Mostly unknown outside his native country, and experimental circles, Ivan Zulueta’s Arrebato (Rapture) is one of the most celebrated Spanish cult films.
Zulueta studied conventional movie techniques but was experimenting with different film medias since the 60’s. He directed a feature in 1969 Un, dos, tres al escondite Inglés; in the early 70’s he was shooting short films in different formats like Super 8 and 16mm, trying to reach a new form of editing and rhythm. It was in 1979 that he finally managed to start filming his second, and last feature, Arrebato.
José, a director whose compromised career is leaving him unsatisfied of his own work, has his private life also falling apart due to his drug addiction and the departure of his girlfriend. He receives one night a package from a friend he didn’t hear from since a while: Pedro; the most peculiar filmmaker he has ever met.
Pedro is trying to reach the perfect rhythm in a film, capturing on camera the reality that surrounds him; to fall prey afterword of nervous breakdowns, once he sees that the final results, developed and projected, are never satisfying. He’s the real filmmaker, never showing his work to anybody with the exception of José who gave him as a present a camera able to shoot frame by frame.
Using different speeds, Pedro is experimenting even more, shut up in his country estate first, and secluded in a Madrid’s condo later.
What José gets is Pedro’s final testament and words, his last experiment: to film himself making the greatest of discoveries.
Pedro while filming his sleep, finds out in the developed print a red frame. He is more and more convinced that something is happening to him during the missing frame, in the red 1/24.
Days after days, he realizes that the red frame is expanding in the film, there are many now, the red frames are taking over his own work. In the end Pedro will disappear. In the package there is the key to his apartment in Madrid. José leaves everything, even his girlfriend Ana, that just came back. In Pedro’s flat, José will make the final discovery as well; he’ll become, like Pedro, the ultimate film: the perfect movie is just to become part of the movie himself.
Arrebato is one of the most peculiar movie experience ever. It is not for an accidental viewer, but for an audience ready to deal with more than common storytelling; it’s a film pushing the boundaries of cinema to new extremes in the most singular mix of rhythms, standards and themes. It’s about obsessions and addictions: to sex, drugs, and filmmaking.
These three elements are melted together in a phantasmagoria of life in which we cannot distinct what is real and what is fiction.
As De Palma once said: “Cinema lies 24 times per second”, Zulueta here goes even further: is Cinema lying? Is the reality, real? Maybe we can capture the true essence of reality, only once is printed on film, reality is cinema as Godard would point out. At this point the film itself will become real, like an alternative, parallel, world to ours. The truth can be reproduced only through the film media, as Zulueta is clearly influenced by Jonas Mekas’ Walden Diaries, the work that suggested a new path to a whole generation of filmmakers with its daily diary film style.
We are like Plato’s slaves chained in a cavern, watching at pale shadows on a wall. Throughout ecstatic seizures, captured on a film gauge, we can reach reality and immortality as well: out of the cavern, we’ll find a silver screen.
It is not cinema that is lying, but the opposite: we are lying to him; we are just those pale figures in the cavern, a reflection of a projected image, a materialized dream that decays in the flesh and in the blood, immortalized only when fixed forever on polyester.
The most interesting approach in Zulueta’s film, is the use of themes and forms also coming from genre movies. Averse to the presumptuous approach of some alternative features, Arrebato is an homage to genre filmmaking as well, of which Zulueta shows to be very fond. José first film we are told, was a Werewolf movie (like the Paul Naschy’s ones), and the one he just finished is a Vampire one; and when few scenes of the latter, are shown in the editing room in which José is working, we watch at a black and white sequence of a female vampire that reminds us of Irma Vep in Louis Feuillade’s immortal silent classic Les Vampires. All references that shows Zulueta’s 360° approach to Cinema, being it commercial or alternative, well ahead of his times.
While Pedro is looking for the perfect rhythm, the one Zulueta chose is as hypnotic as the story. Long sequences with few cuts, slow down the pace of the events in contraposition to Pedro’s search for speed, and eagerness to reach the perfect combination of images. Reflecting his own personal life, the movie is also dealing with the problem of addiction to drugs and their use to reach inspiration and creativity peaks; a theme very common in the whole counterculture movements since the late 50’s.
Previously released in Spain, the movie it’s now available in Germany in a 2 disc set from Bildstorung replicating the Spanish edition with the improvement of English subtitles on the feature and all the extras as well. The film has been re-mastered from the original materials, and looks stunning, framed at 1.85:1 16X9 enhanced. The extras are spread over the second disc, and include Ivan Z a 53 mins. documentary on Zulueta shot in 2004, that it’s funny at times, but fails to have an in depth examination of both the personality and the cinematic skills of the director. It’s much more interesting the 53 mins. making of: Arrebatos shot in 1998, that covers all the aspects of the production of the film, with interviews to the cast of nowadays famous stars like Eusebio Poncela (José), Cecilia Roth (Ana) and Will More (Pedro); film critics, producers and crew are interviewed as well.
Also available in the package is Zulueta’s short Leo es Pardo (10 mins), and a 24 beautiful booklet although the latter only in German.
After Arrebato, Zulueta worn out by the production, and by heroin use, almost retired from filmmaking. He shot since then, only some episodes of TV series, and dedicated mostly to paint movie posters and to experiment with photography. He then secluded himself in his childhood house, and was just enjoying a new wave of aficionados when he passed away in 2009.
His influence on contemporary Spanish cinema is evident. Specially on the first Almodovar’s films like Entre tieneblas. He was part of the new wave raising from the fall of Franco’s regime, but with his unique distinctive touch, going back to the roots of surrealism and getting inspiration from immortal classic like Bunuel’s El angel exterminador.
He was an artist whose devotion to cinema mostly destroyed his own personal life. But I don’t think he just simply died, I believe that somewhere, being a closet, a drawer or a crate, lies a film gauge, with his face printed into immortality, smiling at us.
Film mass is ended you may go in peace