Tag Archives: Spanish

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: LA PIETÀ (2022)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

La pieda

DIRECTED BY: Eduardo Casanova

FEATURING: , Manel Llunell

PLOT: Young Mateo is diagnosed with cancer, much to the maternal delight of his uncommonly protective mother, Libertad.

COMMENTS: Nestled between the Venn diagram data sets for “Sledgehammer” and “Soft” lies La Pietà, Eduardo Casanova’s sophomore feature. If you’ll permit the flowery language, as the film’s leads would, there is, verily, a great deal of “nestling” here in general. The title card’s image, the climax’s mise en scene—and regularly throughout, one character is seen in the arms of another, especially young Mateo embraced by his suffocatingly loving mother. Libertad, for ’tis her name, loves her son to a degree so monumental it risks crushing him under the weight.

Within the confines of a sepulchral home wrought of soft-black marble and pink curtains, Mateo lives under the protective wing of the omnipresent Libertad. They dine together, watch television together, and occasionally sleep together. On the occasions they leave the home they (both) attend rehearsals for Libertad’s dance ensemble; later, when it is revealed one or both of them suffers a malady, they (both) spend time at hospital. Libertad is forever fretful her dear boy may wander off if he is not at her heels. Meanwhile, dear boy does often hear the siren’s call Outside That Door; a foray there triggers his downfall into complete dependency.

A parallel story concerns the family of a military official attempting to flee North Korea (the film is set just prior to the passing of Kim Jong-il), adding further to this obvious treatise on dictatorial behavior and the reliance cultivated in the subjected. Mother grills Mateo about the quality of his bowel movement over dinner; she offers to help him bathe, and insists on trimming his toenails (which becomes an unlikely plot point); and, when the lad is weakened by chemotherapy, Libertad finds his helplessness far too alluring. Mateo is vaguely aware of how this behavior is damaging him. As he navigates his world of soft-black stone and pink fabric, he has augurs and guides: his estranged father (who has mommy issues of his own), his therapist (trying to pry apart the symbiotic pair), and Consuelo, a mysterious hospital patient who desires her own freedom.

Nestled in the heavy-handedness (of both the mother and the director) are those subtleties I mentioned. Beneath the situational cringe humor lies a subtler vein of comedy. Libertad’s conversation with a hospital receptionist about pink ribbons for breast cancer is an honest-to-goodness chuckler (“There’s no color for brain cancer?”) Casanova references his debut, Skins, with a brief shot of “Poopie Loops”, whose box features the ass-faced woman. Mateo’s pregnant step mother’s insistence (yes, there is a lot of maternity going on) that she is not smoking when she demonstrably is makes for a bleakly amusing counterpoint to Libertad’s obsessive need for control.

Her control, in turn, reflects the director’s control of his sets, costumes, scenes, and choreography. La Pietà kicks off with a baroque dance number, which ticks along perfectly right until the singer collapses in a fit of helpless tears. But even in his overblown metaphors, Eduardo Casanova softens the edges with chiffony, pastel-pink.

Read our interview with Eduardo Casanova.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“A Freudian field day, the campy-dark humor blends softly into surreal depictions of simulated birth, shared baths, full frontal bits on display and savage scenes of Mateo’s declining will to reject his mother’s authority.”–Holly Jones, Variety (festival screening)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: ARREBATO [RAPTURE] (1979)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

DIRECTED BY: Iván Zulueta

FEATURING: , Will More, Cecilia Roth

PLOT: A horror director whose work and relationships are in decline due to his heroin addiction receives a package from an eccentric acquaintance containing a mysterious short film.

Still from Arrebato (Rapture) (1979)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: The Spaniards in our audience would never forgive us if we simply disregarded this one.

