6.4/10
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Umbracle (1970)

Absurd protest film set in Francoist Spain.

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Absurd protest film set in Francoist Spain.

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UMBRACLE (Pere Portabella, 1970) *1/2
12 July 2015 | by (Naxxar, Malta) – See all my reviews

I had watched director Portabella's CUADECUC, VAMPIR from the same year – an experimental behind-the-scenes look at Jess Franco's COUNT Dracula (also 1970), featuring Christopher Lee in his signature role – and, while I had reservations about it (I certainly did not think it was superior to the film it was 'promoting', flawed though that may have been!), it was an undeniable curio. Therefore, a proper film by Portabella 'starring' Lee should make for interesting viewing – but the resulting effort is anything but! Indeed, it merely gives art-house cinema a bad name (for the record, I have NOCTURNO 29 {1968} by this auteur still to check out, and it should be noted that he would briefly serve as a Senator!) – and lends absolute credence to the maxim that it is far more worthwhile to watch a trashy film even though it may be crap rather than pretentious drivel such as this!!

With respect to the recently deceased Lee, it is a well-known fact that he complained about being duped into appearing in Franco's softcore EUGENIE…THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION (1969) but he seems to have had no qualms about being connected with this one – which also involves female nudity (in some of the very scenes he is in) – but I guess he was just content here to stray from strictly genre fare, especially since it gave him the opportunity to sing opera (in German and French)! Incidentally, the latter improvised diversions also saw the actor 'losing it' after flubbing one of his lines – apart from reciting Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" (many a horror icon has attempted to put his particular stamp on this perennial, but I personally prefer Vincent Price's reading best of all). In other disconnected vignettes, Lee takes to visiting a museum of anthropology and, while roaming the streets (looking solemn and, vaguely sinister, donning shades) witnesses a kidnapping of which, typically, nothing is subsequently made; a fairly obvious in-joke, then, has him relaxing by reading Bram Stoker's "Dracula".

As for the rest of the film (unattractively shot in high-contrast 16mm), this is just as haphazardly taken up by a long-winded discussion about censorship in the oppressive Spain of the time, about a reel of footage from Pedro Lazaga's pro-Fascist war-movie EL FRENTE INFINITO (1959; though listed within as dating from three years previously!), a sketch revolving around two clowns – all these sections are in Spanish and only randomly subtitled, albeit in the same language! – and even snippets of slapstick by the greatest comedians (Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd and Laurel & Hardy)!! Other 'episodes' get the then-trendy pop song accompaniment – never more ironically than a sequence depicting the systematic, and quite graphic, 'preparation' of live chicken for human consumption underscored by The Carpenters' "Close To You"! By the way, a couple of dialogue passages are shown silent – being replaced on the soundtrack by extraneous everyday noises (such as the incessant ringing of a telephone and a loud hammering din)! Finally, the movie's title is a reference to an architectural structure housing a pathway littered with sculptures and flora indigenous to the Spanish city of Valencia – and thus, unsurprisingly, having virtually nothing at all to do with the on-screen 'action'!


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