14 September, 2008
LA CRIPTA DE LAS MUJERES MALDITA (2008): GUEST REVIEW
Jess Franco: Still breaking the rules, subverting the system and confounding expectations...
Many thanks to Alex, the creator of El Franconomicon, for writing and translating this review of Jess Franco's newest film.
INT: Fata Morgana, Carmen Montes…
POSPRODUCCIÓN: Lina Romay, Puri Luquero.
GUIÓN Y DIRECCIÓN: Jess Franco
2008. Manacoa Films. Rodada en Málaga entre 2007 y 2008. 150 min. Color.
Reviewed & translated by ALEX MENDIBIL
(c) ALEX MENDIBIL: 2008, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
A group of women, maybe ghosts or demons, are locked in the crypt of a cemetery, condemned by an old curse of more than 100 years. They can't get away, enclosed between the walls of a lost pantheon, punished for something they committed in a previous existence. However, this kind of succubus, lascivious and wicked, doesn't seem to suffer from the curse and spend their time in all sorts of sexual games, year after year, century after century, ignorant of the exterminating angel who lurks and seeks to destroy them forever.
With this simple plot, told by a voice-over and some superimposed titles, Jess Franco composes his longest and more experimental film. A lesbian porno in two parts where scenes of non-stop-slow-motion sex set the rhythm of a story in which time doesn't exist, despite the passing of centuries as the narrator tells us. Franco said in one interview that he had been inspired by the works of the gothic writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, but in fact tells a untellabe story, in the sense that there are no events to tell, there is no narration, no knot, just a short presentation and denouement. Between one and another, the director immerses the viewer in a dimensionless limbo, a hypnotic succession of erotic and pornographic images that try to evoke the hundred years of time suspension of the curse. In a more conventional movie, this would be resolved with a one minute ellipsis, but the director decided to make that ellipsis the complete film, as if he wanted to involve the audience in the harsh punishment suffered by these women.
This decision, clearly anti-cinematic, at least in mainstream cinema, fits with the gradual annihilation of cinematic clichés that Jess Franco is trying since the eighties, which has hardened to the extreme in the last video years, as in LA CRIPTA. The 80's Golden Films productions showed how the Franco universe could get rid of some of its essential elements without losing its essence. In films such as MACUMBA SEXUAL (1981) or EL SINIESTRO DR. ORLOFF (1982) we deal with familiar themes and classic gothic characters like the vampire or the mad-doctor, but without all the acting, set-ups or typical wardrobes. Castles, candles, crucifixes, cemeteries and sci-fi machinery were replaced by extravagant beach houses, fashionable clothing and everyday objects. The result was disconcerting, but somehow managed to articulate a less figurative language, more abstract, in which the renewed versions of Orloff, Al Pereira, Radek or Red Lips still had sense. With the shift to video from late 90's, the destruction of the classic cinema code was definitive: no set-ups at all, or overtly fake sets, natural lighting, direct sound, video distorting effects, and above all, non-professional actors doing very histrionic playing or, in the other hand, very naturalistic, almost cinéma vérité. Any device used to maintain the illusion of cinema is removed or deformed to the parody, as if he would like to emphasize the death of that former cinema and propose an unrepresentative cinema, a cinema abstract (1).
In LA CRIPTA DE LAS MUJERES MALDITAS, the rupture with mainstream cinema is complete. The film takes place in closed rooms half-empty and white, apart from that the only thing we are allow to see are a few images of a cemetery repeated in a loop and the blurred image of a angel shaped statue that illustrate the final battle against the damned women. We know about that battle by the voice over, since the image only shows abstractions, difficult to decipher at times. Adding to all of the above (lack of set-ups, costumes, performances, video effects… etc.), Franco finally gets rid of the last two pillars of classic cinema: the director and the screenplay. As told before, it's a story without story but Jess Franco goes further and invents a funny trick to show that he too disappears from the shooting, making the characters to shoot the film with video cameras and, thanks to some strategically placed mirrors, discovering that nobody is directing them on the set.
Fata Morgana, the real protagonist of the film, assistant director and cinematographer, makes the film literally in front of our eyes, shooting and playing one of the cursed women at the same time. Nothing is hidden, everything is exposed: lightning, cables, the micro and even the back of the camera. It is not a video documentary, not video-creation, not experimental video, it's another thing which we still have no name for. The only concession to the genre seems like a William Castle style joke: at the half point of the film we read a "to be continued…" title, fade to black, beginning again shortly after the "Part 2", following with the same movie. According to Jess Franco, this is his own version of the double-bill features in the GRINDHOUSE (2007) style.
(1) Being the exception to this trend SNAKEWOMAN, where Jess Franco makes a film in the classic cinema standards, despite being shot on video.
(c) Alex Mendibil 2008