FERNANDO ARRABAL

When I was in my early twenties, I did what I almost never do: I walked out on a film. It was Spanish-born French filmmaker Fernando Arrabal’s Viva la muerte (Long Live Death!, 1971), and I left after ten minutes. More than thirty-five years later, its appearance on DVD moved me to give the film another chance. I did not last any longer this time, however.
     I appreciate that the film is a favored cult item, and it is regarded in certain quarters as essential Surrealism. For me, it is perverted garbage—a film that assaults the audience with barbaric cruelties in the name of condemning Franco’s fascism. I also appreciate that the film may have influenced subsequent works that bring together a condemnation of fascism and the point of view of a child: Victor Erice’s brilliant Spirit of the Beehive (1976), Carlos Saura’s wonderful Cria cuervos (1977) and, more recently, Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)—alas, a film as execrable as Viva la muerte, and one that I saw in its degenerate entirety.
     Today I tried watching another Arrabal film, J’irai comme un cheval fou (I Will Walk Like a Crazy Horse, 1973), and once again I did not last past ten or fifteen minutes. Two scenes involving the protagonist’s mother (played by Emmanuele Riva, no less) conspired to sicken me and get the DVD popped out of the machine. In one, Mom spikes her son’s cock and balls; in the other, she does the same to the genitals of a wax figure of her son. I understand that this is all fantasy; I understand that the mother has just died, and her son is in the desert fleeing from the police. And I genuinely like when he encounters the diminutive stranger who takes his gun, an alien item to him, and turns it into a flute by blowing into the barrel. But the bleeding genitalia-stuff: I’m not motivated to continue with a film that assaults me with that.
     Arrabal is not for me. Way back when in Buffalo, I already guessed this fact.

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