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Plot: two friends reconnect and engage in a passionate, steamy affair.

Historically there are two ways for directors to get their foot in the door. That’s either by doing a horror (typically a slasher because of how cost efficient they tend to be) or a raunchy comedy. Miguel Chávez chose the latter for his debut and My Cousin the Sexologist (released domestically as Mi Prima La Sexòloga) marketed itself as “erotic comedy” while nothing comedic ever actually transpires. To nobody’s surprise it was critically savaged and subject of some controversy back at home in Bolivia because of its crude depiction of sexuality and relationships. Both the director and lead star drew the ire of various domestic women’s interests groups and feminist organizations. My Cousin the Sexologist is frustratingly episodic and completely uneventful, and when it’s not it frequently forgets what it is supposed, or promises, to be. Despite all that it was somehow deemed commercially viable enough to secure a domestic theatrical release. The controversy was strong enough to generate interest outside of Bolivia and allegedly at some point there were talks for an American spin-off. It has found its way onto various on-demand and streaming services around the world since. If nothing else, it’s custodian to the urban hit song 'Dale No Pares' by MaJeLo (for which Chávez directed the music video, with Stephanie Herela co-starring). Not bad for a cheap shot-on-video drama resembling a 90-minute pilot to an unproduced telenovella.

Chávez had earlier directed the controversial “100% cuero” ad campaign for Corimexo furniture that lasted (and continues to last) several years. The ads featured popular domestic models Maricruz Rivera (2007), Gabriela Catoira (2009), Pamela Justiniano (2012), and Daniela Lopez (2012) cavorting and lounging around in skimpy lingerie or sometimes even less. The most famous model to appear in said campaign was Stephanie Herela. Herela participated in the 2014 Miss Bolivian Tropic beauty pageant, underwent liposuction and breast enlargement either sometime before or after, and from there parlayed her newfound fame into a lucrative career as brand ambassador, corporate hostess, social media influencer, television personality, dancer, and all-around internet babe. As the Bolivian Stormi Maya or Fernanda Urrejola (with all the curves but without any of the talent) it was all but inevitable that la Stephanie would take up acting. Not only would she star in Chávez’ debut feature, but she would also do her own make-up and provide her own wardrobe. In return Chávez bombarded her to executive producer position as a bonus. Likewise is Kimberly Aguilera also a popular Instagram model but she not nearly has the same clout as Herela has.

Manuel (Andrès Salvatierra) is a bachelor living in the province of Beni who for the past several days has been receiving persistent anonymous calls on his cell phone. His roommate and best friend Marco (Majelo Quiroz) suggests he answer the next call to see what all the fuzz is about. Before long his cell is ringing again and on the other end he hears the sensual voice of Maria Helena or Malena (Stephanie Herela), the girl who he had been carrying a torch for and who he hasn’t seen in over a decade, informing him that she’s now a “well-known and popular” sexologist in Buenos Aires, Argentina and that she will be returning to her old stomping grounds in Santa Cruz for a two-week vacation. Malena invites Manuel over to her studio so they can have a few laughs, some drinks, and catch up on old times and each other’s lives. On the first night the two exchange the usual formalities and there’s electricity in the air. Malena brings up the idea to meet again as much as they can over the next two weeks. Malena is struggling to apply her studies in a way that her family can understand, and what better subject than her good friend Manuel? Manuel, bewildered that an attractive woman like Malena would be interested in him, is so distracted that he completely forgets about the dinner date he agreed to with his ex-girlfriend Verónica (Kimberly Aguilera) which understandably leads to some friction between the two. Over the next two weeks Manuel continues to see Malena and the two engage in a passionate affair. Manuel and Malena go shopping in company of his son Manuelito (Thiago Ribera) and Malena introduces him to her metro/homosexual best friend Francesco (Joaquín Machado Foianini) who, of course, makes a pass on him. Will Malena follow her heart and be with Manuel or follow the money and prioritize her career as a sexologist?

