Nationality: Mexican. Born: María de los Angeles Félix Guereña in Alamos, Sonora, Mexico, 4 May 1914. Family: Married 1) the singer Raúl Prado (divorced); 2) Enrique Alvarez (divorced), son: Enrique Alvarez Félix; 3) the composer and singer Agustín Lara (divorced); 4) the actor Jorge Negrete, 1952 (died 1953); 5) Alexander Berger, 1956 (died 1974). Career: 1942—film debut in El peñon de las ánimas; international reputation enabled her to make films in Argentina, Spain, Italy, and France; 1970—in TV series La Constitucion. Awards: Ariele Awards for Best Actress, for A Woman in Love, 1945; Hidden River, 1946–47; and Doña Diabla, 1949–50; Ariele Life Achievement Award, 1985; Mexico City Prize, 1985.
Films as Actress:
El peñon de las ánimas (The Crag of the Spirits) (Zacarías) (as María Angela Valdivia); María Eugenia (Castillo) (title role)
Doña Barbara (de Fuentes) (title role); La mujer sin alma (Woman without a Soul) (de Fuentas); La china poblana (Palacios) (as Catarina de San Juan)
Amok (Momplet) (as Señora Trevis/Señora Belmont); La monja alférez (Gómez Muriel) (as Catalina Erauso/Don Alfonso)
El monje blanco (Bracho) (as Galata Orsina); Vértigo (Momplet) (as Mercedes Mallea); La mujer de todos (Everybody's Woman) (Bracho) (as Maria Romano)
La devoradora (The Devourer) (de Fuentes) (as Diana de Arellano); Enamorada (A Woman in Love) (Fernández) (as Beatriz Peñafiel)
Rio escondido (Hidden River) (Fernández) (as Rosaura Salazar); La diosa arrodillada (Gavaldón) (as Raquel Serrano); Que Dios me perdone (Tito Davison) (as Sofia/Lena Kovach)
Mare Nostrum (Gil) (as Freya); Maclovia (Fernández) (title role)
Doña Diabla (Tito Davison) (as Angela); Una mujer cualquiera (Gil) (as Nieves Blanco)
La noche de sabado (Gil) (as Imperia); La corona negra (Saslavsky) (as Mara)
Messalina (The Affairs of Messalina) (Gallone) (title role); Incantesimo tragico (Hechizo tragico; Oliva) (Segui) (as Oliva)
Camelia (Gavaldón) (title role); La pasión desnuda (Naked Passion) (Amadori) (as Malva Rey); Reportaje (Fernández) (as María); El rapto (Fernández) (as Aurora Campos y Campos)
La Belle Otéro (La bella Otéro) (Pottier) (title role); French Cancan (Only the French Can) (Renoir) (as Margot "La Belle Abbesse")
Les Héros sont fatigués (Heroes and Sinners; The Heroes Are Tired) (Ciampi) (as Gabriela); La escondida (The Hidden Woman) (Gavaldón) (as Gabriela); Canasta de cuentos mexicanos (Bracho) (as Luisa Bravo)
Tizoc (Amor Indio) (Rodríguez) (as Maria); Faustina (de Heredia) (title role)
Flor de mayo (Beyond All Limits) (Gavaldón) (as Magdalena)
Miércoles de ceniza (Gavaldón) (as Victoria Rivas); La cucaracha (The Soldiers of Pancho Villa) (Ismael Rodríguez) (title role); La estrella vacia (The Empty Star) (Gómez Muriel) (as Olga Lang); Café Colón (Alazraki) (as Mónica); Razzia sur la chnouf (Decoin)
Sonatas (Bardem) (as La Niña Chole); Juana Gallo (Zacarías) (as Angela Ramos/Juana Gallo)
La Fièvre monte à El Pao (Los ambiciosos; Republic of Sin) (Buñuel) (as Inés Rojas)
La bandida (The Bandit) (Roberto Rodríguez) (as María Mendoza/title role); Si yo fuera millionario (Soler) (as herself)
Amor y sexo (Alcoriza) (as Diana)
La Valentina (González) (as Valentina Zuñiga)
Le generala (Ibañez) (as Mariana San Pedro/title role); La Constitución (as María Guadalupe—for TV)
By FÉLIX: book—
Todas mis guerras, Mexico, 1993.
On FÉLIX: books—
García Riera, Emilio, Historia documental del cine mexicano, vols. 1–9, Mexico City, 1969–78.
