Tag Archives: Manuel Solas

CAPSULE: GALLINO, THE CHICKEN SYSTEM (2012)

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Octavi Pujades, , Sasha Slugina

PLOT: A man travels to Antarctica planning to rendezvous with a woman there later; he seeks refuge from the cold in a chicken shack, where he enters into philosophical discussions about pornography with the proprietor.

Still from Gallino, the Chicken System (2012)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Carlos Atanes slaves away in relative obscurity, continuing to make defiantly weird movies his way, despite a lack of funding and mainstream notice. His work as a whole arguably deserves representation on this List. While I wouldn’t say that we will automatically restrict “Atanic” entries to a single candidate, as of now, the apocalyptic fetish musical Maximum Shame is the Atanes film to beat. Poultry fetishists, however, may disagree.

COMMENTS: The tagline proclaims this a “pornophilosophical film,” and so it is, although it’s probably heavier on the porno than the philosophy. Still, as far as academic name dropping goes, you’ll hear shout-outs to thinkers like Antonin Artaud, Gilles Deleuze, and Jean Baudrillard, along with discussions of Bertrand Russell’s “barber’s paradox.” There is also the debate, between the mournful lover and the Antarctic poulterer, about the philosophy of pornography: the latter considers obscenity to be a species of topography, and an illustration of Gallino‘s putative thesis that human beings are essentially “donuts.”

But, this movie is not all abstract speculation. You can’t satirize pornography without making pornography, and there is plenty of filth here, although of an exceedingly strange sort: to wit, if you have a fetish for seeing women deep-throat chicken drumsticks, this is the movie you’ve been waiting for your whole life. “Fisting” is also a major subplot, and in another episode the planet of Jupiter gets violated in its red spot. The movie’s climax (forgive the wording) takes place in a sort of greasy trans-dimensional chicken-tube glory hole; the afterglow involves first contact with three “Sidereal pornstars.”

There’s also some weird stuff in there, including a Spanish actor playing a Spanish fried chicken magnate pretending to be from Texas, speaking Spanish with a Spaniard’s idea of a Texas accent. Things get so strange that the two main characters in the Antarctic chicken shack debate whether they’re trapped in a dream; they conclude that they cannot be, because things seem incoherent to them, whereas in a dream impossible things seem natural.

As for conventional carnality, the movie has only two short topless sequences. Most of the flesh on display is of the extra-crispy variety. The substitution of a poultry-based erotic system allows Gallino to get away with imagery that would otherwise make this a XXX feature, evoking the queasy arousing-yet-repellant feeling we experience when we see someone acting out a sexual fetish we don’t share. Today, we live in a world that’s awash in smut, but actual pornographic iconography rarely makes it into mainstream films. Even the explicit moments in arthouse films like Antichrist refer to real human sex acts rather than the fantasy rituals of porn. Gallino looks at pornography obliquely, the way an alien might view it; it appears both ridiculous and strangely poetic, a landscape full of symbols and secrets. Atanes is well aware of how the average person (or average critic) will view Gallino‘s assault on the viewer’s narrative and sexual sensibilities. He takes a shot at preempting criticism via an in-movie film critic who says, about the work of fictional art-porn director Gropius Cantor: “it’s a vulgar and disgusting concatenation of pseudo-pornographic shots lacking any appeal.” (While he says this, we watch an unrelated scene of a woman shoving her lubricated fist down another woman’s throat). Of Cantor’s legacy, the critic concludes, “his films became worse with time, more cryptic, more obtuse, more unappealing and utterly unwatchable.” Atanes’ films are becoming more cryptic and obtuse, but the more unappealing and unwatchable they become to “normal” people, the more fascinating they become to us.

Movies like Gallino, the Chicken System find themselves in an impossible marketing position. They really need rental outlets to allow people to take a low-cost chance on them, so the movie can eventually spread its reputation by word-of-mouth. Yet, they are too specialized and weird for outlets like Netflix to stock. Gallino is being sold in the U.S. in a DVD-R version. It includes numerous behind-the-scenes clips, all in Spanish.

DISCLAIMER: A copy of this movie was provided by the distributor for review.

LIST CANDIDATE: PROXIMA (2007)

DIRECTED BY: Carlos Atanes

FEATURING: Oriol Aubets, Anthony Blake, Manuel Solás, Abel Folk

PLOT: Just as his life seems to be falling apart, aimless sci-fi nerd Tony (Aubets) becomes accidentally entangled with a doomsday cult, a time-traveling conspiracy, and new method of interstellar transportation. Or does he?

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Atanes is explicitly trafficking in weird material here, and PROXIMA certainly has its fair share of strange imagery and plot twists, but its elaborate scenario often feels culled from classics like Videodrome and The Matrix. Originality aside, though, its abundance of imagination and ambiguity might be enough to scrape onto the List.

COMMENTS: Attached to anything else, the tagline “The Last Science Fiction Movie” might sound hubristic.  But it’s absolutely appropriate to PROXIMA, an apocalyptic love letter to sci-fi and its fans.  Atanes puts his obsession with the genre front and center, and the film is dotted with casual references to Blade Runner, Star Wars, and Jean-Luc Picard.  Perhaps the most telling such reference is “Felix Cadecq,” the name of the Kilgore Trout-like author (Solàs) whose revelations set Tony’s adventure in motion—and a Spanish homonym for “Philip K. Dick,” whose pet themes form the backbone of PROXIMA‘s mind-bending world.

