• The Fernando Arrabal Collection (Cult Epics) DVD Review



    Released by: Cult Epics
    Released on: November 15th, 2005.
    Director: Fernando Arrabal
    Cast: Fernando Arrabal, Mohamed Bellasoued, Mahdi Chaouch, François Chatelet, Marie-France Garcia, Hachemi Marzouk, Cosimi Cinieri, Ron Faber, Rocco Fontana, Mariangela Melato, Mario Novelli
    Year: 1970/1973/1975
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    The Fernando Arrabal Collection – 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 playright and author, but also a remarkable filmmaker. Cult Epics has just previously released Viva La Muerte! and I Will Walk Like A Crazy Horse and now bundles them up with The Guernica Tree, available on DVD for the first time. Thankfully, they’ve done justice to these overlooked gems of surreal cinema.

    VIVA LA MUERTE!:

    Viva La Muerte (Long Live Death) is a semi-autobiographical film that focuses on the story of a boy named Fando, whose father was sentenced to death for opposing the Spanish political regime in power at the time. Fando's mother, however, tells him that his father wasn't executed, but that he committed suicide. None of this seems to faze him though, as he seems adamant that his father is still alive somewhere, possibly in hiding, and that one day, he'll find him alive and well.

    When Fando finds out that in reality, it was his mother who turned his father in to the authorities, he realizes that his life is not at all what it seems, and his world is fast becoming a very different place from what he thought it was. From here on in, things take on a very hallucinatory quality as Fando tries to figure out the truth of his past and his father’s death.

    Filled with disturbing scenes of sex, violence, and overall freakiness, Viva La Muerte! still has the power to shock even the most jaded viewers. It also has a few scenes of animal cruelty which rival those on display in the likes of the Italian cannibal films of the 80s – something that is always sure to offend a few people, and for good reason.

    Heavy on political content, the film has an amazing ability to totally shift gears and go from extremely disturbing to very touching at the drop of a hat. The film is one that warrants repeat viewings, as it is a lot to take in in one sitting, but for those who pay attention and give it some thought, it's a brilliant work of art that stands the test of time. The film’s message is still poignant and the imagery is as powerful now as it would have been thirty odd years ago when it was made.

    I WILL WALK LIKE A CRAZY HORSE:

    I Will Walk Like A Crazy Horse (J'irai Comme un Cheval Fou), released in 1973, was Arrabal's second foray into filmmaking, and again, it proved to be an interesting surrealist effort that flew the middle finger in the face of the society he knew.

    While not as overtly political as Viva La Muerte, it still touches on some of the same issues and certainly has a lot to say about faith, religion and God.

    George Shannon plays Adan, a man trying to escape society after his mother, a vicious and controlling woman, suddenly dies. When he finds himself in the middle of nowhere, he becomes more perceptive of his surroundings and starts to pay closer attention to the natural beauty of things. Here he befriends Marvel, a strange reclusive hermit, who has the ability to talk to animals, clouds, and the sun.

    Things get tense though, as Aden starts to fall deeply in love with Marvel. When the two of them head back to civilization though, they become more aware than ever of the hypocritical nature of man, and things begin to fall apart. The police close in on Adan, and those around them begin to question the relationship between the two men. It all leads up to one of the most disturbing endings I've seen in a long, long time which wraps everything up neatly, albeit with a really ugly bow.

    I Will Walk Like A Crazy Horse is another difficult film from Arrabal, considered by many to be his best. Again, like its predecessor, it has moments of tenderness and moments of extreme violence and cruelty, but it never seems out of place in the film, even though, considering the nature of the events taking place, it probably should.

    A trippy and at times, malicious picture, I Will Walk Like A Crazy Horse is a powerful film that may very well make you question your faith, your theology, and your fellow man.

