Released January 22, 1999
The emergence of a new generation of Mexican film directors in the 1990s is an event that even sophisticated film viewers may not have had the opportunity to appreciate. With the exception of sometime-expatriates Alfonso Arau, Guillermo del Toro, and Alfonso Cuaron, who have worked in the United States, the crisis in distribution of foreign-language films in this country has often not allowed American audiences the chance to view these exceptional Mexican films. Emblematic of these achievements, Under a Spell is a beautifully accomplished work that combines the magic of cinematic style with superb performances in a period piece full of sexuality, class struggle, and mystery. On one level a not-so-simple coming-of-age story, Under a Spell focuses on the thirteen-year-old Eliseo, son of a longshoreman/union organizer, whose dreams of a world away from the docks lead him to a series of liaisons, beginning with his sexy teacher, Felipa (Blanca Guerra), a woman whose intense desires and worldliness end with her ostracism and banishment. Director Carlos Carrera interweaves elements of politics, superstition and mysticism, melodrama, and realism in fashioning a thoroughly enrapturing, quasi-supernatural tale. The lush settings and intense, almost-physical force of the film's visuals create a truly transforming experience. Indeed the magic of the film's color, music, and denouement grants us access to a complicated culture that combines history and imagination. Carrera has demonstrated the abilities that mark the development of a remarkable cineaste."