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The ecstatic delirium of “Fando And Lis”

Alejandro Jodorowsky’s first feature, a surreal fable of two lovers’ journey to mystical paradise, is streaming on MUBI.

“As you approach the future, you’ll find ecstasy, and it will never abandon you.” The narrator’s beckoning siren call in Fando And Lis (1968), the directorial debut feature from avant-garde auteur Alejandro Jodorowsky, envisions a world of unfettered mysticism in times of desperation. Even on its shoestring budget, the film’s extraordinary juxtapositions, shot on 16mm, always seem to supersede technical blemishes. A new 4K restoration, which MUBI has acquired for their December catalogue, may polish those edges, but Fando And Lis is still persevered in all its originality and brutal glory.

Before achieving Midnight Movie adulation with El Topo (1970), Jodorowsky’s burgeoning poetics found resonance in his ingenious cycling of earthly mythology that splits itself between modern art and ancient literature. Fando And Lis is perhaps equivalent to Fellini’s subversive Satyricon (released just a year later), which riffs on Petronius’ ancient Roman text of the same name. Here, Jodorowsky transmutes a Fernando Arrabal Terán play about the titular lovers, impotent Fando (Sergio Klainer) and paraplegic Lis (Diana Mariscal), who embark on a quest for eternal enlightenment in the city of Tar. Only, their travels are elevated to the cacophonous delirium of performance art.

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While the narrative momentum is bound to intuitive adventure, as Fando pushes Lis by wooden cart beyond barren peaks and valleys, it is truly a cinema of set-pieces and collages. Constructing its otherworldly appeal are burning pianos, troupes of jazz bands and drag queens, dominatrices, squished exotic fruit, tin-hatted men posed like chess pieces, mounting piles of cattle skulls, baby birds and garden snakes emerging from the environment as if from a magic act, shackled human bodies and extremities, and the sounds of human heartbeats synced to a marching drum. Visual and auditory hallucinations bleed into others in a craggy spiral of the unconscious mind’s pleasures and horrors. A familiar journey simultaneously tucks itself and breaks away into the unknown.

In celebration of Fando And Lis‘ 50th anniversary, art pop polymath Julia Holter and director Geneva Jacuzzi adapted the film in miniature, set to Holter’s “Les Jeux to You” from her magnum opus Aviary (2018). With Holter herself starring as Lis and partner Tashi Wada as Fando, the ensemble shed Jodorowsky’s sporadic masochism and assault, mud baths, and pansexuality, but they retain the portentous playfulness and much of the iconic imagery, like the opening shot of Lis rose-snacking in the bedroom of eye-shadowed dolls, the ornately adorned spirit guides, orgiastic body-painting, and a choreographed beach banquet. Even at this point in his artistically curious career, Jodorowsky proved he could ingeniously marry classic 17th century iconography with provocative, anachronistic thematic concepts regarding the metaphysical journey that may exist only in the labyrinth of human memory (unmistakably an inspiration to Holter as an artist herself).

Fando And Lis‘ fourth “chant”/chapter most strongly dwells on those musings, as Lis observes her surroundings to conclude that she and Fando “haven’t gone anywhere.” Yet, by all impressions, they have progressed indelibly through a lifetime of experiences. The promises of eternity have remained just out of sight, hindered by Fando’s fits and abuses of power. With Terán’s source material, it is Jodorowsky’s intention to paint a surreal tragedy that relays the reality of masculine insecurity that arouses stagnation and death rather than fostering discovery. Perhaps the couple’s ill-fated course fails to find ecstasy and eternity, but Jodorowsky did not, as he formally enters a rare sixth decade as an active filmmaker. A new feature-length project on psychomagic is slated to premiere on MUBI in mid-January.

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