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Latarnia presents CASTILIAN CRIMSON
The Spanish Horror Film

LAS CRUELES

  

THE EXQUISITE CADAVER

1969

 

Director: Vicente Aranda
Screenplay: Vicente Aranda, Antonio Rabinad, Gonzalo Suárez (based on his story "Bailando para Parker")
Music: Marco Rossi
Cast: Carlos Estrada, Judy Matheson, Capucine, Teresa Gimpera
Running time: Review based on Something Weird Video VHS release which omits any opening or closing credits and runs 91 minutes
Eastmancolor

     

With slow deliberation, a girl lays her head down on railroad tracks as a
oncoming train plows forward. So begins Vicente Aranda's second feature, a film steeped in melancholy, ruminations on suicide, unspoken secrets, and repressed emotions. A publisher of pulp horror novels (Estrada) receives an anonymous yellow package containing a human hand. He buries it in a nearby park. The next yellow package he receives, he leaves unopened on a bench in the city. When he arrives home, the package is awaiting him. This one contains a torn up dress and a photograph of a girl. He feebly attempts to lie about the contents to his wife (Gimpera). When he receives a yellow envelope containing a necklace with a silver fist at the end, he spots the woman in black (Capucine) who has been giving him so much attention. Without a word, he enters her car. She drives him to her remote home, where she feeds him lysergic acid embedded in red blotting paper. Suddenly, he is ambling down a long corridor drawn towards a woman's voice lamenting her lost love. He reaches the end of the hallway to discover the voice emanating from a tape recorder. He finds a woman's body in a refrigerator curled up, pale, but immaculate. When he awakens from the drugged stupor he is back at home, his body covered in a jaundiced yellow. Who was the woman in the refrigerator? In a flashback, the young woman (Matheson) is in a coffee shop fiddling with some pills. She appears bored, yet eager to flirt with the older publisher. Her name is Esther and she reveals her sign to be Cancer. In another fragment of the past, the newly formed couple is out near the sea. As she edges toward the cliff, she says, "I'd die so that my love for you will last. So that indifference will not kill it." Through the collective memories of the publisher, his wife, the detective that she hired to spy on her husband, and the mysterious woman, the corrosion of the romance is recounted. Her eventual suicide, which is not the gruesome demise the opening scene promises, turns out to be tragically quiet. So much so that her undying admirer, Capucine's character, must avenge the callousness that broke her heart.

LAS CRUELES (or THE EXQUISITE CADAVER as it's known in the U.S.) combines a youthful approach to film techniques and a colorful pop-art aesthetic with a story of psychological torment and weird horror. It's a sensibility that encompasses director Vicente Aranda's early films, from FATA MORGANA (1965) to LA NOVIA ENSANGRENTADA (1972). In this film, Aranda employs some striking stylistics such as the scene of the publisher leaving one of his yellow packages in a busy plaza. In its use of telephoto lenses that keep the publisher at a distance, surveillance camera-like angles, and the simple use of ambient sounds, this scene has a detached modernistic feel. The LSD scene is haunting in its use of the young woman's taped suicide note, the slow backwards tracking shot of the publisher walking down the corridor, brief flashback shots of the couple embracing, and the expressionistic montage of close-ups of the young woman's naked body accompanied by a pulsating industrial noise. Although Aranda would develop a more naturalistic style in his later erotic thrillers and historical melodramas, the extreme emotions and torment would remain. The central story of LAS CRUELES, that of a woman being destroyed by the powerful yet fickle passions of a man, is echoed in Aranda's AMANTES (1991), INTRUSO (1993), LA PASIÓN TURCA (1994), and CELOS (1999) (his CARMEN [2003] can be seen as a gender reversal of this theme). It is worth noting that the filmmakers took inspiration from Marianna Alcoforado's passionate "Letters of a Portuguese Nun" in Esther's eloquent monologues. While Esther's death is central to the film, Capucine's role is the most memorable as the sorrowful avenger of the young woman. With her gaunt features complimented by a large, swooping black hat Capucine is the embodiment of mystery. Her servant is a pale young man in black. She has an artificial left hand. Her love for the young woman is immense and unrequited. This is all we know of her. It is a wonderful role, and Capucine plays it with such sadness that it is difficult not to reflect on her real-life suicide.

-- Reviewed by Adam Williams