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The Holy Mountain - La Montagna Sacra
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Città del Messico. Un ladro, il cui aspetto ricorda Gesù Cristo, dopo una serie di peripezie giunge in cime ad una torre dove si trova il laboratorio un misterioso alchimista. Questi trasmuta gli escrementi del ladro in oro, chiedendogli poi se desidera essere trasformato lui stesso in metallo prezioso, ovvero in un essere immortale. L'uomo accetta. L'alchimista lo conduce così in una sala le cui pareti rappresentano gli arcani maggiori delle carte dei Tarocchi e gli presenta coloro che gli saranno compagni nel lungo e faticoso viaggio iniziatico, si tratta di altri sette ladri, ma di alto livello poiché sono tra gli uomini più potenti della Terra. Ciascuno di essi è associato a un pianeta del sistema solare: Venere è incarnato da Fon, fabbricante di cosmetici e protesi anatomiche, Isla, produttrice di armi, è rappresentata invece dal pianeta Marte, Klen, collezionista d'arte contemporanea, ha per pianeta Giove, Sel, ideatrice di giocattoli di guerra, ha come pianeta di riferimento Saturno, Berg, consigliere economico di un presidente-dittatore è dominato da Urano, Nettuno è rappresentato da Axon, capo della polizia nazifascista, collegato a Plutone è infine Lut, architetto che progetta habitat disumani. L'obiettivo da raggiungere è la Montagna Sacra: qui infatti risiedono i nove saggi, detentori del segretto dell'Immortalità, di cui loro dovranno prednere il posto. Il pellegrinaggio può dunque avere inizio.
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All of this is slightly ironic, of course, given that the film itself presents a symbolic quest for enlightenment which turns out to be a red herring dressed up in a lysergic-tinged variety of emperor's new clothes. Jodorowsky's film is at once highly original, visually and aurally stunning (the soundtrack is in many ways the best thing about it) and wince-inducingly pretentious.
As a work of surrealism, it suffers in comparison to the films of Luis Bunuel. Like Bunuel, Jodorowsky aims to satirize the empty values of the contemporary capitalist world, but where Bunuel has a witty lightness of touch, Jodorowsky generally goes for the grandstanding statement. Ironically for such an imaginative work, 'The Holy Mountain', leaves little to the imagination. Where Bunuel leaves you wondering what precisely is in a mysterious buzzing box ('Belle de Jour') or why the party guests can't leave the room ('The Exterminating Angel'), Jodorowsky stamps his message out with some of the most gobsmackingly lurid imagery you're ever likely to see in modern cinema.
You have to give the man credit for having such an extraordinary visual imagination - though after an hour most viewers will find that some of the film's ability to stun wears off, you become used to the grammar of body horror and day-glo decadence. You could argue that imagery involving dwarves and amputees has since become a cliched shorthand for surrealism itself, even if Jodorowsky is here using physical mutilation to represent a deeper spiritual malaise.
It's clearly meant to be something a little more profound than simple entertainment, the director wants us to change the way we think and feel. As a consequence, 'The Holy Mountain' has a heavy, sermonising tone. It's probably best understood as an alchemical version of John Bunyan's 'Pilgrim's Progress' - there's even a 'vanity fair' of sorts in the form of the 'pantheon bar'. If you're just after trippy kicks, you'll get these a plenty, but to see the film only in psychedelic terms is largely to miss the point....
As other reviewers have pointed out, you can see traces of Ken Russell and David Lynch all over the film - but really, flawed though it is, there isn't anything really like it in cinematic history...
The mystical themes are fleshed out even further with The Holy Mountain, Jodorowsky's second of only three films produced in the 1970's, which, much like the preceding El Topo and the director's very first film, Fando é Lis, unfolds through a series of surrealist vignettes rife with religion symbolism, sardonic satire and distancing cinematic shock tactics. To some, it remains a monumental achievement of philosophy, mysticism and surrealist satire; a film capable of changing the viewer's entire perspective on life itself through the wisdom of its central character and the potency of its imagery. To others however, the film has already become a dated relic, with some viewers arguing that extravagant pop-art production design, casual nudity and notions of questing for inner peace and tranquillity have become throwbacks to the late 1960's flower-power aesthetic; which is always easy to discredit through blind cynicism.
How will you react to it? I couldn't possibly say, though I would say it's best to approach the film with an open mind and with some familiarity with Jodorowsky's previous, and indeed, subsequent cinematic works, like El Topo, and in particular Santa Sangre, both of which offer an easier gateway into the filmmaker's heavily symbolic world than this epic rumination on life and the cosmos.
What surprised me most when viewing the film for the first time was the tremendous amount of depth that can often be lost within the giddy barrage of sights and sounds that burst from the screen in a vibrant vivid collage of philosophy, art, sex and religion. As a result, I often find it annoying when people discredit Jodorowsky as simply throwing images on the screen to shock and disarm the viewer for no apparent reason. I find similar arguments regarding the work of filmmakers like David Lynch and Miike Takashi similarly offensive. Simply listen to the audio commentary on this DVD to hear Jodorowsky taking the film apart image by image; explaining the incredible amount of minor details purged from every religion, steeped in every form of art and combined in an attempt to overload the audience's senses and perceptions to effectively change the very fabric of their own personal universe. It worked for me, though as you can possibly gather from the previous reviews, opinions are mixed.
Some will be more open to Jodorowsky's ideas than others. Some will enjoy the colourful scenarios of the opening 30 minutes, which depict the resurrection of a Christ-like character and his corruption by the modern world ravaged by war, dictatorship, organised tourism and the endless pursuit of money. The second half of the film introduces us to the other characters; a collection of evil, greedy business men, weapon designers, factory owners and foot-soldiers who, much like the Christ-like character we meet during the first chapter, decide to abandon the corrupt world in which they exist and quest with the mythical central character to the summit of the holy mountain.
As you can imagine from this sketchy plot outline, what follows is fairly episodic in design, sometimes tapping into the cinematic absurdity of Luis Bunuel and at other times reminding me of the epic opulence of early Ken Russell (in particular, films like The Devils, The Music Lovers, The Boyfriend, Mahler, etc). For the most part though, the film is pure Jodorowsky, with the central character (played by the director himself) tapping into the intensity of El Topo's iconic gunfighter, whilst the constant barrage of cripples, dwarfs, freaks and geeks cut adrift against a processions of skinned lamb carcasses, edible Jesus effigies, dog fights and the recreation of the conquest of Mexico, re-enacted with frogs that are later blown to pieces, all recalling the fevered insanity of El Topo, the warped fairytale-like quality of Fando and Lis, the gothic psychodrama of Santa Sangre and the empathetic compassion of Tusk.
Obviously, it's not going to be a film for everyone, but those already turned on to Jodorowsky's ideas will no doubt take away a great deal from the film's central message, and from the dizzying kaleidoscope of visual ideas, interpretations and sight gags that explode from the screen in a veritable barrage of colour and movement. The Tartan DVD features some fine extra features, most notably Jodorowsky's informative and fascinating audio commentary, while also doing a fairly great - if not quite perfect - job of re-mastering a film that has remained in the vaults for well over thirty years.
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