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Arrebato, 1979

Jose (Eusebio Poncela) is a frustrated horror movie director in an incredibly unhealthy relationship with actress Ana (Cecilia Roth). One day he receives a strange package from a man he's met only twice, Pedro (Will More). Via an audio recording of his voice and footage of home video shot by Pedro, Jose is drawn into Pedro's strange experiments with a time lapse camera and strange dream states.

Yeah, this is how you do it.

Films about films can be overly precious and self-important, but this one just straight up rocks. Prominently placed behind the main character in several scenes is the famous painting "Escaping Criticism," and the film seems to take an indifferent attitude toward the perils of being a movie about movies.

It's almost hard to know where to start, but imagery is probably as good a place as any. The film roils with great images, veering from the comic to the sexual to the frightening often within the same minute. In maybe a peak example of this dynamic, we get a montage where a penis becomes erect, transforms into a time-lapse cigarette ashing at the same angle, which then becomes a needle injecting an arm with heroin, "finishing" with a drop of blood from the injection site. It's funny and upsetting all at the same time, and the whole movie is loaded with sequences like it.

In the beginning of the film, Jose and his coworker look at some footage, complaining that the actress is looking into the camera. Jose quips "I don't love cinema, cinema loves me!" as he leaves the editing room. But looking into the camera (and looking at the camera looking at someone) becomes a central theme of the film. Pedro, in a search for the "rhythms" around him, becomes fascinated with taking time lapse footage of the things around him. When he unintentionally films himself sleeping, he becomes obsessed with what the camera has captured.

The two main relationships in the film are between Jose and Ana and Jose and Pedro. As the film goes on, there's some dark humor that emerges from the fact that Jose is cultivating more intimacy with Pedro, a man who he's only met twice, than with Ana who, at certain points, is literally draped over his body. (There's a scene that again veers between the dark and the comedic when a high Jose gets into bed with a very high and very unresponsive/unconscious Ana and begins to undress her. It's only after a few uncomfortable moments that we realize he's simply stealing the robe from her.) There's also something very funny about the idea that Jose is being essentially seduced by what looks like very pretentious cinematic affectations. Pedro initially tries to woo him with time lapse footage of clouds.

Under the explicit (not explicit, but rather surface level) sexuality and sensuality of the film is this factor of alienation that the character seem to have both for each other and their own bodies. For Ana, that disconnect comes because she'd rather be high than anything else. For Pedro, it's chasing the "rapture" that he experiences using his time lapse. And for Jose, it's the dissatisfaction with his own life and the trapped feeling he can't escape. It's an interesting example of nudity being really effective because of the lack of sexual charge and the disregard the characters have for their bodies not because they are liberated or unembarrassed, but because at some level they don't really live in their own bodies. There's a definite spark between Jose and Pedro (and at one point, um, much more than a spark), but it sits in this strange place between being queer and feeling actually disconnected from sexual desire despite the sexual context of their act.

But there's something other than just the weird imagery and more literal horror developments of the last act that make this one pretty chilling. The entire portrayal of the character of Jose is kind of existentially horrifying. He's unsatisfied creatively. He keeps getting pulled back into drug use, which kills his sex drive. There's a restlessness inside of him that is hard to watch, and that you know will lead him to taking risks with his own safety and the safety of the people around him. In the end, this is not someone who will be trapped. This is someone who will choose. And in some ways, that makes it all the more tragic. (Also layered in there is the fact that this film was made by someone deep in the throes of drug addiction, something that maybe kept him from other creative outputs.)

Really excellent, deeply funny, and haunting.