Ramon, David, 80 años de cine en México, Mexico City, 1977.
Ayala Blanco, Jorge, La aventura del cine mexicano, Mexico City, 1979.
Mora, Carl J., Mexican Cinema: Reflections of a Society 1896–1980, Berkeley, 1982.
Taibo, Paco Ignacio, María Félix: 47 Pasos por el cine, Mexico City, 1985.
Ayala Blanco, Jorge, La búsqueda del cine mexicano, Mexico City, 1986.
De los Reyes, Aurelio, Medio siglo de cine mexicano (1896–1947), Mexico City, 1987.
Barajas Sandoval, Carmen, Una mujer llamada María Félix: historia no autorizadada, Mexico City, 1993.
On FÉLIX: articles—
Castillo, Luciano, "María Félix: No me llamen que me suena a pasado," in Cine Cubano, 124, 1988.
Castillo, Luciano, "La Dona," in Film und Fernsehen, April 1990.
* * *
María Félix reportedly remarked, "Don't call me a legend because it sounds to me like the past." Yet, Félix was, in fact, one of the brightest of stars of the Mexican cinema's "Golden Age," appearing in more than 45 Mexican and European films. And despite rumors in the early 1980s of an imminent return to the screen, Félix the "legend" is part of the Mexican cinema's rich past. Her celebrity caused her personal life and physical beauty to be fetishized: she was painted by artists such as Diego Rivera, Leonora Carrington, and Jean Cocteau; Agustín Lara wrote songs for his "María Bonita" (as she came to be known); poems about her beauty were composed by Efraín Huerta and Renato Leduc; Dior designed her gowns; and even a master such as Jean Renoir rendered homage to her pulchritude by filming her differently—in "Matisse's style"—from the other actors in French Cancan.
In the title role of Doña Barbara, Fernando de Fuentes's screen adaptation of the Rómulo Gallegos novel, Félix won a place as one of the primary figures in Mexican cinema and earned her lifelong nickname, "La Doña." But it was in La mujer sin alma that Félix concretized the archetypal woman with whom she would be identified throughout her career—a strong woman, driven by love, whose independence and sexual appetite challenge the code of Mexican machismo.
"The most beautiful face in the history of Mexican cinema," said one Mexican critic of Félix; but this star is also an example of the underdevelopment endemic to that nation's films. Despite working with several of Mexico's most renowned directors, Félix never really rose above her role of the vamp. She was a mediocre actress with atrocious diction, whose dramatic range was limited to raising an eyebrow or staring fixedly ahead. These "techniques" drew attention to her large, luminous eyes, while obscuring her thespian shortcomings.
From early in her career, the theme of a María Félix film was Félix herself, and her movies elevated her public image at the expense of story line or acting. The interest of El rapto, for example, lay in the recent marriage of its co-stars, Félix and Jorge Negrete, and in the fact that it was completed shortly before Negrete died. The title of other Félix vehicles bespeak her femme fatale character: Doña Diabla (Mrs. Devil), La mujer de todos (Everybody's Woman), La mujer sin alma (Woman without a Soul), and—in her preeminent characterization—La devoradora (The Devourer), promoted with this advertising pitch: "Three men burned in this woman's flame, this devourer of lives."
Félix's consumption of men, however, must be seen in the context of Mexican machismo. Her beauty threatened social convention and stability for, as one of her suitors says in Doña Diabla, "A beautiful woman can't be the property of just one man." Buffeted by the storms unleashed by her smoldering sexuality, the Félix character developed the image of a strong woman; for example, as recently as 1980 she argued, "They want to portray the Mexican woman as docile, stupid and obedient. We aren't like that; we're strong and brave and dare to struggle." As if to prove the force of her character, her later screen appearances were in the roles usually considered to be masculine. Thus, in a series of lavishly produced paeans to the Mexican Revolution—La cucaracha, Juana Gallo, La bandida, La Valentina—she represents powerful personifications of that process, culminating in La generela. Nonetheless, Félix's cinematic combativeness functions essentially to make more appetizing her eventual subjugation. The role she played time and again was nothing more than that of the "shrew tamed." In Enamorada, El rapto, La tigresa, and La Valentina, Félix begins as a willful and independent woman, sure of herself and of the direction in which she is guiding her life. By the end of these films, Félix trails along after her man, obedient to his wishes and attendant to his needs. Félix's screen rebellions finally served only to prove the futility of such resistance.
—John Mraz, updated by Ilene S. Goldman