Jess Franco's AL PEREIRA VS THE ALLIGATOR LADIES qualifies as another Daughters of Fu Manchu adventure. Previous entries into this canon include his 1968 Harry Alan Towers produced THE GIRL FROM RIO/FUTURE WOMEN/SUMURU 2 and the tropical colors drenched ESCLAVAS DEL CRIMEN (1986). The world has heard from them again! At least Al Pereira has. The Alligator Ladies are informed by this mysterious Asian character that they are indeed Fu Manchu's daughters and they are here to kill or be killed! Bad news for Jess Franco's favorite private detective...
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.
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