A former circus artist escapes from a mental hospital to rejoin his armless mother - the leader of a strange religious cult - and is forced to enact brutal murders in her name as he becomes ... Read allA former circus artist escapes from a mental hospital to rejoin his armless mother - the leader of a strange religious cult - and is forced to enact brutal murders in her name as he becomes "her arms".A former circus artist escapes from a mental hospital to rejoin his armless mother - the leader of a strange religious cult - and is forced to enact brutal murders in her name as he becomes "her arms".
Given the superficial aspects of the narrative, many people have chosen to see the film as a work of horror; something that is entirely plausible given the definite themes of psychological breakdown, madness and inner-torment; not to mention a number of violent murders that propel the story back and forth between enigmatic moments of nightmarish abandon and more colourful and darkly comic moments of parody, farce and cinematic self-reference. However, it is wrong to box the film in with such limited interpretations or categorisations of genre, given the very obvious fact that the film has a number of more interesting layers at work beneath these more blatant surface elements. If anything, I would call the film a psychological fantasy and leave the individual viewer to project their own ideas and interpretations onto it, without having their opinions swayed or pre-led by the hyperbolic platitudes of reviews like this.
However, even with that in mind, Santa Sangre is one of those films that simply demands such discussion, and perhaps requires reviews like this one, not for the benefit of other people, but as an attempt by me to piece together all aspects of the film's bizarre, patch-work like approach to storytelling, and the deeper themes and references that Jodorowksy toys with amidst the continual barrage of visual and aural stimulation. The presentation of the film involves a number of different aspects, some referential, others purely fantasy, moving from an almost Felliniesque portrait of carnival life and idyllic youth - as we are introduced to our central character as a young boy - before shifting further into the young man's life and becoming something of a darkly comic send-up along the lines of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) or Bad Boy Bubby (1993). From here the film becomes darker still, with Jodorowsky establishing the murderous sub-plot, which reaches something of a peak with one of the most insanely violent murder scenes ever witnessed in contemporary cinema.
Nevertheless, anyone expecting a straight murder film - something more akin to the work of producer Claudio Argento's brother Dario - will probably be disappointed. Jodorowsky's intentions for the film go beyond such notions, as he instead ties together a number of disparate concerns to create a grotesque, yet strangely beautiful film that manages to reference the Hollywood melodrama of Sunset Blvd. (1950) and the Gothic horror of the films of James Whale within a story of murder, innocence and Freudian psychology. The impact of the film is certainly within its bizarre symbolism and surreal beauty; the elephant's death-scene for example is one of the most extraordinarily moving things I've ever seen, and ties in nicely with the feelings of the character towards the end of the film, in which the ghosts of the past return amidst a series of startling and frightening recollections, fairy-tale like abstraction and moments of absurd humour.
The film creates an astounding atmosphere from the very start, particularly in the early scenes set within the circus, churches and sweaty streets of Mexico City; with Jodorowsky demonstrating a real understanding and feel for the place, with its sad incongruities of dwarfs and giants and that air of suffocating and claustrophobic dread. The direction, production design, music and photography really capture the dangerous and somewhat confusing tone of the environment, whilst simultaneously retaining a sense of childlike wonderment; particularly in one of the film's most astounding sequences, in which the corpse of an African-elephant is carried through the streets in a giant coffin, dumped into a ravine by a concoction of carnival mourners, only to be savaged and ripped to pieces moments later by a pack of hungry peasants. This scene acts as a grand metaphor for the supporting characters here, and how they send our anti-hero-like protagonist into a spiral of madness, murder and forgiveness.
- May 4, 2008