the Q&A, every time you buy a movie ticket, you’re taking a vote. It’s up to you whether you want to take a vote to support Latino film, no matter what…just be warned you most likely won’t be watching Oscar-winning material.