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Jodorowsky DVD boxset


Fando & Lis
cast: Sergio Kleiner, Diana Mariscal, Maria Teresa Rivas, and Tamara Garina

director: Alejandro Jodorowsky

93 minutes (18) 1968
widescreen ratio 1.66:1
Tartan DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 4/10
reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
Alejandro Jodorowsky's feature debut has an interesting story to it. When the film was made, it was impossible to shoot a film in Mexico without making a payment to the local director's union. However, in order to get out of this obligation, Jodorowsky made a payment to the smaller short filmmaker's union and released his full-length film as four inter-connected short films. The gall of this piece of union-defying chicanery and the frequently shocking content of the film resulted in a near riot at the Acapulco film festival and led to one senior Mexican director calling for Jodorowsky to be lynched. It's just a pity that the film seems entirely undeserving of such attention.

The film is based upon Spanish surrealist Fernando Arrabal's play of the same name. However, I use the word 'based' in the widest sense of the term as Jodorowsky did not bother with adapting the screenplay, instead he staged the play a few times and then made a film based upon his memories and impressions of the play. The result is a typically Jodorowskian collection of images and ideas held together loosely within the frame work of a vaguely mystical initiatic journey similar to those that feature in his later and better known films El Topo and The Holy Mountain. Marooned in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, Fando pushes his paralysed lover Lis around in a handcart, encountering transvestites, corrupt priests and other sundry weirdness along the way. Completely devoid of anything approaching a narrative, the film examines the idea of Fando and Lis being different elements in a larger whole. Each time the couple encounter a new group, Fando is lured away only to end up beaten or mistreated, forcing him to crawl back to Lis promising that this time he'll never leave.

In many ways, it is easy to see in Fando & Lis (aka: Fando Y Lis), the films that would come later; mystical imagery, corrupt societies, shocking set-pieces and no dialogue or narrative are all characteristics shared by Fando & Lis and Jodorowsky's later films. Indeed, even this early in his cinematic career, Jodorowsky was more intrigued with imagery and ideas than he was with the elements that traditionally make up a film such as plot, characters and conflict. However, the difference between this film and those later films is that while those later films had the budget and scope to project Jodorowsky's ideas up onto the big screen, Fando & Lis struggles to keep up with its director's demented imagination. Unfortunately, it is that demented imagination and eye for set pieces that usually prevents Jodorowsky's films from collapsing in on themselves in a gigantic puff of self-indulgent smoke. Indeed, this film feels very much like the stereotypical student attempt at bad surrealism that has alienated so many from art house cinema.

The film's only redeeming feature is the commentary track by Jodorowsky who begins by patiently explaining what he was trying to do with each of his scenes but before long he gets carried away by the desire to tell anecdotes about himself and the making of the film. These might go from the sublime (the goings on surrounding the premier) to the ridiculous (Jodorowsky's tales of adolescent circle jerks and being shown a severed penis is a box) but they are relentlessly entertaining.

The film also comes on the same DVD as an early Jodorowsky short film named La Cravatte (1957). This film was clearly made during the time when Jodorowsky was principally a mime artist and as a result it's essentially one extended mime dealing with people swapping heads in order to try on different identities and fit in. Colourful and astonishingly silly, the film's value is purely historical though its idea of men severing their own heads in order to appeal to women nicely foreshadows the, some might say, misogynistic themes of Jodorowsky's better known films. Indeed, it's rare for a female actress to get a speaking part in a Jodorowsky film and they seldom serve as anything other than a plot device for the main protagonist's spiritual journey.

Nowhere near as accomplished or as interesting as his later works, Fando & Lis and La Cravatte are unlikely to interest any but hardcore Jodorowsky fans, and that's exactly who they're destined for as they're included here on Tartan's excellent and long overdue DVD boxset. Historically interesting but don't bother otherwise.

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