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“Tigresa, tigresa, burning bright…”

tigresaTIL there’s a genre of cinema – indeed, an entire culture – called “Nuyorican”, which is for and by the immigrants from Puerto Rico who now live in and around New York. del Mar made five such movies, mostly in the late sixties, but this 1969 production is the sole action heroine entry. It has a nice sense of local atmosphere, feeling a bit like the early work of Abel Ferrara, but also has it’s moments of berserk insanity, which one can only presume must have made sense at the time.

The heroine is Patricia (Faith), a young woman who is bullied by her schoolmates, and whose life reaches a low after she is assaulted by a bedroom intruder, an attack which also results in the death of her father. But, in a plot twist I defy anyone to see coming, she is left half a million dollars in the last will of a Jewish store-owner for whom she works, and this lets Patricia dye her hair blonde and sets her up as the owner of a nightclub, the ‘Chateau Caribe’. She has also developed a heck of a lot more self-confidence, allowing her to take revenge on her former tormentors, rescue other women from assault and continue looking for the man responsible for her assault and her father’s demise. However, her friend, Maria (Lee), has plans to rob Patricia, with the help of her boyfriend, Jimmy (H) – who, it turns out, was also the rapist. They concoct a scheme for Jimmy to seduce Patricia, providing a distraction which will allow them to break into her safe.

There are also subplots involving the local mafiosi, and a police detective (Crespo), who doggedly attempts to solve the crime by dressing as a transvestite hooker. I’m not quite sure hoe that’s intended to work: it might take a while, to say the very least, and my instinct is it probably says more about the cop’s personal proclivities than anything. Certainly puts a new spin on “to protect and serve”. I liked Faith’s performance, since she genuinely manages to get your sympathy, as the dysfunctional nature of her relationship with her father becomes apparent. He gets drunk because its the only way he says he can see his late wife; so she then gets drunk, wanting to see her dead mother too. This is accompanied by a tinkly, music-box like score that’s quite poignant – well, up until the point that the musical cue gets overused to death, anyway.

After her transition into the tigresa [incidentally, the “La” part of the title seen on the DVD sleeve appears to be entirely the distributor’s addition], she’s still quite a laudable character, taking no shit from the organized crime boss. She refuses to let him use her club as a front for drugs and prostitution, but does partner with him in exchange for his help finding her attacker. Though this just consists of wandering local gyms trying to find someone with the distinctive back scar which was her assailant’s sole distinguishing feature – I’d have expected better from the mob. It’s just a good thing absolutely no-one in these places ever wears a shirt. There’s another bizarre diversion where she meets a gangster, who then goes home to discover his wife in bed with another man. So he drowns her in the bathtub and decapitates her lover, before vanishing from the film entirely.

Yeah, it’s like that: nonsensical in many ways, and obviously cheaply made, with performances all over the place, from the monotone to the hysterical. Yet it’s strangely hypnotic, and you find yourself watching, just to see what will happen next and in what surreal way things will develop. For all its many faults, I can’t say I ever found Tigresa dull. There are GWG films which are so forgettable, I find myself struggling to write 300 words on them. This was certainly not one of those.

Dir: Glauco del Mar
Star: Perla Faith, Johnny H, Cindy Lee, Guillermo Crespo

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