Sunday, 10 May 2009

She's a deaf mute and you can do whatever you want with her.

No 467 - Santa Sangre
Director - Alejandro Jadorowsky

So, getting back into the swing of things with a film I hadn't even heard of. I have finished Battlestar Galactica (at last) so expect these to become slightly more regular again.

The film begins with a naked man up a tree. All pretty standard, until you realise that this tree is in a room, with a dog basket at the bottom and our protagonist thinks he is an ape (he even eats fish like Gollum.... gross man).
We follow the man as he gradually flirts closer to normality and ultimately escapes the asylum. Whilst that may sound like I've just given a lot of information, really I haven't. What is important is what happens before and after this moment.

This is a film of two parts and I will tackle each part separately. I shall begin, logically, at the beginning. The tale of Felix, a young circus magician (who looks oddly like Dandy Dan - (this is the best picture I could find of Mr Dandy Dan - Google is loosing its touch)) and his family. His bonkers, messed up family.
Felix lives in a circus, surrounded by his friends (a gaggle of clowns) and Alma, the only other person close to his age and to all extents and purposes his 'girlfriend' (they are 11ish after, it hardly seems the right term. Maybe I should add a space. His Girl Friend. That's better). Alma looks quite creepy in her make up, but is the ultimate example of the helpless victim. She is victimised by her guardian (the horrific Tattooed Lady, the person responsible for my title quote) and is a deaf mute. The friendship she gets from Felix is very important.

As well as being mean to Alma, the Tattooed woman is responsible for everything falling to plot. Sadly everything breaks down because of sex. Sex and violence.

The Tattooed Woman lusts after the fat old knife thrower
The fat old knife thrower lusts after the Tattooed Woman.
The fat old knife thrower may or may not be Felix's dad.... either way he is having some kind of relationship with Felix's mother.

At this point it is important to note that Felix's mum is bonkers. She is a religious fanatic, in a church which has been disowned by the rest of Mexico (it worships a rape victim who had her arms chopped off....). A church with a pool of Holy Blood (which is English for santa sangre.... innit).
She pours acid on people's genitals. She has her arms cut off and she is left to die. Meanwhile Felix's (maybe) dad is screaming in pain, naked, with acid coated balls and cuts his throat. All of this happens in front of Felix. It is no surprise that he ends up in an asylum. Utterly mad mad mad.

The whole first bit of the film feels like a really slow drawn out set up. Nothing really happens plot-wise. It is just a series of quite disturbing events witnessed (or experienced, like a horrific DIY tattoo scene) by a small boy.
There are some elements to this section that I really like - specifically the use of music. There doesn't seem to be any incidental music played over the film. Instead (due to the circus setting) wandering musicians stroll around and provide the atmospheric soundtrack. It is a very lovely touch, but one that is slowly replaced for more conventional movie scoring in part 2.

Part 2 of this film is what happens after Felix escapes the asylum. He finds his mother and becomes her arms and hands. Letting her live out her day to day life. Those of you that have seen Psycho will probably guess what is happening, and it is certainly not played as a twist as Felix goes around befriending women only for his 'mother' to kill them.
There are, however, some truly amazing feats of choreography (originally planned for Marcel Marceau). Felix sits behind his armless mother and provides her arms with motions which are smooth and effortless and truly impressive in how natural they are made to look.
In fact... I'm pretty sure the hands and insanity element is the main influence for an episode of League of Gentlemen. I mean, I'm certain that they would have watched Santa Sangre. They like their dark disturbing horror oddities.

It is only with the return of Alma that Felix can conquer his demons and battle his mother and her control over him.
I found the film became a lot more exciting and interesting when the 'Mother' element of the story kicked in. The deaths were savage and vicious and his desperation to escape is quite tragic, but his battle with sanity is much more interesting than the circumstances which cause him to get there.

I am aware that this film is famously symbolic, and I'll admit that I'm not very good at picking them up. However I'm certain I got one. As Alma searches for Felix, a man peels of his ear and tries to force it into her mouth. Now, it doesn't take a genius to go "hmmm.... ears and mouths.... deaf and dumb...." so I got that symbolism, and the forcefulness shows that because of her position (she can't cry out.... hence why the Tattooed Woman is letting people pay to rape her) she is all the more defenceless. Her character's disability ties in with her white angelic make up. Alma is purity, Alma is virginal, Alma is the innocent.

Only Alma can save Felix.

There are some truly beautiful moments between Felix and Alma, through out both the Adult and Child sections of the film. Their relationship is one of the most entrancing elements of the film and one of the most rewarding parts to watch.

Certainly more rewarding than the asylum scenes which at time feels slightly exploitative to those with Downs Syndrome. Although there is a scene where the most stereotypical Mexican in the world gets a bunch of people from the asylum, feeds them coke, and sends them to see a big fat whore.

That is worth renting the film out for.

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