For what must be the majority of its running time, Tintorera is a sun-and-skin melodrama set in a Mexican resort village where the loitering Steven and Miguel (Hugo Stiglitz and Andrès Garcia) navigate the treacherous waters of a sexy threesome with an English tourist, Gabriella (Susan George), who declares that the only thing off-limits in their relationship … is love. By contrast, about a third of the film is a skeevy underwater adventure-cum-travelogue in which Steven, Miguel, and other local fisherman absolutely have their way with the aquatic kingdom, skewering barracudas and manta rays and using them as bait for larger fish, hanging sea tortoises off the side of boats and slashing them open for blood chum, and cutting open tiger sharks and letting them bleed out on the ocean floor. (Seriously, this movie never met a fish it didn’t want to stab in the face.) And then, for just a few fleeting moments at a time, Tintorera is one of the great killer-shark movies, with underdressed women and overconfident men getting torn apart in mid-swim before the shark flees the scene with a head or torso clutched in its jaws like a happy spaniel carrying a pheasant, entrails dragging behind and gallons of blood saturating the waters behind them.
Early on, as our protagonists began fucking their way through the little beach community, I joked aloud that the shark must be a metaphor for toxic masculinity, but I was surprised when the film’s relatively downbeat ending suggested that I might not have been too far off. More to the point, I could posit an interpretation of the film where the successful but naive businessman Steven is seduced by his friend Miguel into the misguided belief that he could possibly sneak off the grid and live a life of hedonism, divorced from the rigors and expectations of workaday society; in this reading, the killer shark represents the brutish nature of the capitalist economy that just keeps comin’ for your blood whether you’re ready to grapple with it or not. It’s definitely a movie of another era, full of ideas about women as willing objects of sexual desire, though certainly not as noxious as other films of its vintage. (Worth noting, maybe, that displays of full-frontal female nudity are alternated with an almost egalitarian brio by lingering glipses of the male co-stars, one of whom displays his penis for just long enough that this film must have pushed the censors’ boundaries, even in the 1970s.)
But even though I found Tintorera both pleasantly odd as a romance and relatively satisfying as a moderately sleazy exploitation piece, I was put off by the very real sense of bloodlust that emanates from the hunting scenes, some of which are allowed to play at extended length as the camera pushes in closer, closer, on the sharks’ wounds, allowing itself to be enveloped by the billowing clouds of blood. The Nirvana song goes “It’s OK to eat fish ’cause they dont have any feelings” and this movie made me hope that Kurt Cobain was a part-time marine biologist because the alternate title of Tintorera may as well be Fuck You, Fish!.
- Such is the quality of modern film transfer technology that certain shots in the new HD version of Tintorera feature can now be seen to feature already-dead fish being pulled through the water by a cord, which explains the dumb looks on their faces (like the tiger shark with his mouth hanging open as he “swims”) and for some reason made me a little bit more annoyed by the wildlife action.
- Gabriella won my heart when, after a single fishing trip with these two guys, she loudly accused them both of being psychopaths.
- Director René Cardona Jr. based the screenplay on a novel by Ramón Bravo, who is not only credited with cinematography here but was also, per Letterboxd user Lou (rhymes with wow!), the stuntperson who played the zombie wrestling the shark in Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2.
- Not to spoil anything, but I thought it was pretty nifty that the film sets up a character to drive the narrative and then nonchalantly writes that person out of the script about a third of the way in, never referencing them again.
- I watched this on TCM in a version running about 88 minutes, and I gotta say it dragged a little. Apparently there are longer versions of Tintorera that run over two hours and wow but also no thank you.