What started as a pithless exercise in comedy that makes the Gloria Guida canon look like that of Laura Antonelli suddenly and without warning explodes into a instructional feature. My Cousin the Sexologist devotes most of its second act to Herela explaining (in easily manageable 5-10 minute vignettes, ideal for classroom usage) half a dozen sexuality - and psychology-related concepts in a pseudo-scientific manner. Which, by all means, is a good thing since sexual education in Latin America differs greatly from country to country, and is non-existent wherever religious institutions are the arbiters of morality. This, after all, is not a shameless “exposé” on the School Girl Report (1970) model but an instructional feature for which there was a widespread and specialized market in the forties and fifties before the advent of television. After that brief detour My Cousin the Sexologist regains its composure and awkwardly limps to the conclusion. It will make you wish for the humid sleaze of Eleven Days Eleven Nights (1987) and Top Model (1988), the playfulness of the average Gloria Guida romp, the zaniness of an Edwige Fenech bedroom farçe, or the sensual scabbiness of an Isabel Sarli flick. None of which My Cousin the Sexologist has. At least there’s Stephanie Herela and her pneumatically enhanced and frequently disrobed form. Not even that is enough to save My Cousin the Sexologist from feeling directionless and on the wrong side of cheap.

The screenplay was written over a two-month period in late 2015 and early 2016. Production was scheduled for eight weeks from March into April that year with a skeleton cast and crew consisting largely of enthusiastic volunteers and first-timers in front as well as behind the camera. Post-release Herela found herself in hot water for appearing in the Corimexo ad campaign that had her lounging around furniture in the nude. This, understandably, generated criticism from women’s interests groups and feminist organizations. One such group Mujeres Creando filed a formal complaint against executives of Corimexo and director Miguel Chávez for psychological and media violence. Protests erupted both on social media and on a grass roots level with the collective outrage effecting the removal of the ad from various platforms and Corimexo censoring the advertisement for their special collection of sofas and leather chairs. Miguel Chávez hasn’t directed anything since, and in 2017 Herela produced/starred in a web mini-series called El Sexo Según Stephanie (or Sex According to Stephanie) and has continued to prosper as both a model and as an influencer on social media.

Which sort of brings up our second point of contention: how can a Bolivian production not exploit the palm trees, sunny beaches, and cultural hotspots to its advantage? Herela’s bikini pictures are the stuff of legend - and not once is she seen sporting one. My Cousin the Sexologist takes place in beautiful Santa Cruz yet is almost exclusively set in a featureless condominium complex and one street that could be literally anywhere. This is a problem that could have easily been solved by the inclusion of royalty-free stock footage or a bout of guerrilla filmmaking. Cine-S classic The Hot Girl Juliet (1981) (with Eva Lyberten, Andrea Albani, and Vicky Palmas) was at least as dirt cheap – and even they took to the beaches and to the streets in between the bedroom scenes. The Room (2003) has higher production values, as does the median Emanuelly Raquel, Lorena Brink, or Reya Reign video for that matter. Hell, even Neil Breen is not nearly as cheap as this. On the plus side, if you want to learn the ins and outs of Bolivian Spanish allegedly the enunciation here is very clear. Supposedly My Cousin the Sexologist provides excellent examples of speech, sayings and slang for adult Spanish learners. When that’s not the case Herela’s wiggling her huge plump ass, or Salvatierra is taking his shirt off.

It’s bad enough when a comedy isn’t funny and it’s even worse when a soft erotic romp isn’t sexy. My Cousin the Sexologist fails miserably on both counts. No wonder then that la Herela has quietly shelved whatever acting aspirations she had. What has become of Miguel Chávez is presently unclear. It would be entirely plausible that he quit the film business altogether after this debacle and returned to the world of advertising. Either that, or he has been brooding on a new project in the years since. What is clear is that Stephanie Herela could be so much more than just a model and influencer, if somebody would only hire her in a feature that played up to her strengths. Here’s hoping that Benjamin Combes, Pedring A. Lopez, or Ernesto Díaz Espinoza will see it fit to bring Herela out of retirement for a proposed sequel to Commando Ninja (2018), Maria (2019), or Bring Me the Head Of the Machine Gun Woman (2012). Either that or Rene Perez should consider her (and Kimberly Aguilera, for that matter) for the next episode in his ongoing Playing with Dolls and/or Cabal (2020) sagas. If Christina Lindberg, Gloria Guida, and Andrea Albani could have careers, why not Stephanie?

