Incredible assemblage, starts as an avant-garde silent, then a documentary, archival footage, a tribute to silent cinema, and finally biting satire. Christopher Lee is marvelous. This truly underground, Franco-era film was originally shown only clandestinely at private screenings! Must-see!
Portabella offers a treatise on Spanish cinema under Franco with this experimental, challenging work that dares to make a statement within the censor's views and guidelines. Lee offers some interest for the viewer as does an archival bit that offers scenes from a '56 Spanish catholic film that offers fairly veiled propaganda. Overall a strange miss that is perhaps a little too 'out there' for consumption.
A radical film essay on the damage that Fascism does to the individual human consciousness. It's redolent of Marker's La Jetee, early Resnais, Maya Deren and, in two erotically charged scenes, Bunuel. A cri de coeur championing interiority, spontaneity, privacy, improvisation and freethinking, the film makes innovative use of sound and image to show both the suppression of these values and their means of survival.
El mayor valor de esta cinta se halla en su contexto, revolucionaria y contestataria, que denuncia los excesos del régimen franquista y la censura del Opus Dei. Así como en cintas anteriores, Portabella se sumerge en la exploración y la experimentación, recurriendo en veces a la improvisación, otorgándonos escenas sublimes como el canto y recital de Christopher Lee. Sin embargo, se queda por debajo de su Nocturno 29.
The film has wonderful black and white images, with a strong use of contrast, grain and composition. What is peculiar is the director's taste for mixing different recordings with a non-linear theme (some of the scenes are among the best I ever seen). Clearly an avant-garde movie like some of the early film directors.
Portabella concocts some great scenes. The mute sequences with Christopher Lee and Jeannine Mestre are cryptic but haunting, thanks in large part to the washed-out black-and-white photography and eerie sound effects, and the interviews with Spanish directors provide some insight into an often unexplored culture of cinema, but these and the many other parts of Umbracle fail to coalesce into anything intelligible.
I don't know if Christopher Lee knew what he was getting himself into. but his presence certainly adds to the "film's" watchability. Some provocative photography and whimsical music choices help, but it all comes off as an extended joke at best.