A former circus artist escapes from a mental hospital to rejoin his armless mother - the leader of a strange religious cult - and is forced to enact brutal murders in her name as he becomes "her arms".
In a Chilean little town, the son of an uprooted couple, formed by a rigorous communist father and a loving but weak mother, tries to pave his own path in a society that does not understand their Jewish-Ukrainian origins.
A young man -- starving, nearly catatonic and barely responsive -- is confined in a sanitarium. He is taken on a field trip along with other residents to the city's red-light district. There, he encounters by chance a woman from his past, triggering a series of flashbacks. We see that he was traumatized as a child, when he and his family were circus performers, and when he witnessed a murder/suicide: his father -- an American expatriate living in Mexico under suspicious circumstances -- cuts off the arms of his beloved mother, a possessive wife and religious fanatic who led a heretical church called "Santa Sangre (Holy Blood)," the members of which worshipped a martyred girl whose arms were severed by her father following her rape, and then commit suicide. Back in the present, buttressed by shock of his remembrance, he escapes the sanitarium and, in a series of hallucinations and dream-fulfillments, believes he has rejoined his armless mother. He "becomes her arms" and the "two" ...Written by
The project was launched when Alejandro Jodorowsky was commissioned to write and direct a film based on real-life Mexican criminal named Gregorio Cárdenas. See more »
When the elephant is dying, all the close-ups of its trunk bleeding show the trunk to be clean. All the long shots of the elephant show it's trunk covered in blood. See more »
[Fenix crouches naked atop a tree trunk in his barren asylum room]
[enters along with orderlies pushing a food cart]
[offers him a normal meal]
Eat like a human being.
[puts the tray back down and offers him a raw fish]
[jumps down and grabs the fish]
[...] See more »
[over the final freeze-frame] I stretch out my hands to thee: my soul thirsts for thee like a parched land ... Teach me the way I should go, for to thee I lift up my soul. - Psalms 143.6, 8 See more »
The US has two versions available on video: the R-rated version, which runs about 120 minutes, and the NC-17 version, which is about 123 minutes (the one released uncut in Britain and other European countries). The differences between the two are hardly noticeable except for two scenes - the first scene being the dismemberment of the mother. In the NC-17 version, there are extra cuts of blood and gore spraying on the walls, and then we also see a few extra shots of blood spurting out of the father's neck shortly after he commits suicide (we see this from behind; a startlingly un-explicit shot to be considered NC-17 material). The other scene is even more noticeable. The death of the prostitute is much more explicit in the NC-17 version: we see many shots of her being graphically stabbed in the back and chest with loads of blood literally dumping out of her wounds. Then, we briefly see the knife stab through the back of her neck and poke out the front - all in one explicit shot. Practically the entire scene is missing in the R-rated version. See more »
Presentations of madness amidst images of grotesque beauty
Santa Sangre (1988) is an absolute curio; a surrealist satire on the absurdities of organised religion, a violent pastiche of slasher cinema and an infernal parody of Hitchcock's classic Psycho (1960) all rolled into one. These particular ideas are further tied together by director Alejandro Jodorowsky's continuing preoccupations with circus themes, childhood, murder and performance art; as vivid colours and bold strokes of character and ideology are thrown wildly around the screen amidst surreal visions, childhood reflections and elements of satire. It perhaps lacks the obvious depth and esoteric mysticism of his earlier films - that trio of surrealist masterworks Fando and Lis (1968), El Topo (1970) and The Holy Mountain (1973) - but it remains, nonetheless, a visually impressive and psychologically deep experience that manages to be moving and emotionally demanding, despite the often grotesque and uncomfortable presentation of theme and imagery.
Given the superficial aspects of the narrative, many people have chosen to see the film as a work of horror; something that is entirely plausible given the definite themes of psychological breakdown, madness and inner-torment; not to mention a number of violent murders that propel the story back and forth between enigmatic moments of nightmarish abandon and more colourful and darkly comic moments of parody, farce and cinematic self-reference. However, it is wrong to box the film in with such limited interpretations or categorisations of genre, given the very obvious fact that the film has a number of more interesting layers at work beneath these more blatant surface elements. If anything, I would call the film a psychological fantasy and leave the individual viewer to project their own ideas and interpretations onto it, without having their opinions swayed or pre-led by the hyperbolic platitudes of reviews like this.
However, even with that in mind, Santa Sangre is one of those films that simply demands such discussion, and perhaps requires reviews like this one, not for the benefit of other people, but as an attempt by me to piece together all aspects of the film's bizarre, patch-work like approach to storytelling, and the deeper themes and references that Jodorowksy toys with amidst the continual barrage of visual and aural stimulation. The presentation of the film involves a number of different aspects, some referential, others purely fantasy, moving from an almost Felliniesque portrait of carnival life and idyllic youth - as we are introduced to our central character as a young boy - before shifting further into the young man's life and becoming something of a darkly comic send-up along the lines of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) or Bad Boy Bubby (1993). From here the film becomes darker still, with Jodorowsky establishing the murderous sub-plot, which reaches something of a peak with one of the most insanely violent murder scenes ever witnessed in contemporary cinema.
Nevertheless, anyone expecting a straight murder film - something more akin to the work of producer Claudio Argento's brother Dario - will probably be disappointed. Jodorowsky's intentions for the film go beyond such notions, as he instead ties together a number of disparate concerns to create a grotesque, yet strangely beautiful film that manages to reference the Hollywood melodrama of Sunset Blvd. (1950) and the Gothic horror of the films of James Whale within a story of murder, innocence and Freudian psychology. The impact of the film is certainly within its bizarre symbolism and surreal beauty; the elephant's death-scene for example is one of the most extraordinarily moving things I've ever seen, and ties in nicely with the feelings of the character towards the end of the film, in which the ghosts of the past return amidst a series of startling and frightening recollections, fairy-tale like abstraction and moments of absurd humour.
The film creates an astounding atmosphere from the very start, particularly in the early scenes set within the circus, churches and sweaty streets of Mexico City; with Jodorowsky demonstrating a real understanding and feel for the place, with its sad incongruities of dwarfs and giants and that air of suffocating and claustrophobic dread. The direction, production design, music and photography really capture the dangerous and somewhat confusing tone of the environment, whilst simultaneously retaining a sense of childlike wonderment; particularly in one of the film's most astounding sequences, in which the corpse of an African-elephant is carried through the streets in a giant coffin, dumped into a ravine by a concoction of carnival mourners, only to be savaged and ripped to pieces moments later by a pack of hungry peasants. This scene acts as a grand metaphor for the supporting characters here, and how they send our anti-hero-like protagonist into a spiral of madness, murder and forgiveness.
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