Plot: did it all truly happen, or is it merely in Lena’s head?

The best thing you can say in retrospect about Christina Lindberg is that she knew exactly where her strengths lie. Lindberg was a nude model first and she never got a hang of acting no matter how hard she tried. There’s no such thing as a quintessential Christina Lindberg movie for a reason, and probably the best thing she did was the deeply cynical Rötmånad (1970) (where she had an absolute minimum of dialogue) and Exponerad (or Exposed - released in Norway as Sommeren med Lena, no doubt to sucker in the unsuspecting Ingmar Bergman fan, and in the US as The Depraved) followed closely by Anita Swedish Nymphet (1973). Maid In Sweden (1971), often passed off by unscrupulous distributors as an innocuous coming of age drama, pointed exactly to where Lindberg’s career was headed from that point onward. For a few years Christina was a softcore superstar before the advent of hardcore pornography forced her out of the business and into a career in journalism. Decades later Lindberg still can’t escape the looming shadow of the infamous rape revenge caper Thriller – A Cruel Picture (1973). Widely hailed as Lindberg’s most artistic feature Exponerad has shades of Czechoslovakian coming of age fairytale Valerie and Her Week Of Wonders (1970) but it never quite has such lofty aspirations. Gloria Guida might have had The Minor (1974) and Christina had this, but Jaroslava Schallerová got there first.

An image, or reputation, for good or ill, is hard to shake. In the span of just a few years miss Lindberg had worked with Dan Wolman, Gustav Wiklund, Torgny Wickman, Ernst Hofbauer, Walter Boos, and Joe Sarno. Some of whom she would work with on multiple occasions. In doing so she had, perhaps unwittingly, reduced her chances of finding work outside of what she was doing already – and most of the projects she was offered fared accordingly. That isn’t to say that Christina Lindberg was some misunderstood talent, and her expressionless, glassy-eyed style can best be compared to Zora Kerova, Sabrina Siani, or Christina’s Norwegian equivalent and one-time black metal starlet Monica Bråten. Typecast from Rötmånad (1970) onwards Lindberg was an international star who worked in Germany, Hong Kong, and Japan. The majority of that international work seemed to encompass the two years from 1972-74 when she wasn’t working at home. In that capacity she appeared in Girls Who Come to Munich (1972), Schoolgirl Report 4 (1972), Secrets of Sweet Sixteen (1973), Love In Three Dimensions (1973), and Schoolgirl Report 7 (1974).

Lena Svensson (Christina Lindberg) is a seventeen-year-old promiscuous libertine at the height of her sexuality who, to escape her dull lovelife with Jan (Björn Addely), takes flights of fancy in all sorts of sordid scenarios. When things get boring she likes to imagine herself getting abused, molested, and/or killed in a fiery road collision. Lena has cheated on Jan, and he sends her out a retreat where she encounters naturist vacationers Lars (Janna Carlsson) and Ulla (Birgitta Molin). The trio engages in the usual skinnydipping, sunbathing, and nude frolicking until Jan comes to collect Lena. It is then that the lecherous Helge (Heinz Hopf) comes into the picture. Helge coerces Lena into partaking in hedonistic sex parties and extorts her with nude photographs. Life with Jan is safe and comfortable, but the underworld that Helge shows her has so much to offer too. With Helge Lena experiences pleasures she never had before. She gets felt up, tied up, and exposed in about every way. Compared to him Jan is a tremendous bore. At some point Lena is going to have to make a choice. Is the predatory Helge The Depraved of the American distribution title? Is it Lena who looks for each and every opportunity to escape her rural and boring country life - or both? The question Exponerad asks is, “did it all truly happen, or is it merely in Lena’s head?