    THE GUERNICA TREE:

    This French production still pays homage to Arrabal’s Spanish roots, as it’s more or less a recreation of the Spanish Civil War. The story follows Count Cerralbo, a man of immense wealth and considerable influence and who is having trouble adjusting to the fact that the common people who live around him in Villa Romero are coming closer to obtaining equal rights. He’s a rather spiteful man, who looks down on those he lords over with nothing but contempt.

    Cerralbo has sired four sons, three of whom are just as twisted and evil as he. They amuse themselves with the villagers, raping the women whenever they see fit and taking whatever they want from the impoverished citizens who call it home. Cerralbo’s fourth son, a young man named Goya, is different – he prefers to spend his time working on his art and who realizes how screwed up the system is under which he lives. When Goya meets an older, lonely woman named Vandale, the two soon fall in love and we come to learn that Vandale is actually a witch. Together, Goya and Vandale are going to change things, much to Cerralbo’s dismay.

    Considerably more straightforward than the other two films in this set, The Guernica Tree does an excellent job of contrasting the situations of the people involved in the story against similar events that inspired the war that he’s obviously taking shots at in this film. While it isn’t quite as challenging as the first two movies, we’re still bombarded in spots with surrealist and blasphemous imagery and a lot of metaphorical set pieces.

    This film relies more on the visuals than the performances or the narrative to tell its tale. The colors, the sets, the cinematography are all simultaneously grotesque, wonderful and consistently fascinating. Strict Catholics might be a little put off by some of the material Arrabal has filmed here to protest certain issues he has with the organized Church, and some of the violence is particularly ugly but The Guernica Tree, underneath the shock value, is a pretty intelligent movie that’s obviously lashing out against facism and oppression.

    These three films are definitely not for the squeamish or easily offended, as they break a lot of taboos and can be pretty grisly fare at times, but if you're looking for something different and are willing to not only watch a film, but invest part of yourself in it and put some effort into its interpretation, this trio from Fernando Arrabal are 'must see' movies.

    The Fernando Arrabal Collection – DVD Review:

    The anamorphic 1.78.1 transfers on all three films are good by the standards of DVDs from 2005 (while, obviously, leaving plenty of room for the type of improvements that new high definition transfers could provide), with good detail and brilliant colors reproduced accurately. There is a bit of grain and print damage noticeable, but nothing major. Cult Epics has done a nice job with the transfers on all three films, which are presented in anamorphic widescreen, and it's great to see these obscure films looking so good. Black levels stay pretty strong, though you will notice some grain in the darker spots, and there’s a solid level of both foreground and background detail present throughout the image. Flesh tones look lifelike and natural and color reproduction is very good.

    Viva La Muerte has two Dolby Digital audio tracks, the first in French with optional English subtitles and the second in Spanish, again with optional English subs. Both tracks are fine, with only a few slightly noticeable defects in the form of the odd noticeable spot of hiss. I Will Walk Like A Crazy Horse is presented in French Dolby Digital Mono with removable English subs, and the quality of this track is on par with the other release. The Guernica Tree is presented in a clean and clear Dolby Digital Mono French track with optional English subtitles, and again, it’s fine for the most part.

    All three discs have a trailer (although Viva La Muerte contains the trailer for I Will Walk Like A Crazy Horse, and I Will Walk Like A Crazy Horse contains the trailer for Viva La Muerte), as well as some interesting liner notes of roughly 6 pages pertaining to each release specifically. There are also lobby card galleries on each disc, showcasing the unusual promotional art for these films. But the highlights of each release are the interviews with Arrabal, who speaks in great detail about his background, the Panic Movement, film, theater, and art in general. Arrabal comes off as a genuinely strange man, with a lot of passion for what he does, and an interesting outlook on life. Also, exclusive to The Guernica Tree is a post card insert containing some artwork by Arrabal.

    The Fernando Arrabal Collection – The Final Word:

    The three films in the Fernando Arrabal Collection are not ever going to appeal to a mass audience, but for those looking for something different, something a little more challenging and a little more shocking than what you may be used to, they come highly recommended.