The Second Coming of Ivan Zulueta’s Arrebato
After a year of pumping out pure audio, and one seismic brand collab - we’re excited to invite you to the first irl event of our new programme of in-person events. It was important that we show something that was both a recent discovery for us and a film about cinema itself. After much deliberation, we went with Ivan Zulueta’s Arrebato (English translation: “rapture”), a film that was at one point considered lost, but now stands unearthed and gloriously restored.
One of the more striking images in Arrebato is the unblinking eye of a camera lens, staring blankly at its subject. Operating free of any human assistance, it’s imbued with an unnatural and unholy agency. Cameras are scary. Michael Powell knew this when he strapped a knife onto a 16mm Bell & Howell 70-DR in Peeping Tom. Zulueta does away with the bladed accessories to explore the seductive and destructive capacity of the device itself. And the result, Arrebato, is every bit as fascinating as Powell’s film. It’s simultaneously an anarchic comedy, love triangle, and cautionary tale about the correlated impulses of addiction and creation.
We’re introduced to our protagonist, a filmmaker named José Sirgado (Eusebio Poncela) at an editing bay, examining footage from the ending of a low-budget horror film. He and his editor disagree on what they’re looking at. José likes that the actress, playing a vampire, looks directly into the camera; his editor thinks they should use another take. “it's the only interesting bit in the entire picture” bemoans a beleaguered José.
José, a Madrid-native and heroin addict, spends his nights getting strung out in front of his TV with his actress girlfriend (Cecilia Roth). He represents one potentially destructive outcome of devoting your life to film - you enter the industry with artistic aspirations but wind up a journeyman. There’s also a suggestion that the commercialisation and infantilisation of his chosen art form have left him alienated from the mainstream. An early sequence where he drives, Travis Bickle-style, past a string of cinemas showing films like the Richard Donner Superman and Disney’s Bambi shows that José is a long way from Hollywood.
But they also represent the disconnect between the aspirations of small filmmakers and the gargantuan studios who hold all the power. It’s not only images of superheroes and cartoons looking down on him, but also posters for films like Mervin LeRoy’s 1951 historical epic Quo Vadis, a stark contrast to the nickel and dining world of cheapie genre pictures. The look on José’s face -listlessp, exhausted - says it all. The only way is out.
José’s lack of success is due, at least in part, to his habitual drug habit. Cocaine and heroin were big in “La Movida Madrilena”, a movement that exploded in the newly liberated post-Franco Spain of the seventies. These new freedoms meant a revitalised artistic scene, represented by luminaries like Zulueta’s collaborator Pedro Almodovar (listen out for his cameo in Arrebato). But as with other counterculture scenes elsewhere, rampant substance abuse became a problem. Reports from the Arrebato set suggest the cast and crew were not exactly taking it easy - which lends an heady authenticity to the repeated instances of insufflation and injection we see in the film.
After Arrebato, Zulueta stepped back from filmmaking, although he continued working as a poster designer and dabbled in television. During something of a comeback, he made two serials for Spanish TV in the late eighties and early nineties - “Parpados” (eyelids) and Ritesti, but no new films followed. Although he lived to see a rediscovery of his early work, he died in 2009 after a period in exile that Almodovar, in his eulogy for Zulueta, compared to Sunset Boulevard’s Norma Desmond - another case study of the intoxicating and ruinous power of film.
The crux of Arrebato’s disjointed narrative revolves around the relationship between José and Pedro (Will More), a young man living with his mother outside the city limits. Pedro sends José a cryptic reel of film and a recorded message. José journeys to the countryside where the two begin exploring a filmmaking process which leads Pedro to experience a feeling he calls “arrebato” (rapture). The homoerotic tension between the two combines with the illicit substances and an increasingly obsessive fascination with the supernatural power of film. The vibe gets weird, time bends and chaos gradually takes hold. Imagine the queer-inflected melodrama of early Almodovar filtered through the deranged eye of Andrzej Żuławski. Come and see it for yourself.