Genre: Avant-Garde, Drama, Horror, Mystery
Starring: Axel Jodorowsky, Blanca Guerra, Guy Stockwell
Director: Alejandro Jodorowsky
How on earth does one begin to describe the insanity this unsuspecting viewer just bore witness? Psycho on LSD? A love story between a mad man, a deaf mute and his mother? A hyperbolic metaphorical parable of the inherent dangers of religious fanaticism? Certainly they could all fit but none seem to do it a shred of justice. Written and directed by a Chilean man I can only assume is somewhat messed up in the head himself, starring his son as the mad man, what he's created is both brilliant in it's use of detail and symbolism whilst also being in a whole unique class of batshit insane. This isn't a Japanese brand of insanity where you laugh a little at how unexpected that last bit was, nor is it David Lynch's trademark 'this is going to make absolutely no sense but you're gonna clutch at straws anyway' style; no, at it's core this is simply a tale of one man's mind. His deluded, deranged, twisted, mind. It's in the finer details that everything starts to get a little foggy.
This film can roughly be split into two parts, the first half hour devoted to explaining what caused him to lose his marbles and then the ensuing story elaborating on just how badly it messed him up. As a boy, young Fenix was a magician in training at the circus, his mother a trapeze artist and his father a knife thrower. Between his father's drunken horniness, chasing the resident tattooed lady and his mother's ensuing rage, the only peace he got was from the young deaf and mute acrobat, the tattooed lady's daughter. Fanatically religious, the mother frequently prayed at her local church devoted to the patron saint of Santa Sangre, or “Holy Blood;” a tale of a saintly woman who had her arms sliced off and her blood never disappeared, hence known as the “Holy Blood” where patrons can bathe away their sins. As you might expect, this didn't exactly manage to get the approval of the clergy.
Already as you can imagine this is a recipe for insanity; the midgets and the most frightening clowns I've ever seen trying to raise this child of the circus constantly witnessing things like elephants blowing blood out of their trunks, but it turns out being locked in a trailer and being forced to watch as his mother throws acid over his father - melting off his penis - and mistress before having her arms sliced off – just like her patron saint – whilst the mistress flees with the mute and the father slits his own throat at the thought of what he'd done, this was the last straw that saw his mind officially vacate the premises. Flash-forward back to modern times, and this is where it gets a little weird. Fenix is now a man in a mental hospital, but seeing his armless mother he escapes and allows her the control his arms in order for her to exact her bloodthirsty revenge. Believe it or not, this is meant to be one of his more accessible films.
It doesn't seem to really belong to any genre. There is bloodshed, certainly, but it's not horrific in any way more than a particularly bloody thriller might be, and even if it were, that would be missing the point. Neither does it truly pertain to being called a drama, although there is certainly a lot of drama at it's core. It exists outside of genres as we know them; as a fascinating insight into the mind of our protagonist, not only being portrayed as someone who is insane but also the reasons behind that; the cause of her specific illness and the effect that has on him in his later life, making great use of symbolism along the way. His link to his father whom he both loves and loathes is mirrored on his matching chest tattoo, and as we see him now a man we see facets of his father inherent within his own actions, the mother punishing them so as to save him from such a fate, and this is just one of a myriad of examples from the religious, metaphorical and the surreal.
The acting work is flawless, never leaving any doubt as to what we are witnessing is real; the manner in which Fenix gently slides his own arms into the dangling holes of his mothers garments, hidden behind her yet with his hands on show, behaving as though no longer linked to his own mind but that of his mothers striking out as one of the most haunting scenes of the entire film, repeated to emphasise the continual control she yields over him. Impressively, throughout all this we are subtly painted a picture of our protagonist not as some monster to be defeated but as a troubled young man deserving of our sympathy, hoping desperately that he manages to see the light and live out his days in peace. That it works on so many levels is breathtaking, allowing you to read as lightly or in as much depth as you so choose, and whether you appreciate the depth of his artistry or not I guarantee you won't forget it.
*Note: The language has been specified as whilst in English, the film is directed by a Chilean whilst residing in Mexico.