Cinergía Movie File:

I, The Worst of All (Yo, La peor de todas) 

Directed by Maria Luisa Bemberg, 1990

 

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This file was created by: Brandy Navurskis, Lana Torres, Brian Sabella, Kristin Sherwood, Amy Bianchi, Meghan Blinn and Adriana Barrera

Scroll down or Click on any section to jump ahead:

Section 1: Pre-screening

Section 2: Film Comprehension and Criticism

    Section 3: Media analysis


Section 1: Pre-screening  

Background:

Note: Given the transitory nature of internet resources we suggest conducting a search to help answer the pre-screening questions.  Only a few links are included below.

Las Mujeres:

http://www.lasmujeres.com/sorjuana/

In English: World Press Review, Oct 1994. This site contains a biography of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and explains her childhood as well as her adult years. It also has links that lead you to a site where her books are sold. However, the most fascinating is the link that leads you to the Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz project. It gives you a lot of information as well as some of the works that are presented in the film.

The Spanish Inquisition:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Inquisition

In English : This site is a general overview of the Spanish inquisition. It also goes into some detail about Tomas de Torquemada who was one of the inquisitor-general for most of Spain and was responsible for executing two thousand Spaniards. This site clarifies the Spanish Inquisition which is represented in the film.

 

The History of Mexico:

http://www.mexconnect.com/mex_/history/historyindex.html

In English.  This site provides a great overview of the History of Mexico.  It provides two major time-lines, one, which views everything from 3500BC to present day and the other which is a listing of important people in Mexico.  If one wants to know more about a certain person or event in the time-line it will provide detailed information on it.  Even though this site is not brief it covers all you need to know about Mexico and the time of Sor Juana.

The Spanish Inquisition:

http://www.infidels.org/library/historical/joseph_mccabe/religious_controversy/chapter_23.html#5

In English by Joseph McCabe.  This site explains the Spanish Inquisition. There is also an additional link that provides information on the origin of the inquisition.  This helps explain what Sor Juana had to deal with and gives insight into her struggles.

Questions:

1)       What were Sor Juana’s reasons for going into the Convent?

2)       How does Sor Juana represent herself through her poetry?

3)       According to Marvin R. O’Connell how many people were executed a year because of the Inquisition?

4)       Who was Thomas de Torquemada?

5)       What were the roles of the European women during the colonial times?

6)       What major events were going on during the time of Sor Juana’s life?

7)       Who is Sor Juana, why is she famous, and what are her poems like?

8)       What was the inquisition and does it still exist today?

9)       What does it mean to be feminist and is Sor Juana feminist? Explain.

10)   Are Latin-American women satisfied with how they are treated in the society and church? Does this lead to feminism?

11)   Do women in the US face similar problems?


Section 2: Film Comprehension and Criticism  

Comprehension Questions:

  1. Why did Sor Juana choose the life of a nun?
  2. What was the purpose of Sor Juana writing “Respuesta a Sor Filotea de la Cruz” and “ Hombres Necios?”
  3. What was the relationship between Sor Juana and the Virreina (Maria Luisa Marqui)?
  4.  Why was the archbishop against the convent and Sor Juana?
  5. Who allows Sor Juana to continue with her writings?  OR How was it that she was able to get away without the Inquisition finding out about her and punishing her?
  6. How does Sor Juana humble herself in the end of the film?
  7. What did her possessions mean to her or what did she call them (what were they to her)?
  8. What does the archbishop do in order to try to stop Sor Juana and her writings? What does he tell the sisters at the convent? (Hint: does he promise them anything?)
  9. What does the prior Viceroy do to prove or to test Sor Juana’s knowledge?
  10. How does her “declaration” change her behavior as a nun, as well as her attitude and actions in the convent?
  11.   What did the convent she chose have to offer her that the others didn’t?
  12.   How lenient was the convent she was in?
  13. How did she disguise herself, in order to be able to attend school?
  14. How does the film portray Sor Juana as she reads her declaration?
  15. What did Sor Juana use to sign her declaration?

Historical Accuracy 

The following quotes come from Susan E. Ramirez “I, The Worst of All: The Literary Life of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz” in Based on a True Story: Latin American History at the Movies. Donald F. Stevens (ed.). SR Books: Wilmington, Delaware: pp. 47-62.

Quote 1:

“According to the movie, after Don Tomás’s arrival and at the performance of one of Sor Juana’s plays at the convent, the delighted viceroy and his wife… decide to adopt her.  In reality, Sor Juana met the new viceroy as the result of a commission from the town council to write a poem for one of the arches erected to honor him upon his arrival in late 1680 (53).”

Quote 2:

“Bemberg makes no reference to the popular belief that [Sor Juana] professed as a reaction to a failed love affair, a point that Paz energetically rejects, in part based on Sor Juana’s own words:

                        and so, beloved of so many,

                        I took not one into my heart (58).”

