Addiction and Fanaticism
“Arrebato” brings together heroin, sex and Super-8 filmmaking and it looks at counterculture. Made in 1979, it was the final feature of cult filmmaker and movie poster designer Ivan Zulueta. It defies genre.
Horror movie director Jose (Eusebio Poncela) is lost in a sea of doubt and drugs. As he nears the completion of his second feature, he faces two events: the sudden reappearance from an ex-girlfriend and a mysterious package from past acquaintance Pedro (Will More) that contains a reel of Super-8 film, an audiotape and a door key. At this point, the boundaries of time, space and sexuality cease to exist as Jose is pulled into Pedro’s world where together, they face the ultimate hallucinogenic catharsis.
Set in humid Madrid in the late-70s, the film follows José as his life unravels through a combination of the professional (his second film – a vampire story – seems headed for disaster) and the personal (he is in the grip of heroin addiction and his relationship with actress girlfriend Ana (Cecilia Roth) is mutually destructive). After a rough day in the editing room, José arrives home to find that Ana has moved back in to his apartment, and that he has received a package containing audio-visual material created by Pedro, a young man obsessed with the act of filming (and film watching). Much of the film plays out in flashback as Pedro’s recording causes José to remember both their first encounter and their second meeting a year ago (when Ana was also present). In the last section of the film, José goes to Pedro’s apartment to try to solve the mystery contained within the recording and accompanying film.
The title of the film refers to a state of being that the central trio – or at least the two men – seek. As Pedro explains it, they are pursuing the sensation that we have as a child, when we could spend hours focused on one thing and in our own little world. This state relies upon the act of looking (Pedro uses his own Super 8 films as a stimulant), but all three of them also use drugs as their way into the consciousness of rapture. The desire to lose oneself in something (or someone) is a common enough impulse, but here this ecstasy is tinged with horror and the suggestion that both cinema and drugs (the chosen routes into the sublime) are vampiric forces. The film is filled with moments of unsettling beauty alongside a feeling of claustrophobia.
This is a haunting film that is hallucinatory and hypnotic. Bringing together experimental tendencies with the tropes and trappings of genre cinema, Zulueta seeks to understand cinema by interrogating its constitutive elements. The film is a cinephiliac experience, that brings together an intricate web of interrelations with other films.
Zulueta establishes a three-way metaphorical equivalence between vampirism, cinema, and addiction. Cinema itself becomes vampiric as the mysterious blood red frames in Pedro’s footage proliferate seemingly at the expense of his health, and not viewing the footage he’s recently shot throws him into the equivalent of withdrawal.
In his taped instructions to José, which also function as a kind of eerie voiceover throughout “Arrebato”, Pedro advises José to consume his film and digest it. Little do either of them realize that the viewer can just as easily be consumed by cinema. The blurring of boundaries also plays up the presentation of polymorphous sexuality. Pedro admits to having sex with both his cousin (Marta Fernández Muro), an ex-girlfriend of José’s, and her husband. The film also elliptically hints that Pedro and José spend some time having sex together.
José and Pedro each seek to transcend the superficial realism of the film image; they want to escape the camera lens, the object filmed, and the projected image. Their endeavor seems inextricably tied to the heroin addiction which is implied to be a route beyond the existential being. José calls his project “hallucinema,” and Pedro sees it his to going through the looking glass and meeting the Other on the other side.
Today, the film is a time capsule of analog technology and culture.