• The Fernando Arrabal Collection Volume 2 (Cult Epics) DVD Review



    Released by: Cult Epics
    Released on: February 23rd, 2010.
    Director: Fernando Arrabal
    Cast: Alain Bashung, Richard Leduc, Juliet Berto, Serge Fuillard, Dominique Pinon, Mickey Rooney, Anick, Jonathan Starr, Ky Huot Uk
    Year: 1983/1982
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    The Fernando Arrabal Collection Volume 2 – Movie Review:

    A founding member of the panic movement (along with Alejandro Jodorowsky and Roland Topor), a chaotic theatre group that performed mainly in Mexico during the 1960s, Fernando Arrabal is not only an accomplished playwright and author, but also a remarkable filmmaker. Cult Epics previously released three of his films and now returns to the Arrabal well a second time with The Fernando Arrabal Collection, Volume Two. The films here aren’t as surreal or as extreme as the earlier pictures but the director’s stamp is still all over them. Here’s what this latest boxed set includes:

    CAR CEMETERY:

    Based on Arrabal’s play of the same name, Car Cemetery is sort of an eighties punk rock version of the Christ story. We follow the life of a messianic figure from birth through to his death although instead of taking place in and around the Middle East, it’s set in a post-apocalyptic garbage dump full of rusty, broken down cars and it’s populated by various degenerates – pimps, prostitutes, and other nefarious types.

    Our messiah this time around is named Emanou (Alain Bashung) and his goal is to put on a rock concert for the citizens of the junkyard into which he was born. Of course, the powers that be see him as a threat and while he does go around making the world around him a better place, eventually he is betrayed and his people turn on him.

    Those more familiar with Arrabal’s earlier efforts will feel right at home with this picture. It lacks much of the violence that made films like Viva La Meurte as shocking and powerful as they are but it’s definitely a showcase for Arrabal’s penchant for the bizarre. The plot is pretty basic and it’s really just made up of a series of set pieces lifted from The Bible, but he puts enough of his own spin on it that it’s always interesting and just unfamiliar enough that you’ll want to see how it plays out. On a visual level the film feels a bit dated and its eighties roots and heritage show through in the fashions, hairstyles and mannerisms (80s punk fashion hasn’t aged nearly as well as 70s punk fashion has) but that doesn’t really hurt the film much, it simply labels it as a product of its time.

    There doesn’t really seem to be much of a point to the picture, instead it feels like a strange piece of art for art’s sake, but for some that’ll be reason enough. The sets look very stagey and you definitely feel as if you’re watching a play more so than a movie but Bashung’s performance as the savior of the trash heap is a good one. There’s plenty of social commentary to feast on and no shortage of bizarre visuals and imagery to enjoy and this is by far the most interesting film in the set.

    THE EMPEROR OF PERU:

    The Emperor Of Peru is to Arrabal what The Rainbow Thief is to Jodorowsky. Made with a younger audience in mind, this French-Canadian co-production shows us a kinder, gentler Arrabal than we’ve seen in any of his other films or projects before or since.

    The film follows a brother and sister named Toby (Jonathan Starr) and Liz (Anick) whose parents decide to open up their home to young Cambodian kid named Hoang (Ky Huot Uk). The three kids are out doing what kids do one day and come upon an aged railroad engineer (Mickey Rooney) in the woods. The four of them hang out and discussions soon bring about a world of fantastic ideas which eventually spurs a train ride on an empty car back to Cambodia where they intend to return Hoang to his family.

    The Emperor Of Peru may be entirely friendly but it’s still an odd little film. Seeing Mickey Rooney in an Arrabal film is entertaining enough in and of itself, but he’s actually good as the somewhat magical engineer who acts as the journeyman for the kids. Much of the entertainment value comes not from the main plot so much as it does from Toby’s oddball daydreams. As the story progresses we take some amusing little side trips into the kid’s imagination and these act as strange little mini-films all on their own. His daydreams are typical young boy stuff – he’s a superhero or he’s at the circus in front of a crowd – but they’re done in such a way that as clichéd as they might be, they’re still pretty funny.

    The performances are decent, with the unlikely Rooney doing a fine job alongside what is almost entirely a cast of children, while the artsy direction ensures that the film looks good. Some great shots of the lumbering behemoth of a train that they find themselves on stand out, while the detail given the set design and costumes helps to hide the film’s low budget.

    The third disc in the set contains a few interesting shorter bits of varying degrees of interest to Arrabal fans:

    Farewell Babylon is a fifty-four minute video directed by Arrabal which alternates between clips from different movies and footage of his trip to New York City in the early nineties. It’s a strange film that doesn’t have much reason behind it, but it’s interesting enough to watch once simply because (not so surprisingly) Arrabal is able to capture some truly odd imagery in his travels around the city which juxtaposes in odd ways with the filmed clips and more conventional travelogue footage which he also works into the movie. Arrabal based this on his novel of the same name and managed to get a few unlikely guest stars to appear, including Spike Lee.

    More interesting is the hour long documentary, Arrabal, Panik Cineast, which features interview clips with Arrabal himself alongside some of his contemporaries, including former Panik Movement aficionado, Alejendro Jodorowsk as well as a few other filmmakers and artists who claim him as an influence. Arrabal is always an amusing subject and an interesting guy to listen to and this documentary captures him in fine form as he happily talks about his films and his career.

    Last but not least is the sixty-six minute Borges: A Life in Poetry which is a really strange biography of sorts that Arrabal directed and which documents the life of the titular Brazilian poet whose work obviously meant a lot to him. Arrabal splices interview clips with Jorge Luis Borges alongside clips from his other films – it’s all very strange.

    The Fernando Arrabal Collection Volume 2 – DVD Review:

    Cult Epics presents both Car Cemetery and The Emperor Of Peru in 1.66.1 anamorphic widescreen. The transfers are interlaced but in reasonably good shape otherwise. Expect to see some grain and mild print damage here and there but the color reproduction is decent enough. The shorts included on the third disc are all presented in fullframe and appear to have been shot on consumer grade video making this the correct aspect ratio. The image is sometimes soft as far as the shorts go, but given the fact that they were made with very little money and on tape, this isn’t all that surprising. Everything is at least watchable though, and it’s nice to have all of this material in its proper ratio.

    Car Cemetery is presented in French, Dolby Digital Mono, with optional English subtitles, while The Emperor Of Peru is presented in English in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo with an optional French track also included, while the shorts are all in Dolby Digital 2.0 as well. The audio is about on par with the video. It’s not perfect, but it’s sufficient given the age and obscurity of the material.

    The Car Cemetery disc includes theatrical trailers for a few of Arrabal’s other films – I Will Walk Like A Crazy Horse, The Guernica Tree and Viva La Meurte - while the other two discs are barebones. Technically, the third disc is full of extras itself, so we’re covered there but outside of that there’s no additional content.

    The Fernando Arrabal Collection Volume 2 – The Final Word:

    The films in this second volume don’t have the same impact as the earlier efforts in the first boxed set release but Arrabal’s fan base will be appreciative regardless. He’s a fascinating director with a truly unique filmography and if the presentation here is a little rough around the edges, the content makes up for it.