by Elaine Perrone
Challenged by producer Claudio Argento to "make a picture where a man kills a lot of women," Alejandro Jodorowsky teamed with co-writers Roberto Leoni and Argento himself to craft this exhilarating, horrifying, and breathtaking descent into the depths of a mind deranged by trauma and despair.When we first lay eyes on 20-year old Fenix (the director's son, Axel Jodorowsky), he is confined to a mental institution, crouched naked and catatonic atop a tree branch, in the posture of a flightless bird. Urged by his doctor to eat like a human being, Fenix instead pounces to the floor and begins gnawing on a whole raw fish, like the eagle he envisions himself to be and the one emblazoned on his chest.
"Santa Sangre: Just bloody awesome!"
Mentally soaring away from his captivity, Fenix carries the audience with him, in a lengthy flashback, to the Mexican village of his youth, where El Circo del Gringo is in full swing. The child Fenix (Axel's brother, Adan Jodorowsky) is a magician, riding to the festivities on an elephant with his faithful friend Aladin (Jesus Juarez), a dwarf, surrounded by assorted clowns, a marching band, and a bevy of long-legged beauties in satin and plumes. His obese, alcoholic father, El Gran Orgo (Guy Stockwell), is the circus' owner and knife-thrower. His mother, Concha (Blanca Guerra), is an aerialist with the troupe and a religious zealot who presides over the Church of Santa Lirio. The sect worships as its patron saint a young girl who was attacked and raped by a group of men who severed both her arms and left her to die in a pool of her own blood. It is on that site, Concha tells a visiting Catholic monsignor, that the believers built their church, consecrating it with the slain girl's "Holy Blood." Horrified at the blasphemy, the archbishop orders the temple destroyed. As the bulldozer rolls in, Concha stands ready to die until Fenix rushes in to save her.
Meanwhile, the randy Orgo is canoodling with the voluptuous Tattooed Woman (Thelma Tixou), while Fenix is developing a warm relationship with her abused adopted daughter Alma (Faviola Elenka Tapia), a deaf-mute. When Concha catches her husband and threatens him with one of his own knives, Orgo saves himself by hypnotizing his wife with the gleam of metal from the same knife.
In a stunning depiction of the end of a child's innocence, Fenix happens upon his parents in an act of copulation, with his next sight being a dying elephant with blood pouring from its trunk. Bereft, Fenix implores the elephant not to die, and when it does expire, the troupe of performers form a funeral procession wearing black versions of their costumes, with the exception of Fenix, who is clad in the red robe of his mother's matriarchal sect. After the elephant's burial (an astonishing scene in itself), Fenix's father subjects him to the ritual that will "make him a man" and define his perception of himself ever after.
When Concha finally catches Orgo and the Tattooed Woman in flagrante delicto, she locks Fenix in their trailer and sneaks into the bedroom, where she tosses acid onto Orgo's crotch. Orgo retaliates by slashing off both of Concha's arms before staggering into the street and slitting his own throat in front of the traumatized boy and Alma. The Tattooed Woman hurries out, grabs Alma's arm, and rushes away.
Back in the present, at the hospital, Fenix is encouraged by his doctor to make friends with a group of young men with Down Syndrome, who he accompanies on what is intended to be a movie outing but turns into a surreal night of revelry that is guaranteed to have plenty of jaws on the floor. Spotting The Tattooed Women among the revelers, Fenix appears ready to snap in rage, but when next we see him, he is awaking (in a pet bed) in the hospital, rested and recalling such a wonderful night that he is turning handsprings.
Hearing his mother calling out his name, Fenix climbs to the window, sees the armless Concha awaiting him on the street below, and quickly escapes the institution to join her in a diabolic collaboration of mayhem and revenge.
Jodorowsky, besides being a writer and director, has been a theatrical producer, a clown, a mime (working with Marcel Marceau), a puppeteer, and a comic book artist. Here, he has dipped into his considerable bag of talents to create an awesome, and fearsome, world of psychosis, lust, fury, and repression, populated by a dazzling assortment of clowns, acrobats, prostitutes and a pimp (another Jodorowsky sibling, Teo, in a memorable cameo), puppets and puppeteers, plus an array of dwarves, grotesques, and mentally or physically challenged characters whose "different abilities" are unfeigned.
DP Daniele Nannuzzi's exquisite visuals, combined with Simon Boswell's eclectic score, result in many scenes taking on an almost balletic grace. In one, you can almost hear the grown-up Alma (Sabrina Dennison) scream as she mutely runs across town in terror during a raucous Day of the Dead celebration. In another, ghosts, nude but for bridal veils, rise from their graves as if in stately dance. Axel Jodorowsky, like his father, studied mime with Marcel Marceau for three years beforing turning in his brilliant performance here. His scenes with Guerra, where they perform as one, are alternately opulent, blackly comic, and unnerving.Dreamlike and nightmarish, psychological and psychedelic, Santa Sangre is a genre-defying (and often gentility-defying) three-ring circus of a movie, an awesome spectacle orchestrated by a master.
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originally posted: 09/10/04 09:47:36