Aug 30, 2012


There are many great works of reflexive cinema in respect to “movies-about-movies” and “films-within-films”, including such diverse cinematic works as Fellini’s 8 ½ (1963), Fassbinder’s Beware of a Holy Whore (1971), Truffaut’s Day for Night (1973), Watkin’s Last House on Dead End Street (1977), Burton’s Ed Wood (1994), Schlingensief’s The 120 Days of Bottrop (1997), and Kaufman’s Terror Firmer (1999), but none of these works quite compare to the stark, angst-ridden essence of the utterly unrivaled Spanish arthouse flick Arrebato (1980) aka Rapture directed by Ivan Zulueta; a metaphysical quasi-vampire flick where film itself (or in literal terms, a Super 8 camera) is the life-draining monster. Barely acknowledged upon its original release due to its pathetically brief theatrical run (lasting only a couple days at a mere Barcelona theater) and still relatively unknown today (despite obtaining a steady cult following over the past three decades), Arrebato was an absolute commercial failure that would ultimately lead to auteur Ivan Zulueta being restricted to the ignoble bottomless pit of television and movie posters (creating art for films by Pedro Almodóvar), henceforth never directing a single feature-length film again, which is most unfortunate when one considers the ingenious and wantonly intimate artistic tenacity he displayed with the formative work. Originally around 3 hours in length as a workprint, Zulueta decided to shorten Arrebato by 30 minutes, and with another 40 minutes of the feature being subsequently cut against his will, the film that exists today, although seemingly taintless, is hardly a director’s approved cut. Fundamentally, Arrebato is an avant-garde arthouse film disguised (quite nicely) as a ‘horror’ flick that is altogether cognizant of genre conventions yet wallows in cinematic experimentation, as it was designed especially with cinephiles and filmmakers in mind as indicated by its less than flattering portrayal of the more calamitous side of cinematic obsession where, in a similar vein to David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983), the contrived reality of the virtual image perpetually replaces reality itself. As the character José states in a matter-of-fact (but in reality, totally delusional) manner at the beginning of Arrebato, “It’s not that I like cinema…It’s cinema that likes me.” Like the steady dose of sex and drugs consumed by the three main characters in the film, cinema becomes a baleful, life-shattering addiction that steadily eats away at ones' soul. One only has to glance at the pitiful, frivolous, and platitudinous pop-culture-obsessed postmodern movies of philistine filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith, and Eli Roth to observe this relatively recent phenomenon progenerated by vaudeville and eventually Hollywood, but unlike the would-be-cool works of these three stilted middle-aged fanboys, Arrebato is a staunchly visionary and unprecedented expression of refined (as opposed to revoltingly regurgitated) style.

At the beginning of Arrebato, the viewer is introduced to the character of José Sirgado (Eusebio Poncela), a hack horror director who is on the verge of completing his latest work; an overdue sequel to his debut vampire film. José lives and breathes celluloid as expressed by the many movie posters that act as wallpaper for his apartment and by his unmitigated ecstasy when he drives by movie theaters (playing works ranging from Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter to Don Coscarelli's Phantasm) as if performing some sort of sacred religious ritual, yet despite all of his film fetishism, he is not exactly the most gifted auteur. Upon reaching home after a relieving day from work, José is bombarded with potent remnants from his past: the unexpected presence of his ex-girlfriend Ana (Cecila Roth) lying on his bed in an opium-induced trance and a mailed package containing audio tapes and processed Super 8 film reels from his long lost protégé Pedro P. (Will More); an erratic, epicene young man suffering from celluloid-obsessed neurosis. José and Pedro act as dichotomous symbols of the two archetypical extremes pertaining to filmmakers: the former being an unambitious hireling who is to afraid to take chances as a filmmaker and the latter being a diehard maverick auteur that will do anything to realize his ever evolving vision as a creator of celluloid art. While listening to the tapes and watching the film footage sent to him by Pedro, José relives the bizarre bisexual love triangle (with Ana and Pedro) of decadent drug abuse, soulless (yet utterly erotic) sex, and cine-mania that consumed and almost destroyed his life a year ago or so. As Arrebato progresses, Pedro and his masturbatory experimental auteur pieces begin to become the lead character(s), as a sort of an out-of-control, all-consuming monster on the brink of self-annihilation. Like the psychotic and suicidal anti-hero Claudio from Alberto Cavallone’s Blue Movie (1978), Pedro has a critical need to fulfill a personal internal void and he uses the creative, pseudo-godlike power of filmmaking to do so. As he explains via audio recording, “All my life, back then, was like a huge wank without cum. Although I, deep down, thought that was to come. How far was I from understanding the sense, the function, the part, the game, that making cinema represents.” Indeed, Pedro’s foremost goal with cinema is to reach the ultimate “high”, “climax”, “transcendence”, and “rapture” (hence, the title of the film) and he firmly believes that, like a drug addict in denial and despite the deterioration of his physical body and voice (as expressed by his new raspy 'mad scientist' voice on the audio tapes), that his celluloid alchemy is truly messianic. Like all great auteur filmmakers (not that he is great but his films are certainly interesting) and unlike lazy filmmaker lackey José, Pedro is a dynamic and domineering eccentric who is never completely satisfied with his art, hence his monotonous productivity, increasingly nonexistent social life and dwindling health. Always a more dedicated and intransigent filmmaker than his filmic father figure José, it is finally Pedro who has the last laugh at both men’s expense (which, unsurprisingly, the latter is happy to pay).

Displaying a true sense of restraint and humility, Ivan Zulueta stated of Arrebato, “It was not my intention to make an avant-garde, elitist film, because my deepest wish is to communicate with my audience the most intensely I can. I know this picture may be disquieting and bewildering at first, but that was absolutely unintentional on my behalf.” More captivating and provocative than Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941) and over-and-above the psychosexual horrors of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), Arrebato is indubitably in a class by itself as a work of lucid and uncompromising cinema, thus the fact that Zulueta never got to direct another feature is nothing short of a tragedy; at least as far as film history is concerned. As an unrepentant cinephile always looking for the next cinematic high, I can honestly say I cannot think of another time a film has resonated with me so thoroughly and penetratingly as Arrebato – a rare and singular work about cinephilia that also manages to be a landmark cinematic achievement in itself – that is simultaneously hypnotic, erotic, distressing, and exotic yet startlingly intimate.  Forget J.J. Abrams' groveling love letter to Steven Spielberg, Arrebato is an unfeigned Super 8 tribute to cinema and the art of filmmaking.

-Ty E



The first feature directed by Zulueta was "Un, dos, tres" (One, two, three) in 1969 and its producer was José-Luis Borau, who later became the artistic director of Madrid's "Semana de cine experimental" (Experimental Cinema Week).

teddy crescendo said...

After reading this, i just realised, "The Saragosa Girl-uscript" has yet to be reveiwed on this site.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Every time i read one of these incredible and astonishing reveiws on this site it scares me to realise that, strickly speaking, the ONLY thing i`ve got to offer Soiled Sinema is my Heather O`Rourke obsession, but, then again, thats good enough for me ! ! !.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Actually, when i think about it, i do have my murderous homo-phobia and my hatred of the British to offer this site as well, but, as i said before, Heather will always be the be-all-end-all for me, obviously.