Friday, November 19, 2010

Umbracle (1970) by Pere Portabella

Christopher Lee stars in this bizarre avant garde film commenting on censorship in Franco-era Spain that presents documentary footage along with surreal, overexposed scenes in which Christopher Lee walks around Barcelona, witnesses a kidnapping, visits a museum and has silent encounters with a woman. The documentary footage comes in the form of Spanish film-makers talking frankly about censorship in their country and is interspersed with footage from a pro-Franco film glorifying the actions of the army, but it's the surreal scenes starring Lee that are the highlight here. Shot in high-contrast black and white that gives a bold, yet dreamlike quality to the footage, many of the scenes are also exquisitely framed, yet there's no dialogue, no narrative. Any audio we do hear in these scenes is asynchronous from the action on screen - for instance, a conversation occurs, but we aren't able to hear anything but a phone ringing incessantly. While these images are often beautiful and certainly striking, there seems little in the way of meaning. Things get even more confusing when half way through the film breaks to Christopher Lee on stage. He announces that the director asked him to improvise, so he sings some opera and then reads a portion of The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe. Right. Whatever. I've been told that this film is 'a masterpiece of unconscious narrative', but to me it seems little more than some artsy, yet undeniably beautiful footage, used soullessly to bookend fifteen minutes of directors venting about censorship, with a dose of weird for the sake of weird surrealism thrown in for good measure. While probably not worth your, or anyone's time, it is beautifully shot and Christopher Lee looks very suave and dapper while doing not very much at all.

You can watch Christopher Lee's weird intermission on youtube; here

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