COMMENTS: As we learn from Mike White’s informative commentary track to Arrebato, director Iván Zulueta was an experimental filmmaker (with one prior feature to his name)—and, at the time he made this movie, a functional heroin addict. This background may explain why the two main characters in Zuleta’s sophomore feature are a filmmaker who is working on his sophomore feature, but seeing his work sabotaged by his growing drug problem, and a younger experimental filmmaker who appears to seek advice from the established director, but actually has more to teach than his mentor. In Arrebato the “raptures” of filmmaking and of opiates become entwined to the point where it’s impossible to decide which serves a metaphor for the other. An oblique version of the Christian sense of “rapture”—being snatched from earthly existence and spirited away to paradise—may also be at play, further complicating matters.

The film’s structure is unusual. It begins with Pedro sending a mysterious audiotape and film strip to José; the tape will supply a running narration throughout the film that explains much of the backstory. Listening to the tape induces two flashbacks describing the characters’ previous encounters. We meet Pedro in the flesh in these flashbacks, and his portrayal by Will More is… curious. On tape, his voice affects an unnaturally raspy delivery; in person, it’s high-pitched, like a kid’s. We first meet him in his child-man persona, throwing a childish fit when an experiment in filming a tree is briefly interrupted. He then hangs around in the background silently, with a bug-eyed stare, or shows up holding a creepy doll. When he takes cocaine, however, the drug paradoxically slows him down and turns him into a coherent, if heavy-lidded, adult; his hairstyle even changes from an unkempt bushy mop to a slicked back greaser ‘do. Later, the script will give Pedro the chance to act in a parody of a motorcycle fetish film, and to languish as a strung-out junkie (in withdrawal not from heroin, but from the ecstasy of film). More’s crazy performance is sort of like a Spanish operating under a heavy dose of barbiturates. Some will find it adds pleasantly to the weirdness; I thought it was distractingly goofy.

It’s not always clear, without paying attention to contextual clues (i.e. the progression of José’s addiction), what time period we’re in; still, the movie’s reputation as “confusing” is greatly overblown. The narrative, in fact, is simple to follow; the real confusion is thematic. This is one of those movies that has too many ideas, and might have done better to focus on just one or two. To the central idea of a merger between drug and filmic rapture states, we have a series of inserts of Pedro’s experimental short films (mostly in the herky-jerky time-lapse style); philosophical excursions revolving around notions of rhythm and pause; coded homoeroticism (Pedro and José lounging together in bed); inconsistent references to vampirism; Pedro’s oscillations between childhood and adulthood; a female character voiced by a pre-fame Pedro Almódovar; the suggestion of Pedro and José  as a split personality; a Betty Boop-themed seduction; and all of the various senses of “rapture” constantly crowding each other out. These colliding ideas and gambits harmonize inconsistently: the exploration of José and Ana’s disintegrating relationship works well as a subplot, but some bits, like Pedro’s detour into depravity through a punk rock-scored rough-trade threesome in an elevator, don’t make much sense. It almost goes without saying that there’s no rational explanation for the ending. Arrebato is a mostly delightful, sometimes frustrating mess, best seen as Zulueta’s onscreen self-psychoanalysis, performed in a  post-Franco atmosphere of loosened censorship that encouraged ecstatic excess. Any meaning the tale suggests disappears into the spaces between frames.

Arrebato was beloved by many Spaniards (and championed by Almódovar), but was unavailable outside of Spain for many years— and rarely screened even there. That changed in 2021 with the release of a restored version of the film to U.S. theaters, followed by a DVD and Blu-ray from weird/queer distributor Altered Innocence, via their arty “Anus Films” (groan) imprint. Visually, the print is grainy rather than pristine, appropriate for a movie in which the physicality of celluloid is immanent: the shooting, editing and processing of film is central to the plot. The experimental soundtrack (by Zulueta, with a contemporary punk anthem thrown in) is exceptional. The only special feature is the aforementioned Mike White commentary track, which gives important background information assisting viewers in appreciating this odd and sometimes difficult film.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

Arrebato is a blighted, frightened piece of work. You may want to back away from it sometimes, but its weird, nodding, incantatory pull keeps you hanging around for another fix.”–Nick Pinkerton, 4 Columns (2021 re-release)

(This movie was nominated for review by “squater,” who raved “I’m sure any weird movie lover will recognise Arrebato as one of the weirdest movies in the world.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: DAY OF THE BEAST (1995)

El día de la bestia

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Santiago Segura, Armando De Razza

PLOT: A priest decides he must become a great sinner as part of a scheme to summon the Devil and stop the Apocalypse; he enlists a death metal fan and a TV occultist to help him.