Quote 3:

“Another issue left somewhat underdeveloped and unresolved by Bemberg is whether or not Sor Juana exhibited homosexual tendencies…Paz concludes that modern readers confuse eroticism with feudal submission, reminding us that ‘an unmarried girl, especially one in Juana Inés’s peculiar circumstances, who displayed her love for a man in public would have lost her reputation immediately; on the other hand, a loving friendship between women was permissible if they were of elevated rank and their sentiments idealized.’ (58,60)”

Quote 4:

“Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz remains an enigma in many respects.  Assiduous searches by scholars in archives and libraries all over the world have been unable to find many sources on her life other than those that she herself wrote.  And many of these are poems and plays and other literary works which, although they reflect her life and concerns, do not and were not meant to provide facts on or explain her existence (47).”

 

  1. In what ways has the film helped you to better understand the seventeenth century?  In what ways has it helped you understand the life of Sor Juana?
  2. What period of Sor Juana’s life is focused on in the film?  How thoroughly is the rest of her life explained?
  3. How is the Archbishop portrayed?  The other religious figures?
  4. How is Sor Juana’s mother portrayed?  The viceroy and his wife?  How is Sor Juana portrayed?
  5. What, do you think, is María Luisa Bemberg’s point of view concerning the life of Sor Juana?  What is the intended message of this film?
  6. Who was the intended audience of this film?
  7. According to the film, was Sor Juana a feminist?  Why or why not?
  8. What does the film have to say about Sor Juana’s sexual orientation?  According to quote 3, do you think that we can accurately assume her sexual orientation?
  9. Towards the end of the film, Sor Juana forsakes her writing and worldly effects to serve the poor.  What does the film suggest is her biggest motivation for this?  Are there any other possible reasons for this change of heart?
  10. According to quote 4, where do historians find most of the information known about Sor Juana?  In what ways might this have effected Bemberg’s interpretation of her life?

Section 3: Media analysis  

Still Analysis:

Renounce all your possessions

            In this scene, Sor Juana must renounce her possessions.  She has the feathered hat from her friend gave her in her arms.  It is her final moment with her prized possession and she looks sad and thoughtful.  In the frame Sor Juana is illuminated through artificial lighting.  Cross lighting is used; you can see it on the floor to the left of Sor Juana.  The window and some papers are also illuminated.  The rest of the room is dark.  The shot is in deep focus.  A long shot is used and Sor Juana is in the middle of the frame (a little to the right so we can see the window).  Sor Juana is dressed in white, and the hat is blue.  It is raining outside and looks greyish-blue.   

Juana as a girl

     This scene takes place while Sor Juana remembers her past.  She wanted to dress as a male so she could go to school and study.  These two frames are flashbacks.  It is interesting because you can see both Sor Juana as a girl and Sor Juana remembering the incident in both frames.  Both frames use deep focus.  The present Sor Juana is more illuminated than the Sor Juana from the past for both frames, using artificial lighting.  The doorway is also illuminated.  Sor Juana as a girl is leaning on the bed and is upset that her mother won’t let her carry out her plan.  In the first still, Sor Juana of the present looks on with a solemn face.  In the second frame, both Sor Juanas are smiling and seem happy and proud about the idea (of going to school this way).  Both frames use medium shots with close-ups of the present Sor Juana.

Juana Submits

            This scene takes place when Sor Juana is reading the letter where she renounces reading and writing.  It is near the end of the film.  The background is black.  The shot is in deep focus.  The frame is a close-up of Sor Juana, and we are able to sense her emotions.   Sor Juana is sweating and appears to be a little nervous and afraid.  She is wearing the glasses that she will later break with her own hand.  Her eyes are looking up at the people to whom she is reading, and they are big and full of expression.  We see her wear glasses for the first time and they indicate that she is exhausted.  The might symbolize that she is unable to “see” the world around her on her own or that her “vision” is flawed.

Juana Writes

            This shot, from early in the film, is very interesting because you see Sor Juana through one of her instruments.  She is thinking and writing at her desk, surrounded by her gifts and other instruments.  This shot is in deep focus.  Sor Juana is seen at the far left.  The shot is a medium-long one, with an extreme close-up of the instrument you can see her through.  Artificial lights illuminate Sor Juana and her desk.  It looks like the sun is shining through the window and there is a slit of light shining on the floor.    The still emphasizes the isolation of Sor Juana from the outside world.  She has created her own “room” (a possible reference to Virginia Woolf)  where she can write and study in peace.  

Yo, La Peor

            These two frames are at the end of her abjuration. She demonstrates her seriousness by smashing her hand on her glasses, drawing blood.  The shot on top is in soft focus, because you can see her bloody hand and broken glasses clearly, while the letter she has written is out of focus and unreadable.  Nothing but these three images are illuminated; the background is black.  The shot is a close-up of her hand, glasses, and letter.  The bottom frame is an extreme close-up of the end of her letter.  You can also clearly see her signature (written in ink), “Yo, la peor de todos” (written in her own blood), the broken glasses, the pen, and a drop of blood.  It is possible that the broken glasses symbolize the end of Sor Juana’s reading and writing, although it wasn’t her writing hand that she used to break them.    

