‘Isabel’: A biopic on Isabel Allende | Sunday Observer

‘Isabel’: A biopic on Isabel Allende

19 June, 2022

Biopic or biographical film is a movie produced from one’s life, it is based on a particular person. Producing a biopic is a burden for a movie maker, because there he has to conform to the facts of the given person. He hasn’t any freedom to change or exaggerate the actual incidents and make the movie unbelievable or dramatic.

‘Isabel: The Intimate Story of Isabel Allende’ is a biographical mini-series about the popular Chilean author Isabel Allende, premiered last year. It was created by Rodrigo Basaez, and produced by María Isabel Miquel for HBO Max network. Chilean actress Daniela Ramirez portrays the author in it and other main characters starred by Néstor Cantillana, Rodolfo Pulgar and Rosario Zamora. So, what are the critical reactions for the movie? What does Isabel Allende think about it? Has she rejected it?

Allende’s views

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly’s Rosie Cordero, Allende expressed her thoughts on it? She particularly talked about her portrayal by Daniela Ramirez: “My God, she is so beautiful! Although I don’t think she looks like me at all, fortunately for her.”

However, she didn’t criticise the director’s attempt. She, in fact, appreciated him: “Of course, your life can appear very glamorous when it’s narrated that way, especially for the screen. Was that my life, really? The events are true, and most of the emotions are true. I totally approve of it, and I feel honored they decided to spend the time and energy to tell my story.”

This suggests that the biopic does not depict Isabel Allende’s life, but she is happy with it as she thinks it’s an honour for her.


Anyway, the show chronicles the first 50 years of her life in a three-part miniseries. The first part centers on author’s writing career as a journalist at a feminist magazine in Santiago, cut short when Pinochet installs a military dictatorship. The second part finds Allende in Venezuela, where she has fled with her family and proceeds to write her blockbuster debut, ‘The House Of The Spirits.’ The final part focuses almost exclusively on the untimely death of her 29-year-old daughter Paula and how Allende found her way back to writing.

The trailer of the biopic begins with a powerful statement translated from Spanish stating: “Life is chaos, it’s confusing. Each book I wrote reflects a chaotic, contradictory time in my life. Attempts at sorting out the confusion.”

According to Martin Brown in ‘Common Sense Media’, ‘Isabel’ is well-made and well-acted, but its depiction of real life comes off as cliched. He says that the series finds Allende struggling to balance work with family, embracing feminism, and discovering herself.

“In other words, it follows the same outline of a ton of other biopics, without giving viewers a real idea of what makes Allende or her work unique,” he says.

As per Ines Bellina who writes for www.avclub.com, the three-part limited series, in some ways, attempts to take Allende seriously, as a woman, a writer, and defender of democracy.

“The personal is political”

Belina praises the portrayal of each character as well:

“Daniela Ramírez who plays the title role, embodies the author with total ease, tragic wig choices notwithstanding. The weight of the series lies on her—though we spend time with her first husband, her beloved grandfather, and the Argentinian musician who steals Allende’s heart, the plot doesn’t stray too far from Isabel.

“A lesser actor might have gone for theatrics or caricature, but Ramírez is grounded and thoughtful in her choices. Viewers are coaxed into caring only about her evolution, and what a rich one it is. This close grip serves well when examining the larger social forces that shape Allende’s life. ‘The personal is political’ is fully on display here.”

Bellina describes that the biopic series might sound like an easy sell, especially to the U.S. audience, because already Allende’s 24 books have sold over 74 million copies around the world.

She also reveals some new facts about the movie. For instance, the production of the biopic won a grant from the Chilean Consejo Nacional de TV (National Television Council) in part because they knew it would travel well. According to Bellina, much of the coverage in Chile has focused on the fact that this is the first Chilean TV show, shot and filmed exclusively in the country, that will be aired in the United States—as opposed to the actual star at the center of the project.

Series will delight the fans

“Thankfully, this concern over its foreign potential hasn’t resulted in a watered-down version of Isabel Allende’s emotional roller coaster of a life; the series will delight the author’s fans through and through. Even viewers unfamiliar with Allende are likely to find the tale of a mom trying to figure out a balance between work, life, military resistance, and exile engrossing, despite some of the production’s shortcomings,” She adds.

In her view, the series also has a tendency to replicate some of Allende’s more questionable attributes. At times, it descends into melodrama, inserting a life-changing phone call in the midst of a shouting match or a passionate kiss with a lover in a spot where they’re likely to be caught.

Allende is known for living passionately, and the show reflects this attitude by depicting her sensuality as an addition to her life as opposed to a hindrance. Though sex is a frequent topic in her writing, in the biopic the sexual content limited to discussion and some clothed bedroom scenes. Mild profanity is sometimes used and includes “s--t,” “damn,” “hell,” etc.

Ability to find beauty

As reviewed by Alexandra McManus for World Literature Today on May 11, 2022, ‘Isabel’ also takes a close look at the illness and passing of her daughter, whose story is told in Allende’s 1994 memoir, Paula. After watching Isabel grapple with putting her children or her career first throughout the series, it is heartbreaking to see her helpless to save her daughter.

“Allende’s grief helps us relate to her just as her other struggles did. Likewise, her ability to find beauty in life again helps us to find beauty on our own,” she says. “Allende’s incredibly moving, spirited works are brought to life in this miniseries. It helps us see that the magical realism Allende is known for isn’t a fantasy but rather an interpretation of the magic she created in her own life.”

As said at the beginning, producing a biopic movie is not easy. It is particularly an uphill task when the person who based the movie is still alive, because he or she can reject or look down upon the final output. If that happens, the whole project will become a failure: who goes to see the biopic when the main person in the movie rejects it? However, in this case, instead of rejecting or despising the movie, Allende lauded the producers which is a great feat by them.