José and Pedro

Arrebato (Rapture, in English) is one of a new wave of films that poured out of Spain after the death of the Fascist dictator Generalissimo Franco in 1975. It appeared in 1979 and was directed by Ivan Zulueta, who like his friend Pedro Almodóvar, was eager to explore all the areas of transgression that Franco’s jackboot had blocked. Sex and drugs and rock’n’roll is the rough idea, and since Zulueta was himself a junkie, as were a lot of people working on his film, Arrebato is a great way of getting the full Movida Madrileña experience, as the post-Franco rush of naughtiness was called, if you’re in a hurry. In fact Rush might be a better fit as a translation of Arrebato.

It’s an arthouse horror movie with two central characters – José (Eusebio Poncela), a director struggling with his latest film, and Pedro (Will More), a wraithlike figure of mystery who shoots his own home movies and has recorded an accompanying commentary to them on a cassette tape, which he’s sent to José. Pedro is a vampire, essentially, though it’s never explicitly stated. And though the film starts off being more interested in José, his struggle to make his movie and his ongoing relationship with Ana (played with great punk gothic disdain by Cecilia Roth), it is gradually taken over by Pedro as Arrebato itself is consumed with its fixation on vampirism of one sort or another. Capturing someone’s image is a form of vampirism, Zulueta suggests, as is taking heroin, as is sex, and relationships, whether they are male/female (José and Ana, ), or male/male (José and Pedro, at one point).

Though the rangey Poncela is the titular star of the show, the film hangs off the doomy angularity of the face of Will More (real name Joaquín Alonso-Colmenares y García-Loygorri), who has the cool saturnine looks of all the best vampires, crossed with the tangle of black hair and pallour of Echo and the Bunnymen frontman Ian McCulloch. Like Zulueta, More is a talent who should have done more. His IMDb entry is thin. On Wikipedia (as I write) he has no standalone entry.

There’s a touch of Dario Argento in Zulueta’s love of the jagged edit and the lurid visual, and the synth soundtrack alternating squeaks and growls by Negativo and Zulueta (they might be one and the same) sounds like a homage to regular Argento collaborators Goblin. But Zulueta’s way of assembling the film is all his own. He uses a layering technique, slipping between the past (where the drug of choice is cocaine) and the present (heroin), old girlfriend Marta (Marta Fernández Muro) and new one Ana, José and Pedro, Ana and Pedro (it’s suggested they might be the same person at one point), and also between different types of film stock, Zulueta regularly dropping in silent Super 8 footage that’s been massively manipulated at the development stage to produce images that are dreamy and out there, perhaps simulating the whacked-outness of a drug high.

Ceclia Roth as Ana
Cecilia Roth as Ana

The big and faintly comic conceit is that here’s a film director making a vampire movie who doesn’t realise that he’s in a vampire movie of his own, one that’s being filmed, moreover, by the vampire himself. Not that Arrebato ever comes right out and states any of these things out loud, and the suspicion does begin to grow after a while that it might have been better if it had. It’s mad and glorious and psychedelic and blissed-out and gothic but it’s also self-consciously avant-garde, and the avant-garde worksheet will insist that the difficult is more valid than the easy, even when it isn’t.

So, deliberately obtuse then, necessarily so in some places, needlessly in others. A hint of the artschool profounds. As a summary of where the western world was in 1979, it’s really rather brilliant. Still fixated with drugs, exploring transgressive relationships (and still seeing them as transgressive), in love with rock’n’roll, the gothic, the full Byronesque romantic package. As if the band The Velvet Underground had taken movie form.

A strange film, a majestic one too, it doesn’t so much end as expire, like the last breath leaving a centuries-old vampire’s body. Which seems entirely the right way to go.

Fans of fun factoids will be listening out for Pedro Almodóvar voicing Gloria, one of Pedro’s pals. The IMDb’s trivia section informs us that “he could fake a more feminine voice that Zulueta wanted for the character”. Maybe Zulueta actually asked for pantomime dame, because that’s what he got. Add it to the long tally of weirdness.

Arrebato – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2021

28 July 2014-07-28

Russell Crowe in Noah



Out in the UK This Week



Noah (Paramount, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD)

Director Darren Aronofsky, having temporarily revived the career of Mickey Rourke with The Wrestler and then an entire genre – the tween ballet thriller – with Black Swan, goes for another challenge, the biblical epic. The story: a big flood. The man: Russell Crowe as a fundamentalist Noah. The tone: old school epic, with the odd arthouse break to remind us that Aronofsky once directed films like the overwrought Pi. Jennifer Connelly plays Mrs Noah in British Heroic voice, in what must be the least demanding role of her career. Surprisingly, bizarrely, very very little is made of the ark, the animals, the flood, leaving Emma Watson in what should be a subplot as the only real show in town, as the waif taken in by the Noahs and catching the eye of one of his lusty sons. Cue much fierce concentration by Watson, hoping this might be mistaken for chops. All in all, a mad mix of Mad Max and Cecil B DeMille.

Noah – at Amazon




Downhill (Crisis, cert 15, DVD)

Downhill takes the vibe of the Steve Coogan/Rob Brydon film/TV series The Trip/The Trip to Italy and presses it onto the story about four middle aged guys meeting up after decades to do the Lakes to Yorkshire coast-to-coast walk – 192 miles of bracing outdoors. The results are very nice indeed, probably moreso if you are exactly the sort of middle aged guy they are – disappointed, fond of a beer, a laugh, with a total rogue (the very funny Ned Dennehy) as one of your number, and still with an eye for a lady, though with virtually no chance of pulling one. This also sounds a bit like Sideways, doesn’t it, albeit a British one. And I’d bracket Downhill alongside it, as a gentle and funny film that also reminds us that one day we’ll be dead and that spending time with friends, just chatting and idling time away, is one of life’s great joys.

