05 January, 2021

AL OTRO LADO DEL ESPEJO (1973, Jesus Franco)


AL OTRO LADO DEL ESPEJO is the Spanish-language version of this twisted psychological thriller, which also exists in a more explicit French-language version.

Though the production looks rushed and is somewhat incoherent, it is one of the busy director's most effective and moving examinations of mental illness, as well as the possible connection between insanity and the world of the occult.

Ana (Emma Cohen) is a musically talented but repressed woman who, though in her twenties, still lives with her parents. The day Ana announces her engagement, her overprotective father (Howard Vernon) suddenly and inexplicably commits suicide. Ana leaves home to forget the tragedy and finds companionship and work in a jazz band in Lisbon.

After awhile, she experiences disturbing visions of her father's death. Also, she hears his voice calling her from a haunted mirror that appears in her room. Inside this strange mirror-world, she encounters several men trying to win her affections. She brutally murders them at her dead father's command.

Coming back to reality, she attempts suicide but is saved at the last moment. Despite a therapeutic rest period, her psychosis persist and she commits more murders. Finally, there is a deadly supernatural reckoning when the magic mirror is destroyed.

This unique addition to the Franco canon keeps the viewer emotionally engaged in Ana's tragedy, mostly due to Cohen's excellent performance. Thankfully, the film lacks the clinical, ultra-close-up quality that sometimes keeps the viewer at arm's-length in some of Franco's other thrillers.

Most fascinating is how Franco relates Ana's problem to religion, visually correlated by repeated shots of churches, religious statues, and evocative paintings. Ana's father is shown to be a devout Catholic who uses
faith to hide from his darker impulses. The plot's mystery is never really solved, but a final "vision" in the magical mirror suggests a possible explanation.

In addition, Franco populates the movie with a lot of Freudian imagery (cf. Hitchcock's SPELLBOUND), some of it bordering on the surreal: one almost subliminal image (in the French version) shows a goldfish transforming into a knife that Ana uses on one of her victim. The horrifying and repeated image of the father's corpse leads Ana again and again into the realm of madness and death. This same image also appears in Franco's VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD, another study of a family tragedy.

Vernon is chilling in his role as the ambiguous father. Unfortunately, much of his performance is lost in the French version in favor of added erotic scenes featuring Lina Romay and Alice Arno.

The Spanish version also has a haunting music theme, which is replayed at different tempos, tracking the downward spiral of Ana's madness. The island of Madeira provided a breathtaking location for this nightmarish story, as it also did for THE BARE BREASTED COUNTESS, filmed
in the same year. Ana's personal mirror world, the reality on the other side of the mirror, is filled with both psychological and occult symbols. A fish out of water becomes a knife with which Ana will murder his current suitor. Jacques Lacan's theoretical STATE DU MIRIOR (Mirror Phase/State) comes to mind. Ana's father has a perhaps unconscious sexual obsession with his daughter, which is also glimpsed in the mirror phase. His spirit has seemed to have psychologically or supernaturally embedded itself in her subconscious, and it wants her to kill her lovers, which are competitors for the dead man's desperate, evil spirit. Or is it all due to Ana's disturbed emotional state, which is immersing her into violent fantasies?

Above: The specter of Luis Bunuel haunts AL OTRO LADO DEL ESPEJO>

The final image of Ana in her wedding gown brings up visual memory of the title character in Luis Bunuel's macabre 1961 dark satire VIRIDIANA in her bridal gown which she has put on to cater to the perverse desires of her hypocritical guardian. In the case of the Bunuel film the older guardian of the heroine also hangs himself when he is about to lose control of the object of desire. When I mentioned this to Jess Franco when I interviewed him he denied any direct influence, adding "he [Bunuel] was free; I was not." Which was technically true, Bunuel was given carte blanche by the Spanish censor and Francisco Franco government. It was only when they saw the finished film that they moved to withdraw and ban the film in Spain for years. Franco, who claimed to just be a director of a "commercial project" had no such guarantee. 

Seen in it's uncut version, the film has a more focused emphasis on Ana's musical career and several sidebars featuring the more normal aspects of her daily life. This result in making her final fate more tragic.

al otro lado del espejo

1973 80 Minutes Q Video (Spain)/95 Minutes DVD (France). Director: Jesus Franco.
Cast: Emma Cohen, Howard Vernon, Robert Woods, Ramiro Oliveros, Waldemar Wohlfahrt,, Jess Franco, Philippe Lemaire, Franciose Brion, Alice Arno,Adela Tauler, Carmen Carbonnel< . Music: Adolfo Waitzman. Songs: Roger Sarbib. Produced by Robert De Nesle-CFFP-Paris,
Jose Manuel Herero Producciones Orfeo S.A. Madrid. DP: Antonio Milan. Editor: Gerard Kikone, Mercedes Alonso. Asst. dir: Ana Maria Settimo de Esteva. Art dir: Luis Vasquez. Stills: Mario Lippert (Howard Vernon), Francesca Da Silva.   

The additional cast in the French version: Lina Romay, Monique Delaunay, Roman Ardid. 

Note: The Andre Benichou music for the French version is downbeat and largo tempo compared to the jaunty opening piano theme of the Spanish version. The Gerard Brissaud cinematography in the additional French scenes lacks the style and polish of the Spanish shot scenes.  


(C) Robert Monell 2021

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