The Figure, the Films, the Fame: Argentina’s Sexploitation Star Isabel ‘Coca’ Sarli

by Adam Davis, contributing blogger

In one legendary scene from her 1968 “sexploitation” film Carne, Isabel Sarli’s character Delicia (the name itself dripping with campy sensuality) is raped in a meat locker by a man who wishes to experience “carne sobre carne” or “flesh on flesh.”  And while her flesh is certainly what Sarli is best known for – her nickname Coca a result of the full Coke-bottle figure she gained from, you guessed it, drinking lots of Coca-Cola – she is much more than a simple sex star in her native Argentina and throughout Latin America (and beloved by John Waters). Sarli is a cultural icon, a sex symbol for the ages, considered by many to be the South American Marilyn Monroe (with a notorious affair of her own, to boot).

Watch the famous clip from Carne below (don’t worry, you don’t need a word of Spanish to understand it).

Sarli began her career as a model, but soon after she rose to prominence as Miss Argentina in 1955, she was taken under the wings of film director Armando Bo. Sarli became Bo’s cinematic muse, starring in over 25 of his films, as well as his real life lover. Of course, Bo remained married to another woman throughout his infamous affair with Coca – but that didn’t stop him from mining Sarli’s natural sexuality for both his personal life and his films (which, strangely enough, often featured Bo’s son Victor as Sarli’s onscreen lover).

Together, Sarli and Bo created scenes and films that are still today considered among the most erotic in Argentine cinema history, including the aforementioned Carne and 1969’s Fuego. The work isn’t erotic in today’s XXX sense, although Sarli was the first woman to do full frontal nudity in Argentina and caused quite a stir among the censors during her time; compared to today’s cinematic offerings, in fact, the sex in Sarli’s films is nothing out of the ordinary. It is instead more sensual, more evocative. Even as Sarli writhes around naked onscreen, you get the sense that she’s merely teasing the viewer, inviting him to conjure up wishful scenarios that will never be.

Filmmaker John Waters, himself considered to be a master of camp, has cited Sarli’s films as one of his greatest inspirations. In the following  clip, Waters even notes that he likely unconsciously stole quite a bit from Sarli when creating his own characters.

And although Sarli has become a cinema legend, her films are largely known simply because they she starred in them. They are pure melodramatic camp, known for their obvious dialogue, exaggerated acting but also for showcasing the base desires (in Fiebre she falls in love with a horse!).

Although it has been quite a few decades since Sarli’s heyday, she has occasionally appeared in Argentine movies since then and remains a prominent cinematic icon. Even if you don’t enjoy her movies themselves, it is hard to deny the power of her lusting gazes, her heaving body, her suggestive voice. Her films have influenced directors ranging from Waters to Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar and her Coke-bottle figure remains firmly engrained in the minds of theater-goers nationwide as the benchmark for each new generation of cinematic sex symbols. She is an explosion of heat, a bombshell for the ages, and still one of the most revered women in all of Argentina – she is Isabel Sarli.

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