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I finally managed to watch this little-known but highly-praised Franco film via a VHS dub. At first I was shocked by the poor quality of the print but after a while it settled down to being quite watchable, considering the source material at hand.
Unfortunately, the Spanish language-version I saw which is considered to be the 'Director's Cut' was not subtitled in English. I have only the most basic knowledge of Spanish, so I'm afraid that the vast majority of the dialogue (of which there is an awful lot!) if not necessarily the plot just went over my head!! Still, here again my source came to the rescue: he e-mailed me and my brother a detailed plot synopsis beforehand that was also peppered with important character traits, developments, phrases, etc. that were essential for a deeper understanding of what the film was all about.
Having watched it, I'm not sure how I really feel about it. It's definitely one of the better Jess Franco movies I've seen but, considering the disadvantaged position in which I experienced AL OTRO LADO DEL ESPEJO, I hesitate to place it near the top spot as some (like Francesco Cesari and Robert Monell) have done. As it stands, however, it has still gained a very respectable fourth place in the 'Ranking Franco' section I keep on my database (!) after VENUS IN FURS (1968), EUGENIE THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION (1969) and THE DIABOLICAL DOCTOR Z (1965) but prior to other renowned titles like SUCCUBUS (1967), A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD (1971) and EUGENIE DE SADE (1970).
The film achieves a disquieting and haunting quality which is a recognizable Franco trait, but which here becomes even more pronounced than usual for being set in his native country. Despite the obvious low-budget, the film is quite skillfully made (particularly the juxtaposing of images between what is taken to be fantasy and the reality behind it); a fine cast (mostly unknown to me) manages to give life to the multi-layered plot, even in this alien language. Howard Vernon was typically arresting in his brief but all-too important role, whereas the beautiful and effortlessly sensual Emma Cohen (which, unlike most of Franco's leading ladies, she achieves without resorting to copious and exploitative nudity) truly dominates the film with her remarkable performance certainly one of the finest in the Franco canon I've seen so far!
Aided by very effective use of music (which, as in VENUS IN FURS, plays a very important role here), the film takes us on a journey of self-discovery a favorite subject with this director which is likely to provide plenty of interest for any viewer attuned to its particular mood, as well as a few surprises along the way. All the various romantic interludes may be perfunctory and somewhat redundant (as in EUGENIE DE SADE, the girl may well have been happiest in her relationship with her 'unstable' father!) but at least we are treated to three very different yet alluring life-styles jazz music, classical theatre and the idle rich (these scenes reminded me a great deal of Antonioni's L'AVVENTURA ; in fact, the entire film is more art-house than horror, which is how it is often mistakenly labeled) all of which, however, end in the same way: a swift and apparently motiveless murder! The pace drops slightly during its last lap (a criticism which can be leveled at VENUS IN FURS as well), but like that film too, the resolution is an unexpected and incredibly complex scene which leaves one baffled (I'd love to have Francesco or Robert explain this one to me!) but at the same time satisfied with the realization of having just watched a genuinely great movie, the likes of which aren't often seen and the ultimate concession towards Jess Franco being a real talent worthy of our consideration!
The idea of a mirror being the reflection of an alternate and often perverse reality (here prompting an amusing repeated vision of the hanged Vernon with hideously protruding tongue!) has been seen numerous times on the screen, drawing a particular affinity with the work of Jean Cocteau which as in this case is infused with references to Greek mythology and the 'underworld', yet Franco manages to give it a fresh angle by making us genuinely care for the leading character from the outset so that we can become eye-witnesses to her gradual but inevitable mental deterioration (impelled by her dead father's 'influence'). The following quote is borrowed from a post written by Robert Monell on the 'DVD Maniacs' Forum while discussing Image's DVD of Franco's A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD:
'Franco was working on a modern mythological cycle obscured by the requirements of pornography with VIRGIN, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MIRROR and LORNA... which deal with real or symbolic incest destroying the protagonist and the possession of the living by the dead. Ana is led by the hanged father into the mirror where she discovers another dimension. She can walk down the hallway and appear in any locale: the park where she murders Robert Wood or the theatre where she stabs Ramiro Oliveros. It's always the stabbing of the male, relating to the execution of the bull in the corrida and the Spanish Catholic obsession with iconography. Franco understands that the camera is the dreaming eye [THE DREAMING EYE] so we look down at Ana in the park and realize it's HER watching herself kill. The zoom lens becomes the way to focus her attention within the zone and the affect of THE FATHER is translated by a sort of electro magnetism through the zoom as she picks up the knife to kill Wood. It's both mythological (Styx) and psychoanalytic (Lacan) at the same time. One can feel that Oedipus has NO choice and that's the comparison. The TRUTH is always the TRUTH, and it is usually hidden from view by APPEARANCES, which are always deceptive. The world we have created is a sham to escape the truth and Jess Franco's films take us back to the truth by penetrating the sham which is fortified by popular culture, the media and the codes of representation familiarized by Hollywood. The only other film directors able to achieve this are John Ford and Jean-Luc Godard, both prolific and widely misunderstood.'
And this from Monell's review of the film on the 'Dark Waters' website:
'Most fascinating is how Franco relates Ana's problem to religion, visually correlated by repeated shots of churches, religious statues, and evocative paintings. Ana's father is shown to be a devout Catholic who uses faith to hide from his darker impulses. The plot's mystery is never really solved, but a final 'vision' in the magical mirror suggests a possible explanation.'
Not only perceptive but beautifully written, too! I wasn't immediately aware of some of the concepts mentioned here but, having just read the 'How To Read A Franco Film' article, I felt decidedly more 'in tune' now with what the director intended. In the end, it's a real pity this film is so hard to come by, for I would really love to own it on DVD in an English-subtitled version (NOT dubbed) though the available source material would seem to need a lot of work. It would definitely enhance the experience for me, and doubtless gain new admirers in the process.
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