Cantinflas biopic kicks up controversy

Casting and paternity spats surround mysterious new movie about Mexican star

Mario Moreno Reyes (c), better known as Cantinflas, in a scene from The Illiterate One.
Mario Moreno Reyes (c), better known as Cantinflas, in a scene from The Illiterate One.

A long-awaited biopic of Mexican comic star Cantinflas, which was the professional name of Mario Moreno Reyes (1911-1993), is set to start shooting on June 24, but is already surrounded by secrecy and controversy.

An employee at the production company behind the film limited himself to saying that the details would be announced at a press conference in the next couple of weeks, but Mario Moreno Ivanova, who is the son of the man known as the Latin American Charlie Chaplin, was less mysterious. “I gave my consent years ago,” he says. “I was expecting it to be finished in 2011, for the centenary of his birth, but it wasn’t ready in time for a number of reasons. Now they have told me they will start shooting in June. Let’s hope so, and that it arrives before my dad’s next 100 years are celebrated!”

Spanish actor Óscar Jaenada has been chosen to play the comedian with the pencil mustache and peaked cap, and while Moreno says he respects the star’s previous work, such as flamenco biopic Camerón (2005), he admits he would have preferred to see a Mexican actor in the role. There are nuances and small cultural details that will be impossible for a foreign actor to capture, he feels.

Jaenada, however, is not afraid. “I don’t care, I could play anyone,” he told CNN.

Moreno’s mother was not Cantinflas’s Russian wife but an American woman

The movie, which will be directed by Mexican Sebastián del Amo, is set to steer clear of the controversial area of Cantinflas’s fatherhood. In fact, it will end when he wins a Golden Globe award for Around the World in 80 Days in 1956, eight years before he met a young actress with whom he struck up a strange relationship. Moreno’s mother was not Cantinflas’s wife, the Russian Valentina Ivanova, but an American woman named Marion Roberts, who had come to Mexico City with some friends at the end of the 1950s. Left stranded by her companions, she was helped out by the Mexican star and ended up having a son with him on September 1, 1961. The baby remained with Cantinflas and his wife and some time later Roberts committed suicide in a hotel in Mexico City after suffering a long period of depression.

Moreno, who has squandered much of his inheritance, says his father told him when he was 18 that he was the fruit of the relationship he had had with the young American. This is the version of events that the journalist Jacobo Zabludovsky confirmed in an EL PAÍS article last year. But Eduardo Moreno Laparade, the son of Cantinflas’s brother and manager Eduardo, has a different story. He says his uncle was unable to have children and what he really did was buy a child for 10,000 dollars. He had previously adopted two other children, about whom nothing is known.

The pair have spent the past two decades fighting in the courts over the royalty rights to 30 or so Cantinflas films.

Moreno Ivanova says it was he who granted permission for the biopic of his father and that he is an associate producer on the project. He tried to help more by providing anecdotes and locations but says that the creators weren’t too interested. His earnings will depend on what the movie reaps at the box office.

Moreno Laparada, who runs the Cantinflas memorial foundation, is washing his hands of the project. He objects to the casting of Jaenada: “I don’t see any physical resemblance and I think it is almost impossible for anyone to be able to imitate him because of the characteristics of his personality. I haven’t seen the script and I can’t give much more of an opinion, but I am pessimistic about the film.”

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