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Monday, May 16, 2016

CAR CEMETERY -- DVD Review by Porfle

Surrealist filmmaker Fernando Arrabal's CAR CEMETERY, aka Le cimetière des voitures (1983), is a punk-dystopian retelling of the Christ story, replete with nudity, sado-masochism, graphic depictions of a laundry list of other perversions, bizarre surrealistic imagery, and an irreverent (though somehow non-blasphemous) sense of humor.

But despite all this, Arrabal's oddly ineffectual film adaptation of his own play comes off as a low-budget cross between JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR and GODSPELL as conceived by Ken Russell.

In a post-nuclear society where fascist police search the ruins for rebellious young punks who still believe in peace and love and all that stuff, a leather-clad rock 'n' roll messiah named Emanou (Alain Bashung, who died in March '09) gathers his followers in an auto graveyard to dispense divine wisdom and perform miracles. His true believers are a motley bunch given to bacchanalian excess while availing themselves of the carnal wares of fat pimp Milos as he presides over his bustling auto-brothel.

Milos' star attraction is the beautiful Dila (Juliet Berto), who still turns tricks although her heart and soul belong to Emanou. In one of the film's loveliest images, Dila performs as a mermaid in Milos' prized pre-apocalypse water tank along with some dolphins. She also allows herself to be dressed as a human wedding cake and wheeled around to attract potential customers. Dila receives holy messages from a tiny guitar-plucking angel she keeps in a glass jar (I'm not sure, but it looks like Arrabal doing a cameo), although it's not clear how she happens to possess such a thing.

An apparent disciple shortage limits us to two rather sorry specimens, the derby-domed Topé (Boris Bergman), resident Judas equivalent, and Fodère (Dominique Maurin), who seems just as faithless and doubting as his associate. We know Fodère is meant to remind us of Peter, since in an early scene he idly muses something about how he thinks that soon, he may deny Emanou three times before the cock crows. This statement just comes out of nowhere and the character does nothing else to remind us of anybody in particular, much less an ardent disciple.

Much time is spent depicting the lecherous indulgences of characters both beautiful and grotesque, although I don't recall any of this sort of thing still being all that shocking in 1983. From time to time Emanou will amaze everyone by performing a resurrection, healing the afflicted, or re-enacting various other passages from the New Testament as his onlookers "ooh" and "aah" and groove on how cool he is. In one scene, he blandly performs highlights from the Sermon on the Mount while standing on a wrecked car, and in another, he feeds the hungry mulitude not with two loaves and two fishes, but with two Big Macs. (He neglects to ask anyone if they'd like fries with that, however.)

As all this is going on, two members of what pass as the police are roaming the scorched countryside in a bulldozer searching for the right car cemetery where the rebellious punks and their anarchist messiah are hiding out. A tall, matronly woman and a wiry bulldog of a man, the two comical cops supply most of the film's humor as she incessantly urges him to work out to utter exhaustion in order to beat some unknown record, while he plies her non-stop with ardent sexual pleas. "My giant is crying," he implores her. "Smell my candelabra, Lasca."

An amusing flashback shows us Emanou's birth in a garage, where he's visited by three wise beauty pageant contestants (Miss Myrrh, Miss Oro, and another whose banner I couldn't read though I assume she's Miss Frankincense or something) bearing gifts. There's the obligatory Last Supper, not all that different from Leonardo da Vinci's depiction save for the guy with the saxophone and the fact that Dila has her head in Emanou's lap.

And, of course, after Topé betrays him to the cops with a (French) kiss, there's the crucifixion, which consists of Emanou being chained to a wrecked motorcycle and hoisted aloft. We then skip the resurrection (an unfortunate omission reflecting JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR's secular tone, which this film, interestingly, has largely avoided) and go straight to the ascension, depicted by a badly-animated cartoon dove, and the fadeout, which is surprisingly anti-climactic.

The Cult Epics DVD is in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital French-language soundtrack and English subtitles. Extras consist of trailers for the Arrabal films contained in the first collection (THE TREE OF GUERNICA, VIVA LA MUERTE, and I WILL WALK LIKE A CRAZY HORSE). The film lacks the sort of driving rock music soundtrack I expected, although the song Emanou performs during his final concert does have a catchy bass line.

Despite the extremely garish trappings, the Biblical events are recounted in a relatively straightforward manner, so rather than being satirical I think Arrabal is more interested in drawing a parallel between Christ's persecution and that of his own father, who was imprisoned for political reasons at the start of the Spanish Civil War (a subject which dominates his earlier work as well).

Beyond that, CAR CEMETERY is mainly an exercise in absurdity and excess that didn't engage me on an emotional level. Most of its impact as a story is diluted by the main character, Emanou, since he's pretty much a cold fish without any kind of charisma whatsoever. Even during the Passion, he lacks passion.




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