For those particular connoisseurs of horror and cult cinema, few opportunities are more enticing than the first theatrical run of a hard-to-find film that up until that point had only been distributed through disreputable networks of repertory wonks and digital deviants. Thankfully, deviants are exactly the target audience for Iván Zulueta’s 1979 film Arrebato, which sees its 4K restoration premiere on the big screen before a home video release. A sumptuous slice of Spanish strangeness, the deeply textured and sensational psychological horror boasts fans like Pedro Almodóvar—and the restoration makes the filmmaker’s long-standing support easy to understand. A movie completely in the addictive thrall of cinema, unhealthily enamored with the act of creation itself, Arrebato is an unnerving and enthralling fetish empowered by its hedonism: Drugs, sex, beauty, nostalgia and a disillusioned disaffection with them all.
Inside the story of Eusebio Poncela’s José (B-horror director and nearly burned-out junkie), Cecila Roth’s Ana (José’s ex who blows into his apartment like a hurricane) and Will More’s Pedro (a weird, reclusive, home movie-making little gobliny guy José met on a location scout), there are intertwined narratives of addiction and dependence—like any good movie about vampires. Noses vacuum up heroin as José and Ana escape reality and their present, and as José puts off dealing with the mysterious package Pedro mailed him: A film reel, a cassette and a key.
These multimedia documents provide context, thrusting us back in time to José’s past encounters with Pedro. Pedro, either crouched like a gargoyle or lounging like a lothario depending on if he’s high or not, reeks of vampirism. His paleness, his hunger for drugs and, subsequently, emotional response (he miraculously presents José and Ana with objects from their childhoods) all scream “monster”—though a different lifeforce than mere blood is at stake. Memories of these encounters are surreal and eerie, melding the meditations on creation and parasitism lodged in vampire fare like Only Lovers Left Alive. And that’s not even touching the characters’ sexed-up and strung-out rocker chic, which plays into a horny little cruising sequence that’d make The Hunger’s seductions blush. The relationship between Pedro and José, born of professional curiosity, morphs into something entirely too personal—but can never rid itself of filmmaking.
Arrebato isn’t entirely devoted to the take, take, take of creative inspiration, annoying relationships and drug addiction, though it might feel that way after sitting through a particularly draining bit of its extended narration. For every long look at choppy handheld home movies and every languishing squeeze of Silly Putty that Pedro fetishizes—moments where you stop thinking about the tactility of the movie’s elements (rough tweed, soft nipples, ubiquitous goop) which reflect the physical process of filmmaking that it readily depicts, and start thinking that maybe this whole thing is up its own ass—there are sublime bursts of giving. As the mystery reaches its head, as Zulueta’s arresting experimentalism gives way to scrappy visual tension that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Paranormal Activity, the hallucination clears and the resulting hangover hits like a truck.
It’s funny that Zulueta’s movie, which had previously only really been seen by underground cinephiles, finds perverse pleasure in making movies into something monstrous. The irony of it all is just a decadent cherry atop a sundae of midnight pleasures: It’s increasingly indulgent to be aloof the more you care about the object of your disaffection. Poncela’s sleazy desperation and More’s withdrawal-laden ghoul both find sweaty, engrossing ways to express this. Roth, aside from an excellent dance number, doesn’t get much to do aside from being a thorn in José’s side—the half-hearted relationship details between the pair barely breach the surface of the whacked-out cinemania. And with a movie like this, most things feel extraneous when up against the grand idol of capital-C Cinema. The abstract, the punk, the sexually fluid and narcotically omnivorous Arrebato still encapsulates much of what the post-Franco La Movida Madrileña represented, and with enough self-reflection to see what kind of drained creators it might leave behind. That is, if they survived at all.
Director: Iván Zulueta
Writer: Iván Zulueta
Starring: Eusebio Poncela, Cecilia Roth, Will More, Marta Fernández Muro
Release Date: October 1, 2021 (New York, Anthology Film Archive); October 8, 2021 (L.A. Nuart Theatre)
Jacob Oller is the Movies Editor of Paste Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @jacoboller.
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