But Atanes, as liberally as he may borrow from the sci-fi canon, never settles for pure pastiche.  The opening scenes, for example, are refreshingly slice-of-life, patiently building up to the main plot with subtle hints of weirdness.  We see Tony preparing to close his failing video store, playing Halo as his girlfriend dumps him, and visiting a convention with his best friend Lucas (get it?), balancing sympathy with brual honesty in its depiction of his slacker lifestyle.  But everything changes after Tony and Lucas attend a panel featuring the eccentric old Cadecq, who vows never to write again.  Instead, he hawks his new CD “Journey to Proxima,” which he claims will guide its listeners into contact with extraterrestrial life.

From this point on, the film is a series of left turns, with detours into amnesia, astral projection, alien technology, and false imprisonment.  By the time Tony’s drifting through space in what looks like a magical refrigerator, it’s unclear exactly how each twist is related, beyond a loose sense that something epic is going on.  At times, the movie comes across like the breathless sci-fi equivalent of North by Northwest.  Alas, Tony’s sojourns into space also reveal PROXIMA‘s greatest weakness: its budget is tragically outstripped by its imagination, and its special effects are universally cheap and shoddy.

That said, it’s impressive how far Atanes goes with so little money, and PROXIMA ends with a string of stunning, otherworldly visions mixing its meager effects with real-world landscapes.  Furthermore, at no point is PROXIMA entirely beholden to its effects budget: unlike many Philip K. Dick adaptations, it stays away from action-oriented set-pieces, sticking to a more introspective, cerebral realm.  It’s less about the adventure itself, and more about the egotism of imagining oneself at the center of a vast, interplanetary saga.  As Cadecq says early in the film, “We are the protagonists now!”  But as Tony must learn, bridging the gulf between sci-fi and real life isn’t all it”s cracked up to be.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

Proxima is a very Philip K. Dick-ian film with its abrupt conceptual twists and shifting revelations about what is real.”–Richard Scheib, Moria: The Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Review (DVD)

CAPSULE: FAQ: FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (2004)

DIRECTED BY: Carlos Atanes

FEATURING: Xavier Tort, Anne Céline Auche, Manuel Solás, Marta Timón, Anna Diogene

PLOT:  A mute male slave’s involvement with romance and rebel pornographers lands him in trouble in a sex-free future ruled by a totalitarian matriarchy.

FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions (2004)


WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: After producing a series of wildly experimental shorts in the 1990s (three of the most twisted of which were anthologized for the collection Codex Atanicus), Spanish filmmaker Carlos Atanes scaled back the surrealism for his feature debut, FAQ.  While plenty of weirdness remains (it’s hard to argue that a movie that casually drops dialogue like “unwrap the cat, we’re taking it with us” and includes a plotline regarding “architectural castration” doesn’t push the boundaries of normality), it’s stretched more thinly than in the shorts: it’s like drinking skim milk after having become accustomed to whole.

COMMENTS: “Failure is inevitable,” concedes a rebel, “but it is our duty to keep trying.”  He’s come to recruit Nono, a mute sound collector who’s never far away from his phallic microphone, to record some bird songs for the resistance’s archive of vanishing natural sounds; their ultimate dream is to someday record a breathing human female.  The quote, however, could just as easily apply to the scrappy spirit of independent cinema FAQ embodies.  As a philosophical dystopian science fiction, it’s not entirely successful: it frequently lags dramatically, especially in a languorous episode in the woods; with minimal sets and cheap-looking green screen effects, it struggles at times to hide its budgetary limitations; and it stumbles into a reality-bending non-resolution of an ending.  But the sincerity and professionalism of the production shines through, and the movie shows enough crazy imagination and intelligence to make you forgive its flaws, both budgetary and dramatic.  Some of the weirdest bits in this pretty weird feature involve the Internet porn of the future; adult actresses remain fully clothed at all times, and since human contact is verboten in the Brave New World, a woman touching a man’s bare chest is the height of salaciousness.  For reasons unknown, this forbidden erotica is created in an Continue reading CAPSULE: FAQ: FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (2004)

LIST CANDIDATE: CODEX ATANICUS (1995/1996/1999)

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Carlos Atanes

FEATURING: Carlos Atanes, Arantxa Peña, Diana de Guzman, Antonio Vladimir Fuenzalida, Manuel Solas, Scott Fitzpatrick

PLOT:  Three short films: a man seeks to collect a debt in a bar with strong S&M overtones;

Still from Codex Atanicus (2007)
the director struggles to complete the film we’re watching while a fawning actress tries to keep him from hanging himself in despair; and a man returns to Spain from the U.S., only to find himself trapped in an orgy/melee on a staircase.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: It’s weirdness is unquestionable; in these perverse short films, Carlos Atanes illustrates a profound understanding of the theory of surrealism—including its ability to piss off not only the average audience member, but the average critic as well.  But, although the various casts and crews appear enthusiastic, the technical constraints of low-budget filmmaking hold these three pieces back from cinematic magnificence.  It’s probably a matter of individual taste as to whether the rough edges should rule Codex off of the List of the Best Weird Movies Ever Made, or whether the unpolished underground grit adds a charm that works in the compilation’s favor.

COMMENTS:  Though born in Paris, Surrealist cinema was conceived in Spain, the love-child of Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí.  If either patriarch had lived to see the mirror succubi, the crab-armed women and the staircase orgies of Codex Atanicus, they’d be proud to claim Carlos Atanes as their offspring.  Today, when pure surrealism has been almost abandoned in movies, it’s refreshing to see someone who remains dedicated to probing the mysterious subconscious and carrying on the tradition of Continental Surrealism, despite lack of funding and public indifference.  The three films that comprise Codex Atanicus showa a passion for the irrational and a knack for nailing down the way dream concepts follow their own logic, morphing into new entities and images. Like his spiritual grandfather Dalí, Atanes is unabashedly egotistical to the point of self-parody, coining the adjective “Atanic” to describe his own movies; he’s also unafraid to tap into his Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: CODEX ATANICUS (1995/1996/1999)