Heya folks. Welcome to my second new feature this month, Thanksgiving with Alejandro. When I was trying to come up with a feature this month, I really wanted to feature a director I wasn’t all that familiar with and do something with Thanksgiving. Perusing my DVDs, my eyes landed on my as yet untouched Alejandro Jowderowky box set, and I thought, “What person would be stranger to have at your family dinner than the legendary Mexican freak out director?.” It didn’t take much thinking after that to come up with the feature, and that brings us back to today. Jowderowky is a director who I’ve read plenty about, heard several pod casts about his films, and seen some clips in various film documentaries, but I’ve been hesitant to check out his films. I like to profess I would give any film an even shot, but art house films, of any stripe, are something of a sticking point.
That being said, I chose to review Alejandro’s films in order. It left me in the uncomfortable position of my first film being his most art house, Fando Y Lis, a film that had drawn comparisons to the work of Luis Buñuel and Fedrico Fellini. A film so revolutionary in 1968 to the point where it caused rioting when it appeared at the Acapulco Film Festival and went on to be banned in Mexico for years. Needless to say, I had no idea what I was getting into, and the experience turned out to be as difficult as I expected. Alejandro’s film is full of unexpected wonder and strange imagery that didn’t make me want to riot in the streets as much as scratch my chin as the film unfolded.
Fando (Sergio Kleiner), an impotent, possibly sexually confused dumbass, travels the post apocalyptic wasteland of the earth rolling his paraplegic girlfriend Lis (Diana Mariscal) around on a cart. On their journey they meet socialites, people who take their mud baths really seriously, and gangs of transvestites, while intermittently separating due to Fando chaining Lis up or dragging her around by her feet. Their destination is the legendary last city in the world, Tar, where paradise and healing await.
Leaving no stone of his main character’s psyche unturned, Alejandro takes a look inside their brains and pulls out all the nasty business. Neither Fando nor Lis come out seeming sympathetic, though Fando with his rampant misogyny and temper tantrums is an especially distasteful person. Portraying the characters that way was very strange to me. Not that I hadn’t seen movies with unlikable characters before but rather because one of the founding scenes of the film was a flashback to a conversation Fando had with his father that seemed to be about never giving up hope. Fando gives up everything, including being any kind of companion to Lis, at the drop of a hat and when faced with any kind of adversity. Lis on the other hand seems completely ok with Fando’s treatment of her just as long as he doesn’t leave her, a literal and figurative co-dependent.
I can’t say that I really understood much of what Alejandro was getting at. There were bits and pieces that worked for me, all subject to simply my personal interpretations, which I suppose in the end can be said about any film. What kept me watching beyond the muddled and confusingly symbolic storyline were the incredible imagery. From flaming pianos to diabolical puppeteers (played by Jowderowky himself) to the oozy zombie-like mud people, the camerawork captured by the director and cinematographers Reynoso and Corkidi rank up there with anything Fellini cooked up in Satyricon. Fando and Lis also featured an interesting score that was part atmospheric progressive sounds capes and hard bop jazz.
For a first experience with Alejandro Jowderowky’s work, Fando y Lis is rough going, and from what I understand, it doesn’t get to be much easier with more familiarity on the subject. However I hope that as the month goes on and I watch more of his films I can look back on Fando y Lis as the seed from which the director’s more popular and better known grew. I still can’t see myself going back for a second look at Alejandro’s first film. The impenetrable artiness that pervades the film only serves to reinforce my inner resistance to the art film especially when there are so many genre goodies out there waiting to be watched. Still I have high hopes for next week when I sit down for my second course with Alejandro and check out his seminal 1970 film El Topo.