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THE FERNANDO ARRABAL COLLECTION 2: LIMITED EDITION (Various)
Published by David Carter on 2010/5/4 (2226 reads)
Directed by Fernando Arrabal
Review by David Carter
Released by Cult Epics
Running Time: 347 minutes
Rating: Not Rated
Color format: Color
Audio/Subtitles: 2.0 Stereo French & English/English Subtitles
Region Code: 1, NTSC
Aspect Ratio: Widescreen (Discs 1 & 2), Fullscreen (Disc 3)
16:9 Enhanced: Yes
Special Features: None, Limited Edition of 2,000 copies
Trailer Online: None
Short Version: The second half of the master surrealist’s career
Many of the directors I admire have interests other than directing films. Some dabble in acting, others in music; David Lynch has been known to do carpentry in his spare time. You’d be hard pressed to find one who fits the description “Renaissance Man” more than Fernando Arrabal, though. Director, actor, poet, novelist, opera librettist, and chess pro are just a few of his jobs, not to mention the fact that he is believed to be the most performed living playwright with over one hundred plays to his credit.
Arrabal’s impressive and varied oeuvre is a testament to the man’s dedication to his vision in all its forms. As you’d expect, his films are as varied as his interests. Cult Epics’ first volume of his films, FERNANDO ARRABAL COLLECTION 1, featured his three most well known works: VIVA LA MUERTE, I WILL WALK LIKE A CRAZY HORSE, and THE GUERNICA TREE. These three films have a heavy surrealist bent and take their inspiration from the Panic Movement that Arrabal founded with director Alejandro Jodorowsky and Roland Topor (Renefield in Herzog’s NOSFERATU). Filled with bizarre and disturbing images, Arrabal’s early work brought him critical acclaim and cult stardom. His later work is featured in FERNANDO ARRABAL COLLECTION 2 and is more straightforward but no less brilliant than his early films.
THE EMPEROR OF PERU is perhaps the most uncharacteristic and surprising thing in Arrabal’s body of work: a children’s movie starring Mickey Rooney. While he abandons his giant human ears on wheels and on-screen livestock butchery, Arrabal managed to make a film that is as visually impressive and intellectually stimulating as his previous films within the standard children’s film format. THE EMPEROR OF PERU is the story of Liz and Toby, imaginative youngsters living with their stuffy aunt and uncle. A daydreamer, Toby often has extended fantasies where he is a racecar driver, a fireman, or a superhero, all of which are vividly brought to life by Arrabal.
Liz and Toby’s lives are changed when their relatives take in Hoang, a Cambodian refugee. The arrival of their new friend spurs them into being more adventurous and it is on one of their “expeditions” that they meet a retired railway engineer named Tobu. Tobu has gone a bit mad and introduces himself to the children as “the emperor of Peru” and teaches them to operate the abandoned steam engine he’s hidden in the woods.
As it is a children’s movie, THE EMPEROR OF PERU has some very touching moments but thankfully never attempts to teach any moralizing lesson as often is the case with such films. If there is a message in the film, it is an inspirational one: dreams are stronger than reality and children are more intelligent than adults believe. The film is immensely watchable even for those who typically turn their nose up at children’s fare. This is largely due to Arrabal’s beautifully realized fantasy sequences and a virtuoso performance by Rooney.
Next up is 1983’s CAR CEMETERY. The film marks a return to a style closer to what Arrabal is best known for, but is still more linear and narrative than his earlier surrealist films. It is essentially a retelling of the Christ story in a post-apocalyptic wasteland starring French rock legend Alain Bashung as Emanou/Christ. Arrabal stays faithful to the bulk of the story but fills it with his own brand of irreverence. In this version, the loaves and fishes become Big Macs and the ancient peoples of the Middle East are transformed into early eighties punk rockers.
Though irreverent, it should be noted that Arrabal’s interpretation isn’t disrespectful or sacrilegious. Emanou’s message of freedom and love is not too far removed from the gospels, even if Arrabal’s film is. We’re offered several intriguing visuals this time out, many of which are explicitly sexual in nature. This is the first time that Arrabal’s film work dealt with sex to such a degree and, as you’d expect, it isn’t a typical depiction of the act. Most of the “sex scenes” in CAR CEMETERY are surreal S&M sessions that don’t conform to pornographic standards or even logical standards. In other words, there’s a lot of sex in the film but none of it is sexy, intentionally so. I found myself wanting Arrabal to take the story in an unexpected direction, however that was not to be the case. The predictability paid off, though, because CAR CEMETERY’s final visual is one of the most striking in Arrabal’s body of work.
The third and final disc of the collection contains some of his more recent work and a documentary on him. FAREWELL, BABYLON! is a both a collection of Arrabal’s poetry and a video love-letter to New York City. The extremely loose narrative concerns a female serial killer, but the real story here is Arrabal’s narration. Sumptuously lyric, for the first time in his film career we see Arrabal using words to the same end he typically uses visuals. BORGES, A LIFE IN POETRY is Arrabal’s tribute to one of his idols and is a must-see for admirers of Borges or Arrabal. Finally we have ARRABAL, PANIK CINEAST, a documentary on Arrabal that features many of his admirers and collaborators.
Cult Epics has outdone themselves once again with this collection. THE EMPEROR OF PERU and CAR CEMETERY look amazing; a fact that’s even more extraordinary once you take into account that both films were effectively unavailable for years. This set is highly recommended for fans of Arrabal’s work or anyone who just likes good, challenging cinema. The production run on this set is limited to 2,000 copies, so if you’re interested, hurry!
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