Director: Alejandro Jodorowsky
Surreal. Bizarre. Violent. Occasionally upsetting. And completely engaging.
The name Alejandro Jodorowsky became known to me a few months ago, when I watched the documentary Jodorowsky's Dune. From the descriptions of his earliest films, I knew I was in for a wild ride with El Topo, his first feature movie.
My main fear was that the movie would be so bizarre and incoherent that I would simply write it off as incomprehensible nonsense and struggle to get through it. Such was far from the case.
The movie follows the story of the title character, El Topo (meaning "The Mole" in Spanish), a stoic man in black leather who at first is wandering the Mexican desert with his young son, righting the brutal injustices that he finds on his journeys. He eventually abandons his son to Christian monks, swapping him for an adult female companion, and goes on a quest to impress her by slaying the four most feared gunfighters in the desert. What follows is a literal and figurative trip of self-discovery, violence, death, and rebirth that defies simple description.
I have to give credit to my video store guy, Miguel, who summed up much when I returned the movie and we talked about the meaning of it. Miguel said, "I'm not totally sure of everything Jodorowsky meant with the movie, but it clearly meant a lot to him." Perfectly stated. Through a dense and sometimes confounding tapestry of surreal imagery and allegory, there is a certain skewed coherence to it all. There is a grand, mythical quality that speaks to the creator's vision.
|This early scene in the film speaks of the prevalent violence,|
but also the careful construction of the sets, shots, and use
of brilliant colors to tell the story.
One of the most pleasant surprises of the film was the beauty of the images. Even during the very visceral, violent parts of the movie, the framing and editing speaks of a director who was well-steeped in the techniques of masters like Sergio Leone (a highly appropriate influence, given the gritty Western setting). Employing a variety of creative angles, strange and vibrant constumes, and atypically gnarled and scarred actors, the movie is a feast for the eyes.
El Topo truly is unlike anything else I've ever seen. While this can often be a non-commital response to a piece of art, with this film I mean it as the highest complement.
And so, 536 films seen. 626 to go before I can die...