Arrebato: Try for the Kingdom, by David Bax
Iván Zulueta’s Arrebato, an absolute freak-out masterpiece from 1979 newly restored by Altered Innocence, has had a new logo added to its head, for a distributor called Anus Films with a symbol that riffs on that of Janus Films but with two ass cheeks instead of two faces. It may be a newer addition to the film but it’s a good sign of what’s to come, a prankish but passionate film made for people who take cinema seriously enough to get the reference.
Zulueta’s filmmaking, however, is not at all juvenile or sophomoric. It’s splashy and energetic but with a sense of grace most apparent in montage sequences that bring to mind Chris Marker.
The sanguinary beauty of Arrebato is all the more apparent because the new restoration, even from what I could see on my decidedly non-4K screener file, is expertly done. The colors scream even while the overall texture remains grainy and filmic.
Arrebato is more a movie about a horror flick director (José, played by Eusebio Poncela) than it is a horror movie itself. But the genre still applies in some ways. José could certainly be said to be haunted by the memory of his ex-girlfriend (Marta Fernández Muro) and, more importantly, her cousin, Pedro (Will More), an obsessive and idiosyncratic cinephile who suddenly reappears in José’s life like a ghost . The way Pedro tempts–almost seduces–José with cinematic nostalgia is nearly satanic. José is also, it should be mentioned, a heroin addict and shots of needles penetrating skin scratch that body horror itch for extra measure.
José’s drug addiction is not incidental to Zulueta’s design. The allegorical connection between a heroin high and the ecstasy of surrendering yourself to the power of a good movie might not be the most revelatory thing anyone’s ever thought of but Arrebato overcomes the obviousness with palpability.
Arrebato, after all, means rapture in Spanish. Pedro willingly loses himself in imagery; when he asks José how long he could spend looking at one still from King Solomon’s Mines, he doesn’t even wait before answering for himself, “…years, centuries.” Like any addict, the pair start chasing bigger highs. When José’s current girlfriend (Cecilia Roth, amazing) recreates a Betty Boop performance, it’s as if cinema has come to life. Still, that’s not enough. Arrebato‘s mesmerizing, dangerous final section reckons with Pedro’s ultimate desire to perhaps become film itself. Like so much of this dazzling, disturbing movie, this ultimate submission is both kinky and spiritual.