I LIKE the serious way you talk nonsense," says a character in "Erendira," and that about sums up this French-Mexican- German coproduction based on a story by Nobel Prizewinning Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Marquez adapted the screenplay from an early novella with the penny- dreadful title "Innocent Erendira and Her Heartless Grandmother," and the film version (in Spanish, with subtitles) rarely penetrates much deeper than its melodramatic title.
Sweet, somnabulent Erendira accidentally sets fire to her wealthy grandmother's baroque house. So Grandma, who has the morals of a shark and the mind of an accountant, wastes no time in turning Erendira into a cottage industry, peddling her 14-year-old flesh round the country till she's recouped the loss.
Marquez's story is set in a lawless land where everyone seems to be smuggling something or lining up at Erendira's carnal caravan, which grows more lavish at each stop. Erendira is rescued by a missionary gang, but her conniving grandmother gets her out of the convent's clutches and back on the road. There's even a grim fairytale ending: Erendira's blond savior arrives in a blue pickup and essays a series of comic attempts to kill the old bird, who's tougher than the Roadrunner.
Irene Papas has a scene-stealing field day as Erendira's wicked grandmother, ranting in her sleep, gorging hilariously on poisoned birthday cake, contorting her ravaged features. "Erendira" is worth watching for Papas alone -- it's her movie, never mind the title.
Claudia Ohana makes a fetching Erendira, reasonably convincing as a 14-year-old, but she hardly seems worth standing in line for. Ohana sleepwalks through the movie, the very image of helplessness in various soft-core stages of undress. But her dishabille is rarely arousing, as her character's misery is always kept in sight.
Director Roy Guerra filmed "Erendira" with lots of soft-focus hocus-pocus, apparently meant to approximate Marquez's fanciful prose style and whimsical symbolism, but his dreamlike, lovely images are at odds with the misogynistic message. ERENDIRA -- At the K-B Janus.