La Monja Alferez (1987)

Run Time - 115 min.  |   Countries - Spain  |  
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This is the fascinating study of a woman in early colonial-era Spain who suffers from the usual grievance of women of that period -- a profound lack of choices. On reaching maturity, she has exactly two: get married to someone of her family's choosing, or become a nun. However, noblewoman Catalina de Erauso was not happy with those choices to begin with, though she chooses the nun option, and after the nun she has fallen in love with dies, she escapes the convent dressed as a man. Then she enters the Spanish military, travels to the New World, and fends off advances from women who find "him" irresistible. Since this is an era when women's cross-dressing can result in charges of heresy or the death penalty, what happens next is truly amazing. When she is finally revealed as a woman, the King of Spain asks to meet with her. Instead of killing her, he grants her a pension, the rank of lieutenant in the Spanish army, and gives her lifelong permission to dress as a man. It may appear to viewers that two different women play Catalina. This is correct: one plays her when dressed as a woman, and Esperanza Roy plays her in male attire.