Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The telenovela Corazón Valiente

The telenovela Corazón Valiente just finished its first run on Telemundo on Monday, January 7. It's still running in other places, so I won't put too many plot spoilers in it. But WARNING: there are some plot spoilers included here.

The fun of telenovelas consists in their mixture of predictability, over-the-top surprises, action, passionate romance, almost always serious confusion over parentage, and talented actors and actresses. Also, they come to an end, typically after five to six months, so they can actually wrap up the story. Stories need an end, and often in many series, the fans don't get one.

Back in 2007, I did weekly summaries on this blog of what still stands as my all-time favorite novela, Zorro: La espada y la rosa, which also ranks among the few programs in my list of all-time great Quality TV. It wasn't the tribe of cannibals in the tropical rain forest outside of early-19th century Los Angeles that pushed it so high on my list. Nor the beautiful witch with a love potion and a magic dwarf, nor the secret Freemason-like revolutionary group run by the local priest, nor Zorro's ghost Indian mother, nor his father's Big Love arrangement with a Spanish noblewoman and his former sister-in-law, nor the way they managed to overthrow the Spanish monarachy from Los Angeles, not even the demon-possessed escaped slave with superhuman strength. No, it was the Amazon tribe who shared the rain forest with the cannibals and who took Zorro's girlfriend under their wing and trained her like Zena the Warrior Princess.

TV just doesn't get better than that! I mean, by the time that Zorro and the Amazons and the townspeople and the Spanish soldiers had beaten back the pirates' raid on Los Angeles (I forget which side the cannibals took) and Zorro and Zena got to live happily ever after, viewers couldn't ask for a more satisfying run.

Corazón Valiente didn't overthrow any monarchies, though it did take down at least four narco-trafficking kingpins. It started off as the story of two female friends in Los Angeles (long after Zorro's tropical rain forest was gone!) who had grown up in their early lives together, one a wealthy heiress and the other the daughter of his main bodyguard. After many twists and turns, and piles of corpses in this case between the psycho-killers and the drug wars, with various romances and the usual confusion over who's really related to whom, and we had a slew of happy endings and several surprises at the end. I wouldn't put it with Zorro in the all-time Quality TV classic category. But they had a good run. And the final episode had one over-the-top feature I hadn't encountered in telenovelas before. I won't describe it here, but let's just say it had an interesting relation to the theme of the show.

The main couples in the novela were:

Angela (Adriana Fonseca) and Juan Marcos (José Luis Reséndez):


Samantha (Ximena Duque) and Willy (Fabián Ríos):


Samantha and Angela are the two childhood friends who later turn out to be actual sisters and both become bodyguards like their father. Confronting the heroes of the novela are two mega-villians, Bernardo del Castillo (played by the very talented Mexican actor Manuel Landeta), who also played an especially villainous villain in Mar de amor of 2009-10) ...


... and his daughter Fernanda (Aylín Mújica), here holding a gun to a baby's head:


There are, of course, multiple entanglements among these characters. Fernanda is obsessively in love and hate with Juan Marcos. He got her pregnant in a one-night stand when they were teenagers. But she lost the baby after her father Bernardo arranged for her to be pushed down the stairs. This turned her into a psychopathic serial killer, whose goal is to kill everyone Juan Marcos loves, then marry him and kill him, too. Lots of bodies drop around Fernanda.

Bernardo is no sweetheart, either. He becomes partners with Juan Marcos' father in profitable business, but he is also a secret narco-trifficker. Also highly manipulative and sadistic. Lots of bodies drop around him, too. He was the lover of Juan Marcos' mother. He develops an obsession for his son Willy's girlfriend Samantha, who had a child of Willy's fifteen years ago, unbeknownst to Willy. Their search for the child is a major theme in the story, and Bernardo exploits it to try to get into Samantha's pants.

Several characters were introduced later in the novela, including two major couples:

Fabiola (Brenda Asnicar) and Miguel ((Gabriel Porras)):


Clara (Daniela Navarro) and Camilo (Gabriel Valenzuela):


Clara is the surrogate mother of another baby of Samantha and Willy, but Bernardo tricks him into marrying him as part of his never-ending scheme to get Samantha. Camilo is the good twin brother of Angela's evil ex-husband Luis, who became a hitman and lover to Fernanda, but who Fernanda killed as he was about to murder Juan Marcos, a job that Fernanda eventually wanted to do herself. Camilo then went undercover as Luis to help the cops bust the narcotics business of Bernardo and his partner, El Verdugo.

Speaking of whom, a couple more big villains came along later in the series, both narco-traffickers, Javier "Verdugo" Falcón (Gregorio Pernía) ...


and Jesús "El Mesiás" Matamoras (Miguel Varoni):


One of the later character additions was "Lady," played by Johanna Cure, a dentist by training who took up modeling and acting, seen here in an Invicta ad:


Hey, I only watch these novelas for the drama, people! Anyway, Lady saved the life of Jesús, who El Verdugo thought he had killed. Verdugo and Jesús had been raised together but somehow became rivals in the Colombian drug trade, with Jesús allied to his wife Ivonne "La Niña Bonita" Matamoros (Sandra Beltran). Verdugo turns out to be the father of the long-lost son of Samantha and Willy; the kid's adoptive father also had an obsession with Samantha but Bernardo eventually knocked him off. Verdugo had also killed Fabiola's parents, but he develops an obsession with her. He tricks her into believing that the child she conceived with Miguel is really Verdugo's. Miguel, who is a long-lost brother of Samantha and Angela, joins forces with La Niña Bonita to take down Verdugo.

After Verdugo is out of the way, El Mesiás returns from being in hiding with Lady and her mother and brother and seems to want to unwind the drug business he takes over from Verdugo, along with a none-too-comfortable collaboration with Bernardo and Fernanda. Jesús also develops an obsession with Samantha, even though Lady is madly in love with him. Nice to have options! Eventually Lady has a happy ending but I won't go into it here. Jesús becomes enchanted with Samantha after Bernardo poisons her and leaves her for dead in the Colombian jungle, where Jesús rescues her.

Part of the fun of these novelas is seeing the actors in various roles in different novelas. For instance, José Luis Reséndez and Fabián Ríos played two nasty brothers in Los herederos del Monte (2011) but here they get to be good guys, though both have their ugly moments in Corazón Valiente. Ximena Duque (Samantha), Gabriel Porras (Miguel) and Jorge Luis Pila (El Mesiás) are all popular, well-established stars.

One of the treats of Corazón Valiente was the young Argentinian actress Brenda Asnicar (Fabiola), who previously starred in the juvenile-oriented Argentinian science fiction novela Los únicos. She made her wild, impulsive, frightened Fabiola character who grew up among narcos in the jungle compelling. Fabiola was also a long-lost sister of Juan Marcos, and his daughter called her "mi tía de la selva" (my aunt of the jungle). Fabiola's stint in the US Army and her participation in combat in Afghanistan were a bit much, but over-the-top is a necessary ingredient for most of these novelas.

And I'll be surprised if the novela world doesn't see much more of Adriana Fonseca (Angela).

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