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Viva la Muerte (1971)

Cast: Anouk Ferjac, Anouk Ferjac, Nuria Espert, more...
Director: Fernando Arrabal, Fernando Arrabal
    see all cast/crew...
Rating: Not Rated
Studio: Cav Distribution
Genre: Cult, Drama, Foreign, France
Running Time: 87 min.
Languages: Spanish, French
Subtitles: English
    see additional details...

This title is currently out of print.

This is an extremely violent, gory, and surreal meditation on the life of a young lad during the time of the Spanish Civil War, as he attempts to find out what happened to his father, who has disappeared. It turns out that his mother, devout in her loyalty to the Falange, has turned him in as a leftist. Multiple scenes involve castration and the consumption of testicles, in one case by a victimized priest. The grotesquery includes a fantasy scene of a city swamped in the boy's urine, the mother having a bowel movement over the head of his father, and a deeply Oedipal scene with the boy, a bull and his mother. Not for the faint of heart, this film achieved cult status in New York City shortly after its release. ~ Clarke Fountain, All Movie Guide

Includes a recent interview with writer/director Arrabal and a gallery of lobby cards from the film, as well as a trailer for his 1973 film I WILL WALK LIKE A CRAZY HORSE.

GreenCine Member Reviews

Anti-fascist, anti-religious surrealist masterpiece by EPetersen April 4, 2004 - 4:52 PM PDT
8 out of 10 members found this review helpful
Finally, the most celebrated film of playwright / filmmaker Fernando Arrabal has come to DVD! Arrabal's works have inspired many other great filmmakers, especially his protege, Alejandro Jodorowsky, who made a semi-sequel to Viva La Muerte called Fando & Lis.

Viva La Muerte (Long Live Death) is set in 1930's Spain (Arrabal had to flee to France to avoid arrest) just after Franco's fascists won the Spanish Civil War. 11-year-old Fando lives with his mother in a small village. His father is a heroic communist revolutionary who was arrested and executed by the fascists.

Fando's life changes forever when he learns that his father was turned in to the authorities by his fanatically religious mother who despises communists. What's more, his father may still be alive and imprisoned, despite his mother's insistence that her husband is dead. Fando sets out to find the truth.

The movie opens with a montage of violent images that appear to have been drawn by a child. During this opening credit sequence, a cute French song plays that is sung by children. The DVD producer elected not to subtitle this song in English - a bad decision, because the song sets the tone for the whole movie, and parts of it are replayed throughout the film.

Basically, this is a surrealist allegory equating organized religion with fascism, both of which the filmmaker finds perverse. Indeed, organized Christianity is inherently fascist in nature, especially Catholicism, which is Fando's mother's religion. The Catholic Church preaches a doctrine of blind obedience to the clergy, and it has conducted its own genocidal holocausts - the Crusades and the Inquisitions.

Viva La Muerte mixes straightforward narrative with color-tinted surreal dream sequences, although there are a lot of surreal images throughout the entire film. Many of these images are quite shocking, and resulted in the movie being banned in several countries and heavily censored in others. This DVD features the complete, uncut version of the film.

Fando's mother - who symbolizes organized religion - dotes on her son and thinks of herself as a saint for suffering through a marriage to a godless communist. She believes that she did the right thing by turning in her husband. But it's obvious that she has incestuous desires for her son and may have betrayed her husband out of sick jealousy - in flashbacks, we see that Fando's father was a good man who had a close relationship with Fando.

In one truly disturbing scene, Fando's mother strips topless and orders him to flog her as atonement for sin. At first, Fando can't bring himself to hurt his mother, but when she insists, he beats her, and her reaction is almost orgasmic. Then, as if subconsciously avenging his father, Fando keeps increasing the intensity of the beating, and won't stop when his mother tells him to. Finally, she grabs his crotch and he shrieks in pain and stops beating her.

That's just one of many shocking images in this film. The surreal dream sequences veer from hauntingly beautiful to ugly and disgusting. One sequence finds Fando imagining that his mother is tormenting his father in prison. She laughs at him, spits on him, then tops it off by defecating on him.

I could go on forever describing the images in this film, their symbolism, and allegorical meaning, but that would take away from your viewing enjoyment. Ultimately, this is a film about searching for truth in a world of lies. It's also about how tyranny lurks everywhere - in government, in religion, and even in a mother's love. And, like the saying goes, the truth will set you free.

See this landmark film today!

- Eric Petersen

GreenCine Member Rating

(Average 6.46)
67 Votes
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