“Nothing in the world is irreversible, not even capitalism.”
Ten years in the making, almost forty in clandestine obscurity, Fernando Birri's ORG (1967-1978) had almost disappeared after its premiere at the Venice Film Festival and resurfaced for the first time, in its legitimate and restored form, at this year's Berlinale where it was screened in Forum. A hallucinatory deluge of colors, sounds and syncopated reveries, ORG is an onomatopoeic film where the aesthetic and political tensions of a decade coalesce into an unresolved crucible of psychedelic militancy. The cinema of Dziga Vertov and Guy Debord is projected through the canvases of Roy Lichtenstein, social realism is supplanted by a third worldly modernism. Of the many semiotic victims strewn along the film's path is the convulsive plot which remains illegible throughout and yet alludes to an archetypal structure that is undermined at its very basis. The festival helpfully described what transpires:
“Some years after the explosion of a mushroom cloud, a black man named Grrrr (Isaak Twen Obu) helps his white friend Zohommm (Terence Hill) to seduce his beloved Shuick (Lidija Juraçik); a love triangle ensues. When Zohommm later becomes jealous, he consults an electronic sibyl about his woman and friend. She confirms his suspicions and, in despair, he cuts off his head. Grrrr finds him dead and procedes to kill himself. When Shuick discovers them, she tries to jump off a cliff, but is stopped by the electronic sibyl who brings the two friends back to life. Shuick is thus reunited with the two men, but their heads have been switched and a dispute arises between the two bodies... ”
Very loosely adapted from Thomas Mann's “The Transposed Heads,” the film was produced by its co-star Terence Hill (famous for his canned spaghetti western character 'Trinity') who allegedly disowned the film under advisement by his agent and made sure it wasn't properly distributed after completion. For an actor now famous for playing a priest in one of Italy's most popular and longest running soap operas, it is indeed strange to see him rolling naked in sand, quoting Lenin and engaging in free, interracial love. Of all the weird creatures cinema birthed, ORG does stand as quite a unique hybrid, if only for the impossibility to determine its provenance and to decipher its stylistic influences. It is a film that develops action, thought and desire by proliferation, juxtaposition and disjunction. There is no structural hierarchy inherent in its form: flow prevails over unities, nomadic arrangements over systemic patterns.
For almost three hours, 26,000 cuts and some 700 audio tracks ORG evokes a visual cataclysm where the signified, be it narrative or political, is never assigned a fixed signifier. Fernando Birri dares the impossible and ends up with the improbable, channeling in one film the cosmic (im)potential of 60s and 70s cinema and all its naïve yet desperately needed ambition. Georges Méliès and Herbert Marcuse, Wilhelm Reich and Jonas Mekas are just some of the diegetic extras the film swallows in its multitudinous folds of expressionist extremism. The open veins of Latin America are inundated by the liberating fluids of LSD as the director acquires a new consciousness that from the social realism of his early films points toward what Birri himself termed “coSmunism, a cosmic communism for cinema cosmic, delirious and working class.”
It is significant that a director like Birri, forever associated with the “New Latin American Cinema,” a man who founded adversarial film schools in Argentina and Cuba, conceived of this film while exiled in Italy (where the director had already studied after the war before debuting in 1960 with Tire Dié). ORG is in fact a film summa, a sampled cut-up of all the currents, moods and visions political cinema had expressed until then, both in the western and in the so-called third world. At the same time, it stages the inalienable right to surpass the aesthetic and rhetorical dogmas that were already ossifying political cinema and the struggles it reflected and amplified. Its production history, its multiple and interchangeable crew members and doomed distribution fate are the emblematic symbols of a cultural battle that has either been lost or has not been properly fought yet. Rather than a simple mirror of its times, ORG is a prism of unexplored possibilities, of anti-narrative cues to be followed until the dissolution of meaning. It is a feast of and for all the senses that sabotages the tyrannical bitterness of our everyday lives.