Movies We Like
Alejandro Jodorowsky. The name is familiar among cult fanatics, and to some, is one that requires forgiving. Film critics over the years have regarded him as a has-been for the most part, looking only to his most popular works, El Topo and The Holy Mountain, as his redeeming accomplishments. His filmography, while considerably short, is oddly consistent in a strange way. Fando and Lis is fairly well liked, and for a surrealist working very little well-past middle age, having at least a few adored films is something to be proud of. Besides Tusk and Rainbow Thief (both regarded as disasters), Santa Sangre remained his most inaccessible film; I'm sure diehard fans remember their efforts to hunt down bootlegs and imports of these works. For the first time in a very long time, Santa Sangre has been given a formal U.S. release on DVD and Blu-ray, though it was a bit of a letdown to hear that the rumor of a Criterion release was untrue.
The movie has an enthralling background and was made almost two decades after Holy Mountain. It is thought to be his one and only horror film and was produced by Claudio Argento, the brother of Dario Argento. I should add, with no disrespect to Argento fans, that the imagery and use of color in this film far surpasses any Italian horror film to date. The going rumor is that Jodorowsky was inspired to direct the film after meeting a serial killer in real life. So, mixing that with the lack of limitations from an uptight producer, Jodorowsky created a movie that was truly more unique than his others, which also stars his sons and shares similarities with what are thought to be his best works.
As a young adult, Fenix (Axel Jodorowsky) lives in a mental institution in Mexico. His room looks like a poor man's birdcage because he believes he's an eagle. While trying to get him to eat human food and come down from his tree stump, the orderlies give up and feed him raw fish. A decision is made to stop giving into his delusions and have him come back to the real world. From there we are given a flashback into his bizarre upbringing as the son of two circus performers. His father (Guy Stockwell) is the sleazy, disgusting ringmaster and his mother (Blanca Guerra) is a trapeze artist who's also a holy woman. Her church, called Santa Sangre, is regarded as a mound of vicious sacrilege due to its unordinary saint. They worship the shrine of a schoolgirl (represented by a tacky mannequin with no arms) who had her arms cut off while trying to fight off two attackers. Their eccentric denomination leads to the bulldozing of their shrine and temple, and before long, little Fenix's (Adan Jodorowsky) mother puts all her energy into the circus. Instead of being met with understanding and peace, her husband's wicked ways get the best of her. The circus has added two new acts: the erotic dance of a fully-tattooed woman, and the tightrope walk of her deaf-mute daughter, Alma. An affair between the ringmaster and the tattooed lady destroys Fenix's world. His mother attacked the two with acid and had her arms cut off by her husband, who then took his own life. The tattooed woman left with her daughter, with whom young Fenix had fallen in love, and he was then an orphan.
Now as a young adult, he is introduced to the outside world after spending his adolescence in total isolation. This glimpse of reality, and of his dismembered mother, helps him work up the courage to escape the institution. Once outside, he is met by familiar faces, many of them are people who were around in his childhood. He decides to put on an act with his mother in which she speaks and sings while he stands behind her and gives the audience the impression that she has arms. What could have remained as a simple act between mother and son turns ugly when she requests that the act go beyond the stage. With her son as her arms and scores to settle, the two go around the town killing the mother's old rivals and other unholy women who attempt to woo her son.
The premise of the movie is simply unheard of and totally original, yet it does play with the Oedipus complex and, as stated before, shares similarities with the director's other works in terms of religious overtones and mental illness. While that is certainly a reason to recommend the film, I'd have to say that the real reason is not to see an example of originality, but one of genius. The imagery is both terrifying and poetic, from the funeral of a circus elephant to the many hallucinations that the lead character has. Each scene is so vivid and gorgeous that I simply cannot believe it was made on such as small budget. I loved the music, characters, and the location filming of Mexico City, and can guarantee you that this is a cinematic experience like no other. If you're worried about it being too depressing, trust me when I say that there's plenty of dark comedy as well.