Magdalena Viraga: Story Of A Red Sea Crossing

Described by its maker as a hallucinogenic journey through the boundless vortex of unadulterated Female space, Nina Menkes’s experimental featureshot in East Los Angeles and starring her sister Tinka Menkes and Claire Aguilarcharts the spiritual evolution of a young prostitute who is charged with the murder of one of her clients. Ambitious and at times audacious, the film alternates between such settings as a prison cell, a cathedral, a dance hall, and a brothel bedroom, where the camera focuses at length on the heroine’s boredom and anguish as she services no less than nine separate customers. The performances range from straightforward naturalism to toneless recitations of unidentified fragments of texts by Anne Sexton, Mary Daly, and Gertrude Stein, with long wordless stretches in between. While Menkes has stated that she started from absolutely no cinematic reference, the overall ambience seems very close to certain minimalist German films of the 70s. The Los Angeles Film Critics Association declared this the best independent-experimental film of 1986, and other critics I admire speak highly of it, but I found it rather stultifying. (JR)

This entry was posted in Featured Texts. Bookmark the permalink.