Media Literacy Questions:

  1. Whose viewpoint was not heard?  Why do you think that viewpoint was not included in the film?
  2. Media messages communicate explicit and implicit values; name some values of Sor Juana the film seemed to encourage and some values of the Church the film seemed to discourage.
  3. What do you suppose the creators of this film have to say about the role of women in society?
  4. Do you think the purpose of I, the Worst of All was to inform, entertain, or persuade?  Was it a combination of these three?  Support your opinion.
  5. How did the film attempt to influence the attitudes, behavior, and values of its viewers?
  6. Does the portrayal of Sor Juana’s life end up seeming historically accurate, dramatically motivated, or both?  Why would the film choose this interpretation of her life?
  7. Did it seem like I, the Worst of All was more driven by commercial characteristics (that is, the need to make money) or by the creation of art?
  8. Do you think many are inspired by Sor Juana’s diligence and strength manifested in this film?  If so, do you believe that to be the intention of the film or an unforeseen effect?
  9. How would I, the Worst of All be different if it was presented by a medium other than film (i.e. novel, soap opera, etc.)?
  10. Who is the intended audience of this film?  Would a ten year-old child get anything from this movie?  Would a sexist, conservative Catholic?
  11. Is I, the Worst of All the type of film that can be enjoyed to its fullest extent through mere, passive absorption or must the viewer engage in its themes, plotlines, etc. to be fully appreciated?  How is this?
  12. Do you think the gender of director Maria Luisa Bemberg is an important aspect to consider when watching this film?  Why?
  13. Are there any groups or people who would disagree with the feminist undertones of this film?  Are their voices loud enough to be heard in today’s society?
  14. What was the intended purpose of the music that began when Juana Inés signed her abjuration, “I, the worst of all.”  Can you think of any other times when music played a significant role in conveying a certain aspect of the film?
  15. What was the difference between the cinematography when Sor Juana was without major conflict (i.e. when she was peacefully writing, when she succeeded at her interrogation, etc.) and when she was in distress (i.e. when she was forbidden to write, when she was caring for plague victims, etc.)?  Hint: keep lighting in mind.  Can you think of any other times when cinematography played a significant role in conveying a certain aspect of the film?
Media Critique

            Argentine director Maria Luisa Bemberg released the movie, Yo, La Peor de Todas, in 1990.  Interesting facts regarding Maria Luisa Bemberg can be found at http://us.imdb.com/Title?0100990#comment , as well as many other movies that she directed before her death in 1995. 

            In order to understand the meaning and the symbolism of this particular movie, we must think of a number of different aspects that affect its design.  This can be achieved by critically answering a number of different questions about the movie Yo, La Peor de Todas.

1.)       What is the background of the director?  Does this affect her motives for directing this film?

Bemberg never received any formal education, only that of her high society tutors.  She was, however, very influenced by the French writer Andre Malraux and also by books such as Simone de Beauvoir's Second Sex.  Bemberg too felt the oppression that women in her society, and many societies, were treated with. She saw the double standard between herself and her brothers in the way that she was treated.  These experiences can help us to understand why Bemberg made the movies that she did and what she hoped to express by making them.  She is quoted as saying that her films “propose images of women that are vertical, autonomous, independent, thoughtful, courageous, spunky."  More about the life and background of Maria Luisa Bemberg can be found at http://www.msu.edu/~colmeiro/untold.htm. 

2.)       What camera techniques does the director use to reinforce the idea and theme of the story? 

The director often shows Sor Juana behind bars. This is not only literal, but quite symbolic.  We know that Sor Juana is kept behind bars throughout much of her life, but we also know that before she was actually behind those physical bars she always felt trapped by her situation as a female.  The movie also shows many different shots of Sor Juana with her books right behind her and around her.  This is to show us that Sor Juana’s education and desire to learn are her main focus in life.  She feels that she is nothing without her books.

3.)       Who is the intended audience of this film?

The intended audience of this film is clearly for people who are informed about the situation in Spanish Mexico in the late 1600’s.  Without base knowledge of this era, it would be rather hard for one to understand what is happening.  The movie is also intended for those who might be interested in feminist issues.  We see the oppression of women and the dominance of man throughout the entire movie. 

4.)        What issues are not fully addressed by the director of the movie, and why?

       The issue of homosexuality in the movie is lightly touched on.  We see the sheer admiration that Sor Juana has with the viceroy’s wife, however, we never really know if this is simply innocent or if she has other intentions.  The reason that we do not know the true situation is because there is no empirical evidence to support the case either way. Many believe that Sor Juana may have been homosexual, but there is nothing to really prove this.  The director did a nice job of showing the possibility that Sor Juana may have been homosexual, without stating this fact as the truth.

 

 

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