At its most granular level, cinema is a delusion. By running still pictures in front of a projector at 24 frames per second, our brain is tricked into believing that they are moving. Further, each time we sit down in front of a film, we are asking to be transported away from our own world into one whose boundaries and conditions are set for us by the filmmakers, and to believe, for two hours or so, that this is a different reality that we are being allowed to experience.
At its broadest level, Arrebato is about two filmmakers. José (Eusebio Poncela) makes low budget horror. He doesn’t seem to like his films very much, but he’s clearly at least somewhat successful. On a location scout, he meets the other filmmaker, Pedro (Will More), who is in his late teens or early twenties, and makes experimental films playing around with frame rates. Pedro sends José a reel of 8mm film and an audio tape, narrating it (the narration provided not by More, but by Zulueta himself). The film begins as a standard experimental piece, but as flashbacks show José introducing Pedro to drugs, he becomes obsessed with finding ‘rapture’ within film, turning his lens on himself as he drifts further into a world that seems to bleed out of the film itself.
Writer/director Iván Zulueta has some interesting things to say about cinema and the acts of both making and viewing film here. As the film goes on, he seems to suggest that the combined disorienting forces of drugs and cinema draw Pedro ever further into his creative space, so much so that there is no longer any disconnection between himself and his films. It’s a thought that anticipates Videodrome to a degree, and perhaps even something like Tetsuo the Iron Man (though Arrebato deals in metaphor rather than actual visions of a man physically altered by his obsessions). These are all interesting ideas, and for a cinephile the horror inherent in the film’s final act is all the more haunting, but it takes a long time for Zulueta to get to them.
While the atmosphere of the film is disorienting, the drugged up filmmaker is an archetype we’ve seen a lot, and in the long scenes of José lying around his apartment with his girlfriend Ana (Ceilia Roth) there isn’t really much interesting done with it. Ana herself seems barely a character, though that’s not Roth’s fault, she has presence to spare. This also goes for the initial scenes of José and Pedro hanging out, and Pedro’s experimental films which, for the most part, do as much for me as most experimental film does. The film is never dull, because it always feels deliberately slightly dislocated from reality, and that creates an uneasy undertone throughout, but it only really engages with that once Pedro’s final film starts playing out and we follow him into the world of film that is overtaking him.
As Pedro narrates, the images we see of him become less and less like the nerdy, film obsessed kid that we see early on. I’d be interested to know if the swaggering, leather jacketed, Pedro we see at points during the third act is a reference to another film, a character he wants to emulate. Either way, Will More’s is the standout performance here, drawing us in with Pedro as his film envelops him and the third act of Arrebato does the same to us.
This is a difficult film to sum up, and it may require several viewing to unpick and to appreciate the pacing. It’s a challenge for the first 80 minutes or so, but I get the sense that, looked at again, and pieced together knowing the full picture, the sometimes frustrating first two acts may come more into focus. Iván Zulueta creates something that feels very much his own and obviously influential, and the third act delivers on the ideas that he’s seeding throughout. It’s not going to be for everyone, and I’m not sure that, as a whole, it’s even for me, but there’s too much that’s interesting here to dismiss.
The Disc and Extras
I don’t know how well this film has been treated over the years, but Radiance Films deliver a strong image here. Grain is preserved but never distracting, and detail is impressive. There are some signs of the age of the print used here (a few speckles here and there), but again nothing that detracts from a very pleasing and appropriate image – given how much the film is about film, it’s actually in keeping to see the odd flaw and the grain structure.
There are just a couple of extras, but both are substantial. First up is a commentary with Mike White of the Projection Booth podcast. As with the best critical commentaries, White mixes talk on the ideas and themes of the film with background information and a good helping of enthusiasm for his subject. It’s well worth listening to for a deeper dive into the movie and to add some ideas to whatever your reading has been on first viewing.
A 52 minute documentary on director Iván Zulueta confirms much of what the film may have had you suspecting: the man who made Arrebato was essentially a combination of its two main characters: a heroin addicted director who, until this, had made surreal, experimental, super 8 short films at home, and was (and remained) entirely obsessed with and swallowed up by film. After a rather plodding opening that introduces to both the home and Zulueta’s elderly mother, it becomes a pretty interesting watch, not to mention a revelatory example of just how good the restoration of Arrebato really is.