I, the Worst of All

1990, R, 105 min. Directed by Maria Luisa Bemberg. Starring Assumpta Serna, Dominique Sanda.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Feb. 3, 1995

“Get thee to a nunnery.” Such might have been the thinking of some smart women of yore, women seeking a safe haven to pursue a life of the mind, a life unfettered from the imperatives of marriage and motherhood, a life devoted to study and artistic endeavors which could only be interrupted by vespers and the occasional self-flagellation. In Yentl, Barbra Streisand's young character donned male rabbinical drag in order to follow her educational goals. Here, in this historically set true story I, the Worst of All, Juana Ines de la Cruz (Serna) dons nun attire in order to pursue her intellectual aims after being denied entry into the “men only” domain of the university. Based on the book The Traps of Faith by Octavio Paz, this 1990 film by Argentinean director Maria Luisa Bemberg takes place in 17th-century “New Spain” (Mexico) as the progressivism of the European Renaissance is giving way to the horrendous repressions of the Spanish Inquisition. Juana is truly one of the intellectual lights of her time: She is an accomplished playwright and poet, the possessor of scientific tools and an extensive library maintained within the convent walls, the celebrated star of the convent and much-visited mentor to “outside” intellectuals. Beloved by the Spanish viceroy and vicereine (Sanda) who govern the area, Juana receives their protection and patronage. And between Juana and the vicereine runs an undercurrent of special admiration and physical desire that, though repressed by modern standards, certainly transgresses the proprieties of the time. Sanda, who has lent her bold yet understated sexual fire to many a film (The Conformist, 1900) is compellingly cast against the physical intensity of Serna's (Matador) piously robed form. When a new, woman-hating archbishop takes over the territory, Juana's royal protectors can no longer help her and the heavy hand of repression squelches her intellectual pursuits. Why, it's enough to cause a girl to question her faith. Though I, the Worst of All discloses a fascinating slice of feminist history, it too often proceeds with the same staid sobriety that commonly mars historical film dramas. Also, the points the film makes about the inherent misogyny of the religious/political system and the grievous injustices it causes are restated often and far too repetitively. Yet, stories about women who, no matter the century, buck the “system” are far too infrequent to be ignored.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 36 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Assumpta Serna Films
The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes
Like a dream, the Quay Brothers' The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes is wispy and ethereal; like a nightmare, it lodges in your hindbrain and gnaws away with gleeful abandon.

Marc Savlov, Dec. 29, 2006

The Craft
Teen witches made high school a dark and brooding place long before vampires took over as the kings of teen cool.

Marc Savlov, May 3, 1996

More by Marjorie Baumgarten
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
The Coen brothers head West, but it's a bumpy ride

Nov. 16, 2018

Widows
Viola Davis leads an efficient heist that rarely blows the doors off

Nov. 16, 2018

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

I, the Worst of All, Maria Luisa Bemberg, Assumpta Serna, Dominique Sanda

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle