Santa Sangre

Fri, Sep 21, 2012, 01:00

Directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky. Starring Axel Jodorowsky, Blanca Guerra, Adan Jodorowsky, Guy Stockwell Club, QFT, Belfast, 123 min

ALEJANDRO JODOROWSKY deserves his status as an avant- garde saint. For 50 years the Chilean film-maker, now 83, has flogged a class of hopped-up psychedelia that plays equally well to both drugged students and Fellini devotees (not that these groups are mutually exclusive). El Topo (1970) was a mad, beautiful, scary western. Holy Mountain (1973) looked like a political allegory redrawn by Aleister Crowley and Timothy Leary.

Co-written by Claudio Argento, brother of the more famous Dario, Santa Sangre (1989) has a similarly slippery relationship with genre. Writing after its last re-release, US critic Roger Ebert argued that “to call Santa Sangre a horror film would be unjust to a film that exists outside all categories”. He then went on to discuss it in precisely those terms.

For all its rampaging oddness, the picture does have a number of forbears. Having a great deal to do with circus performers. Santa Sangre is clearly half in love with Tod Browning’s Freaks and with the same director’s more obscure silent picture The Unknown.

A young magician is traumatised after witnessing a colourfully savage dispute between his mother, a trapeze artist, and his father, an unlovely knife-thrower. He ends up in an asylum, but eventually escapes to be reunited with his mutilated mum.

The plot makes a little more sense than that of El Topo or Holy Mountain. But Jodorowsky still manages to pack the film with beautiful absurdity: an elephant’s funeral; a church filled with blood. At times it becomes quite exhausting to sit through. Often the screen is so crowded with incident one feels desperate for a square inch of air.

Santa Sangre’s firm moral purpose is, however, never in question. Angry about injustice, in favour of kindness, Jodorowsky continues to argue for the virtues of applied madness.

A great film that deserves greater attention.