Saturday, August 10, 2019

Car Cemetery (Fernando Arrabal, 1983)

Fernando Arrabal’s Car Cemetery makes for naggingly unsatisfying viewing, sounding in theory like the most crazily unbound of all the director’s films, but in practice considerably constrained by its claustrophobic setting and by the tightness of its Biblical analogy. The setting is a post-apocalyptic landscape in which – as far as we can see anyway – the main surviving institutions are junkyards, populated mostly by what looks like the overflow from a Siouxsie and the Banshees concert, although it appears authoritarian structures remain in place elsewhere. The ethos of the place is driven in part by devotion to the Jesus-like Emanou, and partly by heedless sex and nudity and sado-masochism (although, again, Arrabal’s handling of these elements feels a bit hemmed in – well, apparently it was a TV production). Most key elements of the Christ story are there, with a twist, from the virgin birth (in which, for instance, three hot women substitute for the wise men) through the miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fishes (in this case a McDonald’s burger) and the resurrection of a Lazarus-like figure to the betrayal (in this instance during a concert) and the crucifixion. It would be easy to lazily dismiss all this as blasphemous, but the almost slavish nature of the correspondences seems equally indicative of grudging fascination: in the circumstances though it hardly matters either way (there’s nothing here to equal the dense, doctrine-heavy exchanges in Bunuel’s The Milky Way). The film’s final image, an animated representation of the ascension, seems strangely pinched and abbreviated, rather as if Arrabal’s artistic eyes had adjusted to the film’s murkiness and he couldn’t imagine unleashing the light, or else as if he didn’t believe that anything in this hermetic universe warranted a resurrection. I doubt that anyone would exactly be bored by the film, but it’s in no way the best entry point into Arrabal’s work.

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