Viva La Muerta Fernando Arrabel (Fr 1971) Anouk Ferjak; Nuria Espert;
Viewed Star and Shadow Cinema 16 March 2012
Ticket price: £5.00
Imagination as the primary act of resistance
Fernando Arrabel’s (FA) Viva la Muerta is a full frontal assault on Franco’s Spain, a country with its back broken by Franco’s fascist death machine; the people murdered or driven to madness and denial by repression and fear.
FA’s assault on the terrible damage wreaked by Franco and his allies the forces of political/religious conservatism, harnesses the intellectual and visceral power of savage satire exploiting the intermeshed expressive elements of Artaud’s theatre of cruelty, Dadaism, Surrealism and the Theatre of the Absurd, to fashion a filmic expression of deep passionate anger.
The opening title sequence comprises a series of panning shots across a large scroll of sequential organised drawings, economically penned cartoons of distorted figures caricatured in bestial form and depicted in cameos of cruelty and sadism. The film starts with these disturbing images of body laid over a soundtrack that comprises the voice of a child who nonchalantly and brazonly sings a repetitive rhythmic refrain: to my ear a sort of crazy nursery rhythm. The repetition of the song chews into the consciousness of the viewer. I didn’t understand the words, which are in Danish (but may be ‘nonsense’ like all the best child’s rhythms) but this child’s voice is saying something that anyone can understand within the context of VM. The song is a challenge: it sets a mood and opens up a mental space through which the film can filtered and understood. This song defines VM. Repeated as a ritornello. a leitmotif, it carries the film’s key message. In its provocation, its invariance of tone, it communicates an indominitable mocking spirit. However deep we are in the shit, however they kill us and subject us to lies oppression torture and violence, we have within us the means to fight back. The song links our consciousness to the possibility of resistance and struggle. It is a challenge to view the film in the state of mind that spits in the face of the dealers in death.
This is the message FA has fashioned. A film grounded in a child’s song.
After the song the first words we hear are those of some fascist soldiers on the back of a truck, singing they will murder half the people if necessary in order to ‘save’ the country. Viva la Muerta!
A defining character of VM is that it is autobiographical. In terms of structure, VM is episodic in form, but intimate in content. And it is the quality of intimacy that colours and fills out understanding of FA’s film. Episodic films, employing dissonant disturbing images that define the content are usually remote and distant as socio-political critiques. L’Age d’Or never feels intimate; it feels produced to broaden consciouness as an ideological act.
Employing every technique in the agit prop lexicon of surrealism and theatre cruelty, VM is up close and personal. Using this broad palette of deranged imagery, FA is always in control of the effects of the images he creates and releases. I think this is because he knows these people. They are not abstract or abstracted tokens representing the forces of death. In flesh and blood they are the people who killed his father and wanted to kill him. What in episodic films can seem arbitrary and disconnected, in VM is hot wired to emotional necessitythrough the umbilical cord linking his life to that of his mother. The personal and the political are one.
The mother is the hub of VA. She is woman as living flesh. We feel her hand, smell her skin and witness her charged repressed erotic relation to fascism, the Roman Catholic Church and the forces of death. The film starts with a structured narrative core that connects through the eyes of the child (Fando) his mother’s betrayal of the father and her embrace of Franco. Interspersed in the key narrative (though the narrative is never absolutely straight in its telling FA is too supple in his conceptualisation for such restriction) are fantasial /dream sequences. In the film they are presented as hazy colour washed sequences, often savage and beautiful, psycho/temporal events in which cruel insights and visions are perpetrated and experienced. As VM progresses the distinction between the two strands breaks down, cracks up. The sequences characterised by the narrative ‘look’ open up to extreme expressive material, (the priest eating his own balls, the mother bathing in the blood of the slaughtered bull). In the world of Franco’s Spain there is no longer any means of distinguishing different aspects of life, the real – the imagined.. The deployment of systematic violence and cruelty has taken over the whole of the national psyche: everything is nightmare.
VM is a totality of commitment by FA to record what he saw and heard as a child, with nothing unobserved through the scales of innocence. But this commitment, to stand up to fascism ( when it was still a live force in Spain) communicates through all who took part in the realisation of VM. In answering the need to oppose Franco’s Spain VM is part of the creative will of all those who contributed to its making: the mask and prop makers, the cinematographer, the editor, but in particular the actors who were prepared to undergo privation and undertake provocation for the film to be made. Adrin Neatrour email@example.com