That Sweden’s most famous anime sex doll would try to establish a footing in the Far East was all but a given. However, since she didn’t speak the language and/or possessed any martial arts skills she didn’t get any farther than the Eurospy romp Adventure in Denmark (1973) from Hong Kong, and Sex and Fury (1973) and The Kyoto Connection (1973) in Japan. By the time of One-Week Bachelors (1982) she was made redundant, and her career fizzled out. In hindsight it’s a tad difficult to believe that Christina never found work in Italy (Renato Polselli and Luigi Batzella would’ve loved her giant bust) or in the burgeoning Cine-S movement in Spain (Ignacio F. Iquino would have put her to good use), as would have José Ramón Larraz in his horrors. Likewise it’s a bit disconcerting that Tinto Brass never took notice of her voluminous behind, and it’s quite unfair that Christina Lindberg didn’t become a minor Eurcult royalty the way Evelyne Kraft, Janet Ågren, Marie Liljedahl, and Leena Skoog did. To her credit Christina had a habit of appearing in films with people that ostensibly would become more famous than her, whether they were Stellan Skarsgård or Lena Olin. In 1971 miss Lindberg had just started her conquest of Scandinavian sexploitation scene, and Exponerad does more than just showcase her voluptuous naked form, although there’s plenty of that too. No. Exponerad is actually pretty creative when it tries.

For all that can be said about Gloria Guida’s tour de force in bawdy Italian sex comedies at least half of them were actually pretty lighthearted and entertaining. Lindberg’s on the other hand were depressing for the most part. Anita Swedish Nymphet (1973) is downbeat and cynical compared to something as casually sexist and lovingly exploitative as Blue Jeans (1975) (Mario Imperoli’s ode to Gloria Guida’s perfectly shaped ass bordered on the poetic, lest we forget), Maid In Sweden (1971) has a nihilistic mean streak that you wouldn’t find in Monika (1974) or even So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious… (1975). It even goes as far as to recycle an entire 5 minute sequence from Tarzan Triumphs (1943) with Johnny Weissmuller in one scene. To go from the whimsical Rötmånad (1970) to Thriller – A Cruel Picture (1973), a take on Turkish thriller Karate Girl (1973), in just three years is…. something. And none of it is any good. Exponerad on the other hand displays a sense of creativity and playfulness otherwise absent in Lindberg’s filmography up to that point. The Minor (1974) does what Exponerad does in a far more lighthearted manner, and it never has the ick factor. Be that as it may, at least Exponerad attempts - however marginally and futilely - to do something, anything, different to provide la Lindberg with whatever minimal chance to act.

As legend has it, Exponerad premiered at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival in France where it was almost immediately banned in 27 countries. Promoters eagerly used said ban to sell Exponerad on the international market, and Gustav Wiklund was offered a lucrative contract to work under American exploitation mogul Roger Corman. An offer which he, inexplicably and for largely opaque reasons, apparently declined. Understandably Wiklund soon to came to regret his decision, and Lindberg’s career in America was largely built around her appeal as a delectable Scandinavian import. And what projects Christina chose to star in didn’t exactly help either. It’s one thing to star in coming of age dramas as Maid In Sweden (1971) and Anita Swedish Nymphet (1973), but to go from Exponerad and something as comically innocuous as Love In Three Dimensions (1973) to Thriller – A Cruel Picture (1973), and Wide Open (1974) speaks volumes of where the heads of Lindberg’s handlers/publicists were at the time. It’s tragic enough that after One-Week Bachelors (1982) Christina disappeared from the silver screen for about two decades. Since 2000 she has acted sporadically but it looks as if Sweden’s most popular export will forever be relegated to obscurity. Not even Quentin Tarantino (who never hid his adoration for Lindberg’s tenure in exploitation) apparently was able to legitimize the Swedish star into the mainstream.