Still from Day of the Beast (1995)

COMMENTS: Cult favorite Day of the Beast builds its story around a trinity of characters, who become sort of the three anti-wise men at the nativity of the Antichrist. Having discovered the place and date of the Antichrist’s birth (typical of copycat Satan, it’s to be on Christmas Day), priest Angel enacts a plan to draw the devil’s attention by committing as many sins as possible. His apprentice crimes involve him stealing a beggar’s alms and assaulting a helpless mime (an act that shows how poor his grasp of the idea of “evil” really is). Angel knows he needs help to get that real, gnarly aura of wickedness, so he seeks out death metal records to play backwards; impressed with his musical taste, dimwitted and instinctually sinful record clerk Jose Maria agrees to tag along on the apostate’s adventures. Now, the duo need only recruit occultist television charlatan Cavan to teach them the necessary rituals to summon Old Scratch.

Of course, that requires them to convince a reluctant Cavan to join them… and to acquire the blood of a virgin and other items necessary for the ritual. Around the halfway mark, things get truly wild; de la Iglesia picks up the pace, sending his trio through an obstacle course that sees them fending off a matron with a shotgun and hanging off a neon billboard atop a skyscraper. Along the way there are a few genuinely weird scenes: a naked LSD-scarfing grandpa, and a trip to a convenience store where the staff has been dispatched by an anarchist murder cult. But mostly, the film is a series of black comedy hijinks and effective Satanic horror imagery (the devil is depicted both by a real goat and by a man in a goat costume). It’s quite a ride: subversive, but with comic characters you actually like and root for.

This was de la Iglesia’s sophomore feature and is typical of his output: genre pictures with strong characterizations, brutal violence, transgressive imagery, dark humor, and complex, fast-paced plots. They all have a / energy to them that might be best described more as “wild” than “weird.” Perhaps we should consider de la Iglesia’s work “weird-adjacent.” Whatever you call it, it’s well worth checking out.

El día de la bestia  was a big success in Spain, even notching a Best Director Goya (and five other awards, too, although not Best Picture). Unfortunately, other than a successful international film festival run, it did not screen much outside of its native land, and was poorly distributed on home video, not even scoring a region 1 DVD release. Severin rectified this absence in 2021 with a Blu-ray edition of Day of the Beast (along with another rarely-seen de la Iglesia movie, 1997’s Perdita Durango). Along with a newly restored print, the deluxe release contains a feature-length “making of” documentary, interviews with de la Iglesia and select cast and crew, and most substantially, de la Iglesia’s 1990 short film “Mirandas Asesinas,” an antique-looking B&W horror comedy featuring Álex Angulo as a literal-minded psychopath.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… appealingly unrefined, this serving of satanic excess and good-naturedly dumb humor should please young audiences with a taste for off-the-wall cult fare.”–David Rooney, Variety (contemporaneous)

12*. JESUS SHOWS YOU THE WAY TO THE HIGHWAY (2019)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

“I think we’re living in a world that in fifty years we’re not going to recognize, because now we produce real objects. But with augmented reality… we’re going to transform the world.” -Miguel Llansó

RecommendedWeirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Miguel Llansó

FEATURING: Daniel Tadesse, Guillermo Llansó, Gerda-Annette Allikas, Solomon Tashe,  Lauri Lagle

PLOT: Agents D.T. Gagano and Palmer Eldritch must enter the CIA-created alternate reality, “PsychoBook”, in order to investigate a sentient computer virus, Soviet Union. Abandoned within the virtual reality, Gagano finds himself in _Beta Ethiopia, where strongman/president/superhero-villain BatFro conspires with Soviet Union to distribute a VR byproduct known as “the substance.” Gagano’s reality-side fiancée, who hopes to open a kick-boxing academy, must now live with the prospect of him being trapped in a portable television display.

