Manuela Sáenz (2000) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

The Latin American film industry is burgeoning. Argentina is producing world-class films, and some of the other countries are starting to develop some competency. This film comes from Venezuela, and while it is not innovative or modern, is a solid biopic of the Latin American patriot who loved Simon Bolivar and traveled by his side in full military regalia while El Liberador fought to free Venezuela, Bolivia, Perú, Ecuador and Colombia in the early 1800's.


Beatriz Valdés is naked in a couple of scenes, including a full frontal, posing as Goya's Naked Maja.

It is a great topic of sweeping importance. Bolivar's original plan was a single grand, republican Spanish/American nation, called Gran Colombia. Sáenz was part of Bolívar's staff, promoting herself to colonel in his army of liberation at a time when women were frowned on for doing anything other than looking good. Because Manuela was an intense person of unbending integrity, she accumulated enough political enemies to assure that her role was expunged from the written histories of the countries she helped to emancipate. In many accounts of Bolívar's life, Manuela Sáenz is mentioned only in passing, and then often inaccurately. I never heard of her before seeing this movie, but subsequently found some other corroborating accounts of her role.

The framing story adds a touch of literary elegance. A whaling ship arrives in a tiny Peruvian city in 1856, carrying among its crew the most famous whaler of them all, author Herman Melville. When Melville learns that the legendary La Liberadora herself is not only alive, but living in this very small town, he calls upon her. She refuses to talk to him, but his visit reminds her of a chest which contains Bolivar's letters. She reads the letters, the sepia-toned present becomes a colorful past, and the story unfolds, starting with her introduction to Bolivar, and leading eventually to his betrayal and death, the fragmentation of the continent into tiny dictatorships, and Sáenz's years of ailing exile.

The part of Manuela Sáenz is played by Beatriz Valdés, who is a popular soap opera star in Venezuela. 

DVD currently available for rental at Blockbusters in neighborhoods with a large Spanish-speaking component

The film is an average historical drama, but is a story worth telling. It is remarkable that it got to us at all, considering that it comes from a country with no history of North American distribution, and that it was made with a fraction of a fraction of what Hollywood would spend on such an epic historical tale.

The Critics Vote

  • no reviews online

  • here is a site dedicated solely to the life of this famous woman


The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 7.5/10 (it isn't as good a movie as that score would indicate, but it is pretty darned good)
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C. It has no special cinematic hook to engage the viewer, but it is a biopic about an interesting life, and has a artistic and fairly interesting framing device. They managed to make it look like a fairly high budget production.

Return to the Movie House home page