El lugar sin límites (1977), directed by Arturo Ripstein, is a film about a male transvestite who owns a brothel in a sleepy town in rural Mexico. The protagonist, La Manuela, refuses to sell it to the local cacique (strongman) much to the disappointment of his daughter who wants to move elsewhere to work. The film chronicles the return of Pancho, a hot-headed individual who desires La Manuela. As the plot unravels we are able to see a clash of personalities, power relations and gender dynamics.
In the film La Manuela and Pancho represent to opposites that attract. Pancho is an indebted, hot-headed truck driver that is down and out. He is a virile and strong man overcome by desire and obsessed with control over women and men. In short he is the stereotypical macho. La Manuela is also a strong character, a desirable and confident feminine transvestite. Her transvestism threatens the machismo represented by Pancho. She is a destabilizing force for heterosexual and masculine anxieties.
As social criticism, the film puts homophobia and machismo at the center of its target. The film threatens, ridicules and explodes masculinism by demonstrating the anxieties that lie beneath its performative deployments. Taunting the irrational and violent impulses of machismo, queerness dares once again to play with fire. The conclusion of Pancho’s and La Manuela’s encounter is predetermined. A conclusion that doesn’t point to fatalism but to a sobering reality.
Sergio de la Mora has written an insightful article about the film, titled “Fascinating Machismo: Towards an Unmasking of Heterosexual Masculinity in Arturo Ripstein’s El lugar sin límites (1977)” in the Journal of Film and Video. 44.3/4 (Fall-Winter 1992-199): 80-104. For a more comprehensive treatment of sexuality and machismo in Mexican film his book Cinemachismo: Masculinities and Sexuality in Mexican Film (2006) is available from the University of Texas Press.
You can watch the above scene at 1:35 or the entire film with Enlgish subtitles here: El Lugar Sin Límites directed by Arturo Ripstein (1977)
You can also read the original novel that inspired the film by the Chilean writer José Donoso. Download the novel as a PDF here: El Lugar Sin Límites by José Donoso (1966)