Dec 13, 2011
Before becoming the king of international Spanish-Language cinema, a relatively unknown Javier Bardem played the lead role of Romeo Dolorosa – a cracked character with most likely the most hideous haircut in cinema history – in the criminally underrated film Perdita Durango (1997) aka Dance with the Devil directed by Álex de la Iglesia (The Day of the Beast, The Last Circus); a film based on the Barry Gifford's novel 59° and Raining: The Story of Perdita Durango. Gifford’s ultra-venomous femme fatale character Perdita Durango made her first cinematic appearance in David Lynch’s Wild at Heart (1990) and was originally portrayed by the beautiful Swedish/Italian actress Isabella Rossellini. Upon first discovering that beady-eyed Afro-Puerto Rican actress Rosie Perez played Perdita Durango in Perdita Durango, I was more than a tad bit disappointed. After all, few actresses can level up to the hypnotic beautiful insanity of Rossellini’s performances, especially someone as seemingly unappealing as the woman who played Spike Lee’s bitchy Baby Momma in Do the Right Thing (1989) yet Perez, like Bardem, manages to give a performance that is nothing short of fully artistically committed and stripped (both literally and figuratively) in Perdita Durango. In the film, Bardem and Perez star as the Hispanic equivalent of Bonnie and Clyde, the main difference being that the leading man’s sexual potency is fully intact and that he is a Santeria witch doctor. Showing their undying commitment to meszito pride, the loco Latino couple kidnaps a young bourgeois WASP couple and uses them as their own personal sexual playthings. Despite their instinctive proclivity towards psychopathic criminality, Romeo Dolorosa and Perdita Durango – like their killer couple forebears Bonnie and Clyde – are extremely likeable anti-heroes whose charisma and charm is only rivaled by their moral instability. As one would expect from a film directed by Spanish auteur Álex de la Iglesia, Perdita Durango is as carnivalesque as a Fellini film and as sardonically (yet sillily) surreal as a work by Jodorowsky and Buñuel, but assembled in a more cohesive and linear manner, thus making the film accessible to both cultural philistines and snobbish cinephiles alike.
On top of all the cross-genre and thematic insanity of the work, Perdita Durango also features macabre Negro singer Screamin' Jay Hawkins as a spooky Santeria spook that certainly "puts a spell on you" despite his somewhat brief appearance in the film. Naturally, Perdita Durango also features music by Screamin' Jay Hawkins which – like the musical score by Simon Boswell – compliments the overall vivacious and equally visceral feel of the film. Perdita Durango also features an underweight James Gandolfini as a Drug Enforcement Administration officer who has a knack for getting hit by cars like Wile E. Coyote and an ironic cameo from Brit punk auteur Alex Cox as a cop. I am not usually one to describe a film as “cool”, but Perdita Durango permeates divine derangement and subtle (and not so subtle) cultural references throughout, thus it is the kind of work that such would-be-cool contrivers like Quentin Tarantino and Oliver Stone wish they could make but lack the organic-suaveness to do so. After all, I cannot think of another film in the vein of Perdita Durango where race-based Stockholm syndrome is sexy and killing is kinky. In fact, I would go as far as saying that Perdita Durango is the ultimate action-packed cinematic “Meszito-Negro-Europid Western-spiritual” as it is a work that mongrelizes an eclectic collection of cultural, genre, and spiritual ingredients in a melting-pot that, for once, does not reek of repellant anti-cultural decay but smells like a most refined dish of the most delicious exotic and erotic kind. Needless to say, Perdita Durango is just another great example as to why Álex de la Iglesia is one of the greatest – if not the greatest – Spanish directors working today. If Luis Buñuel were alive today, I am sure he would take De La Iglesia out for some fine Spanish cuisine.
Although I am an unwavering fan of David Lynch’s film, I must admit that De La Iglesia’s Perdita Durango is more wild at heart than Wild at Heart. Apparently, a lot of Álex de la Iglesia’s Spanish fans felt that the Perdita Burango was a "sell-out" film and that the director was pandering to mainstream North American audiences for mere monetary gain. I find such masturbatory fan-boy sentiments to be nothing short of patently absurd. When watching Perdita Durango, it feels as if Álex de la Iglesia is boisterously and jovially raping American cultural values, especially mundane white middle-class mores with his uncompromising Spaniard flare, hence the somewhat obscure status of the film in the USA. It can only be assumed that the cult following for Perdita Durango will grow steadily as the years pass as it is surely one of the most underrated films of the 1990s. Luckily, Javier Bardem has finally earned the reputation he deserves as one of the greatest actors working today, but it is still most unfortunate that few have seen his unrivaled performance as the romantic homicidal rapist loon and Herb Alpert fan Romeo Dolorosa. Additionally, it is obvious that Rosie Perez will never again bare her derrière in a film as gloriously gory as Perdita Durango. Although a hyperbolic work, Perdita Durgano is celluloid on speed at the peak of the high and a flick that never leaves the viewer adrift in a muddy swamp of action-packed banality. Perdita Durgano is a lusty and lurid romance film for those that absolutely loathe romance films and for that reason alone (among many others), it must not be overlooked.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 11:09 PM
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