23 February, 2013


Look deep into the mirror and you will understand. The man in the mirror is, of course, Jess Franco directing his newest film from the other side of the mirror (also the title of his essential 1973 psychoanalytic thriller AL OTRO LADO DEL ESPEJO). AL PEREIRA VS THE ALLIGATOR LADIES is not only his most recent visit to his favorite PI, it's also the most anarchic, or as the director has recently indicated, an attempt at a totally free type of cinema. One thing is for sure, it is the work of a totally free man who we have the pleasure of seeing enjoying himself making the very film we are watching. 

Opening with Al (Antonio Mayans) thrashing about in bed in the midst of a nightmare. The remainder of the film projects the viewer into his dream state, populated with with whores, crazy nuns, doppelgangers, hangers-on and the director himself as either himself or a director making a very amusing, Surrealist/Dadaist* detective film. If you're looking for a "plot" keep on moving. What we have here is another cyclical, experimental genre busting charade along the delightful lines of EL SEXO ESTA LOCO (1980), another dream journey into the unconscious of Jess Franco, who also appears as a director making the film we are watching. 

The mirror cinema of Douglas Sirk, Jean Cocteau's Orphic Trilogy and Luis Bunuel's THE PHANTOM OF LIBERTY come to mind, but APVTAL is One Million Per Cent Jess Franco! There's a lot of nudity and erotic dancing (Carmen Montes is especially entrancing here as the brunette Alligator Lady), but sex isn't really the point here. Sex is crazy in the sense that it's another state of being, a transcendent activity which brushes aside phenomenological reality. Jess Franco's most personal and memorable works take place in a world which is an imitation of life rather than a replication of it. Whether it's the comic book worlds of LUCKY THE INSCRUTABLE (1967) and LOS BLUES CALLE POP (1983) or the Hollywood Gothic Bis of DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN (1971) or the all nude Fumetti Neri antics in THE EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN (1972), Franco creates alternate realities and populates them with figures from his own cinema drenched imagination. In APVTAL he is now working almost totally within negative space and even physically inhabits that space. It's a place of pleasure and creativity and where he obviously feels the most empowered and comfortable.

Longtime Jess Franco actor/production manager/associate Antonio Mayans knows the character well enough to indicate his hidden fears, impulsiveness and existential isolation from the rest of the world. The not-so-hardboiled detective was first played by the immortal Eddie Constantine in Franco's CARTES SUR TABLE [Attack of the Robots] in 1966 and has since been portrayed by Howard Vernon in 1972's LES EBRANLEES and the director himself in DOWNTOWN 1975). In this incarnation Al Pereira is the detective as voyeur, as stand up comedian in world which might have been designed by Salvador Dali and staged by Jean-Luc Godard. At the end, in the large hotel dining room which suddenly becomes the site of a Fellini 3 ring circus (cf 81/2), the actor Antonio Mayans and the character Al Pereira seem to be simultaneously enjoying the wild ride as Jess shouts directors from the the off space. With musical cues chiming in across the director's 50 year filmography (and APVTAL marks 60 years working in the film industry) the sounds of Jess Franco are as familiar as the characters and imagery, yet this film breaks through the boundaries of the Fourth Wall of cinema, the fiction/documentary dichotomy and conventional modes of representation. It also continues to utilize what I term the Secret Code of Jess Franco. For instance, the very first shot is a zoom shot of a boat at sea. This is an image which recurs almost obsessively in various places in such films as LA COMTESSE NOIRE to GEMIDOS DE PLACER to BARBED WIRE DOLLS to AL OTRO LADO DEL ESPEJO. An image of escape? Romance? A reference to the aborted seafaring adventure TREASURE ISLAND, which Orson Welles and Franco planned to film in the mid 1960s? Who knows? The point may be that it doesn't matter. All that  matters to Jess Franco is to love cinema... and make films.

I smiled all the way through AL PEREIRA VS THE ALLIGATOR LADIES. It's a relaxed experiment in pure cinema, personal cinema, no budget cinema. Some might say it's not cinema at all. An anti-masterpiece of anti-cinema. 

*Jess Franco scholar Francesco Cesari suggested that the film may be in the Dadaist modality after reading this review. 

(C) Robert Monell 2013

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