BACKGROUND:

  • An Estonian computer museum provided inspiration for the hardware aethestic in Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway, but the machines on screen were mostly Apple products from the early 1990s.
  • Solomon Tashe,  who plays the African strongman dictator “Batfro,” , is a much-loved Ethiopian media personality.
  • The unusual name “Mister Sophistication” was lifted from John Cassavetes’ The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. However, like other characters in Llansó’s films, he was based on a regular at the Club Juventus, a gathering spot in Addis Ababa for Italian ex-pats and other larger-than-life clientèle.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Take your pick. Perhaps it’s stop-motion Richard Pryor and Robert Redford investigating a house infiltrated by a computer virus assassin. Perhaps it’s the “Jiminy Cricket” CIA AI spouting knee-high advice to Agents Gagano and Eldritch. And perhaps it’s the melodramatic conversation between a super-sweetie BBW kick-boxer and her television-bound lover. For the record, however, the official “Indelible Image” is cross-dressing super-spy, Captain Lagucci, sprinting off a roof to save a portable television. Much like Miguel Llansó, Lagucci just… runs with it.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Coked-up Batfro to the rescue!; CIA Man trapped in a TV

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Llansó manages to make an “anything and everything” approach to imagery, symbolism, dialogue, and scenario gel into a unified whole. Obviously the plot for JSYtWttH is bonkers, and that’d be enough, but its mountain of antiquated tech, dizzying opening credits, vibrant colors, bug aliens, MIT conspiracizing, Cold War derring-do, and… You get the picture; just about everything in this movie makes it weird.

Trailer for Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway

COMMENTS: “Loading. Please wait.” Not a typical beginning for a Continue reading 12*. JESUS SHOWS YOU THE WAY TO THE HIGHWAY (2019)

CAPSULE: THE PLATFORM (2019)

Recommended

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

El hoyo

DIRECTED BY: Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia

FEATURING: Ivan Massagué, Alexandra Masangkay, Zorion Eguileor, Antonia San Juan, Emilio Buale

PLOT: To qualify for an “accredited diploma,” Goreng volunteers to spend six months on “the platform”: a vertical prison with one feeding tray that allows the inmates, from floor one down to the bottom, a mere two minutes to eat their daily sustenance before it moves on, emptier and emptier as it descends.

Still from The Platform (2019)

COMMENTS: As a social experiment, watching The Platform with like-minded 366ers was a real treat. But the social experiment explored by film itself is nothing but harrowing. Though he takes some visual (and, doubtless, budgetary) inspiration from another near-future tract about human nature, Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia is making his own movie, telling a story whose scale and brutality can make you lose your appetite.

Like the titular conveyance, The Platform begins piled on high—but with intrigue, instead of food. The (literal) platform’s food, we learn, diminishes during each section of its downward journey. Concurrently, our insight into the film’s premise increases. Goreng (Ivan Massagué, looking a bit scrawny even before his ordeal) is the lens through which we watch the system, administered, of course, by “The Administration.” He is an academic, established not only by his demeanor, but also by his sole possession: a copy of Cervantes’ Don Quixote. His only companion is an older gentleman. He’s affable enough, to be sure, but also armed with a “SamuraiPlus”: a knife with the almost magical ability to self-sharpen with use (or so claims the advertisement). Goreng learns the hard way that an accredited diploma might not be worth this ordeal-by-privation.

Rarely have I ever seen “drab industrial” captured so well–and so simply. The Platform hinges wholly on the script and its characters, since we spend almost the entire film on a simple, concrete cell. Massagué and the rest are all top notch, imbuing a believability into what are effectively expositional conversations interspersed with some not-so-light-handed social commentary. Capitalism is skewered, then roasted to perfection by some of the top cooks in the business. Having such an obvious agenda often does a disservice to a film, but Gaztelu-Urrutia tempers the preachifying with humor, pathos, and some incredibly well maneuvered dei-ex-machina sleights-of-hand. The Platform is an impressive movie, though perhaps not best enjoyed with a good meal.

