AVAILABLE ON DVD
RUNNING TIME: 96 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera
Traveling through a bleak wasteland are Fando, who is impotent, and Lis, who is crippled. Both are scarred by bad childhood memories, Fando having had his father taken away by soldiers and maybe raped by a priest, and Lis having been abused by circus performers. Fando pushes Lis in a cart to which he chains her. They are searching for the lost city of Tar where Lis might be healed, despite encountering a wise old man who says Tar is wherever they want it to be. However, they have to encounter a weird assortment of characters and Lis has to contend with Fando’s cruelty….
Fando and Lis was the feature film debut of Alexandro Jodorowsky, who went on to make surreal cult favourites El Topo and The Holy Mountain, and was virtually lost for many years until released on DVD. Now I have have yet to see those films, besides odd clips, but I thought Fando and Lis was a fantastic piece of surreal cinema and if, as it seems, it’s only a springboard for the full flowering of his crazy talent in his next two films, then I am really in for a treat. Based only on a one page treatment of a half remembered play by Fernando Arrabal which he had performed many years before, and made on a shoestring budget, it apparently caused uproar when premiered at the Acapulco film festival and actually led to the director narrowly escaping death from an angry crowd who threw rocks at his car, not to mention also being accused of being a vampire! Jodorowsky was a member of the Panic Movement, which thought surrealism had become too ‘safe’ and were now bringing a punk-like feel and edge to it. Of course there had been the films of Luis Bunuel, but for the most part there was a point to them; they were mainly attacking the church and bourgouise. Jodorowsky’s berserk film didn’t really seem to have a point at all, at least at the time, and just seemed out to shock and confuse with no rhyme or reason. I loved it! I have been a great fan of Jodorowksy’s Santa Sangre for years but this makes that seem rather conventional, though there are many thematic similarities between the two, such as traumatic childhoods, making me wonder what Jodorowksy’s own childhood was like.
Of course anyone can just put a collection of weird scenes on film. However, what Jodorowksy seems to be able to do, on top of the easily assimilated idea of a search for the meaning of life [which seems to be a major feature of the following two movies] – though here the protagonists seem to be actually searching for the meaning of their life – is produce images and ideas which cleverly and sometimes subtly tap into all kinds of primal emotions, fears and desires, as if there is a kind of crazy logic to it all. His story is actually quite simple, and is told in symbols, some obvious, and some so opaque as to seem absurd. He appears to borrow from various religions, and there’s certainly a kind of drug influenced, hippie spirituality present ,but it’s constantly undercut by a quite astonishing element of cruelty. Jodorowsky does share Bunuel’s dislike of the rich, and sometimes the symbolism is very obvious [the vampire who takes blood from the poor], but more often you’re just wondering what it’s all about, while the imagery itself burns itself into the subconscious. There are virtually no special effects, and the minimal props give the film the feel of performance art at times rather than actual cinema, but I enjoyed the style after I spent about ten minutes getting used to it. Among the bizarre things we see are a jazz band with a burning piano, dead men buried underground who come to life when the ground all turns to mud, old women playing poker and squeezing fruit into a young man’s mouth, and a doll stabbed in the crotch and snakes oozing out. There’s a slightly perverse sexual aspect to a lot of this, such as a wonderfully over the top bit where the couple paint each other and a room in black paint. By the way Jodorowsky does apparently explain all this in his commentary on the DVD, but I kind of like things remaining unexplained, at least for a while.
The relationship between Fando and Lis is odd and disturbing [itreminded me of La Strada], as Fando chains Lis down, constantly says horrible things to her and twice drags her along the ground, but Lis’s calm and innocent devotion is quite moving, and there are a few really touching scenes between the two which give an emotional dimension to all the strangeness. I’m not saying that Fando’s treatment of Lis is being condoned by the director nor should be condoned by us, but there’s a real complexity about their relationship which kept me changing my mind constantly about it. There’s also some humour, odd humour but still humour nonetheless, such as when Fando and Lis are forced to wear each other’s clothes, or when Fando is repeatedly trying to make love to Lis. This is shown speeded up and with exaggerated reactions from the two, as if they were in a silent comedy film. This is one of the things I most liked about this movie; as bizarre and uncompromising as it might be, it doesn’t seem heavy handed, there’s a light touch throughout despite the dark turns it takes. Then there’s the jagged and barren landscapes which seem to give their own commentary on the proceedings.
Sergio Kleiner is extremely bland is Fando but Diana Mariscol is very effecting as Lis and neither were probably professional actors anyway. In technical terms Fando and Lis is awkward and erratic. We often go from sequences displaying superb editing and camera work to stuff that just looks plain amateurish. I’m not sure if it’s just Jodorowsky showing his inexperience, or some bits were rushed, or it was intentional in a Jean-Luc Godard kind-of way. In the end it doesn’t really matter. This is cinema on the edge, raw and uncompromising, an artist making the film he wants to make with no concessions whatsoever, especially to what his audience may think of it. It shows a filmmaker bursting with ideas and attempting to present these ideas of a very different way from the norm. Whether he succeeds totally is questionable, it’s possible that I just happened to be in the right frame of mind to enjoy it properly. It’s certainly not something I could put on at any given time, and it probably requires total assimilation [and maybe alcohol or something stronger?]. I can’t wait to see El Topo though – when I think I’m in the right frame of mind to appreciate it properly!