Downhill – at Amazon




We Are the Best! (Metrodome, cert 15, DVD)

Lukas Moodysson’s career goes up (Tillsammans, Lily 4-Ever) and it goes down (A Hole in My Heart, Container). We Are the Best! marks a new upswing – a story about three punk 13-year-olds in post-punk 1982 Sweden who decide to form a band, in spite of the fact they can’t play. Actually, one of them can and anyway not being able to play is the whole point of punk, is it not? This almost insanely cheery and brilliantly acted drama then follows the girls as they are bullied at school, ignored or teased by their parents, taken advantage of by older guys in bands. In short, it’s the full girls-in-music experience distilled into beautifully observed chunks, any one of which might stand alone as a very short film.

We Are the Best – at Amazon




Venus in Fur (Artificial Eye, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Roman Polanski casts his own wife (Emmanuelle Seigner) as a slatternly actress auditioning for a stern theatre writer/director (Mathieu Amalric, looking like a young Polanski) in an entirely stagy two-hander set in an abandoned theatre. The script she’s reading is the dramaturg’s adaptation of the Sacher-Masoch novella Venus in Furs and it is no surprise at all that soon she seems to be taking charge of the situation and he is under her boot. This being Polanski, the sexual is obviously up for some exploration. But this being Polanski, he’s playing with us: Polanski doing to his audience what the actress is doing to her director. Ideologically, it’s a film from the 1980s – the world is all constructs, reality is a series of fictions, identity is partial/mutable – and it is an entirely enjoyable little romp in the footnotes of sociology. What’s more, the actors appear to be enjoying themselves, and so does Polanski, who seems, here as in Carnage, to be increasingly favouring these one-room pressure-cooker dramas. He does them very well.

Venus in Fur – at Amazon




About Last Night (Sony, cert 15, DVD/digital)

This is a mixed bag. Depending on your view it’s either a remake of the terrible 1986 Rob Lowe/Demi Moore movie or another adaptation of David Mamet’s breakthrough play Sexual Perversity in Chicago. Either way it’s about sex and love, or sex versus love. On one side we have Michael Ealy and Joy Bryant as the gorgeous couple who are so much in love. On the other Kevin Hart and Regina Hall as the fuck-buddies who enjoy the hell out of each other’s company. You can guess what’s going to happen, or maybe you can’t. About Last Night has more dynamite scenes than you might expect, most of them featuring Regina Hall. It is full of the sort of language that’s going to give some an attack of the vapours, so if you can’t work out what “thigh muffs” are, or when they might be deployed, be warned. Tonally it asks us to repeatedly make the mental leap from Mamet-style hardball to the sort of romancey-wancey stuff you might associate with The Notebook. So, a very improvable film. However, it made me laugh and even left me with a tear in my eye. So who cares?

About Last Night – at Amazon




A Long Way Down (Lionsgate, cert 15, DVD/digital)

A disgraced radio DJ (Pierce Brosnan) decides to kill himself, goes to the top of a tall building on New Year’s Eve and is just about to jump when another would-be jumper (Toni Collette) turns up. Then another (Imogen Poots). Then another (Aaron Paul). As high concepts go, this is high on its own ridiculousness. But it doesn’t stop there, as one bit of “well, I never…” is followed by another bit of “now isn’t that a remarkable coincidence” and soon the unlikely foursome are all on holiday together, believe it or not. At this point, after the film has gone into its fourth set-up and is more than halfway over, it actually starts to get going, and finally allows Poots to take a breath – up until this point she has kept the entire thing going through sheer force of will and a life-shortening expenditure of cortisol. Suddenly, micron-thin characters take on enough weight for us to get a handle on them. We learn that Collette’s single mother has a disabled son at home whose needs have driven her to the end of her tether. And a bit more about Brosnan’s historical dalliance with an “I never knew she was 15” girl, and so on. As for Aaron Paul, after Need for Speed this is another example of someone with no observable charisma bafflingly managing to nail a career – must be the Breaking Bad Effect. But back to the movie, which ultimately needed to decide before filming had even started whether it was a comedy or a drama. In other words it’s a film that, like its protagonists, fails to jump.

A Long Way Down – at Amazon




Rapture (Eureka, cert 12, Blu-ray)

A black and white film from 1965, restored to such a sharpness that you can see powder on the face of its star, Patricia Gozzi, who is playing a French teenager who is refusing to grow up – and would most definitely not be wearing powder (see, the god of Blu-ray restoration he giveth and he taketh away). Or she was refusing to grow up, or acknowledge ownership of the pair of budding breasts that director John Guillermin is constantly directing us towards, until an escaped criminal (Dean Stockwell, rocking the James Dean look) turns up as a lure. What a weird and overcooked gothic melodrama this is, the sort of film in which our heroine will at one point shout “I’m mad. I’m mad” and run to the padlocked gates of the lunatic asylum, conveniently situated on a nearby hill. The sort of film where everyone speaks English but with the Peter Sellers Clouseau accent. The sort that goes for tilting cameras, deep focus, distorting lenses, chiaroscuro lighting. Is it any good? I wasn’t persuaded, though Gozzi is sensational, as is Gunnel Lindblom as the sexpot housekeeper – blowsy 1960s licence distilled into one female form. But it’s convinced it ranks alongside those Robert Bresson films about innocence, such as Au Hasard Balthazar, hence the phony French accents. Or maybe they’re there to distance Rapture from Brian Forbes’s Whistle Down the Wind, which is in faintly similar territory. Approach wearing a beret.

Rapture – at Amazon






© Steve Morrissey 2014