The special screening I had the good luck to attend in late March provided a much-needed change of pace. I typically approach each film in complete silence, frantically scribbling away in a notebook. I was reminded of the pleasure of viewing with friends, and the importance of cinema as a shared experience. It is only when there is a shared context that we can communicate effectively. And though The Platform couldn’t be described in any way as a “fun” movie, watching it with a gang was quite enjoyable. (Even if the food-based avatar icons most of us chose seemed a little hard-hearted by the end.)

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“A gnarly mash-up of midnight movie and social commentary, the picture is overly overt but undeniably effective, delivering genre jolts and broad messaging in equal measure.”–Jason Bailey, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: BUNUEL IN THE LABYRINTH OF THE TURTLES (2018)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Salvador Simó Busom

FEATURING: Voices of Jorge Usón, Fernando Ramos

PLOT: Animated film chronicling the making of Luis Buñuel’s third movie, the Surrealist documentary Las Hurdes: Tierra Sin Pan (“Land Without Bread”) (1933), about a poverty-stricken region of Spain.

Still from Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles (2018)

COMMENTS: It’s surprising that there are (to my knowledge) no biopics devoted exclusively to the explosive artist . He makes a brief appearance in ’s Midnight in Paris (2011) and plays third wheel to and Federico García Lorca in the regrettable Little Ashes (2008), but Labyrinth of the Turtles is the only movie to make the father of cinematic Surrealism the central character. That fact would make this film notable even if it wasn’t good; fortunately, it’s as entertaining as it is informative.

Labyrinth of the Turtles is based on a graphic novel, and the animation is stiff and delivered at a low frame rate. Given that this is an adult film about ideas rather than a kid’s cartoon about chase scenes, this isn’t a problem. Actual scenes from Land Without Bread are cleverly embedded within the animation. The choice to film in hand-drawn animation allows for inclusion of some dream sequences that would be expensive to render in live-action: elephants with stilt legs stomping through the streets of Paris, and Buñuel groping the Virgin Mary, who then shows him a vision of a giraffe with a cabinet in its torso.

It begins with Buñuel as persona non grata in the French filmmaking community, blackballed by bishops after the blasphemy of his second film, L’Age d’Or. He only raises enough money for his planned documentary when his friend Ramón Acín wins the lottery. Although an avant-garde writer and sculptor by vocation, it falls upon Ramón to be both the voice of financial reason and the comic foil, fretting about Buñuel’s extravagant purchase of an automobile and his erratic methods.

Labyrinth of the Turtles presumes that the viewer has a passing familiarity with its subject, and although novices should be able to follow along, it will be more rewarding to Buñuel enthusiasts. For example, Turtles references Buñuel’s habit (hee-hee) of dressing as a nun to shock the bourgeois. It also cites the director’s rocky rivalry with painter and former collaborator Dalí: the movie’s biggest set piece, the anxious nightmare where Luis sees Dalían pachyderms marching through the streets of Paris, suggests that his comrade’s greater recognition deeply rankled and motivated Buñuel. The movie doesn’t shy away from the director’s cruelty towards animals, either: he arranges for the killings of a rooster, a goat, and (most disturbingly) a donkey, as part of his obsession with the ever-present specter of death. He can also be tender towards the children of Las Hurdes, however, and seems to genuinely respect and suffer along with the poor of the region (going so far as to plan not to eat in front of them). All in all, The Labyrinth of Turtles is a significant, imaginative document of an important but neglected bit of cinema’s history, delivered in a paradoxical spirit its master would approve of.

This Spanish production was picked up by animation specialist GKids as a prestige picture and briefly released to theaters in 2019.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“[Simo] regularly returns to dreamscapes that Buñuel would admire, very rarely in a way that underlines the internal struggles of the filmmaker at the time but that highlight how his visions co-existed with his reality. At its best, ‘Buñuel and the Labyrinth of the Turtles’ is as caught between dream and reality as the film that Buñuel made in the mountains of Spain.”–Brian Tallerico, RoberEbert.com (contemporaneous)