Subversive Saturday: Fando y Lis (1968)


Cast: Tamara Garina, Sergio Kleiner, Diana Mariscal
Director: Alejandro Jodorowsky
Country: Mexico
Genre: Adventure | Fantasy

This review is a part of Matthew’s Subversive Saturdays series.

Alejandro Jodorowsky is a director with a unique view of the world. He sees the world around us as farcical, and we are bound to traditions an attitudes that we are born in to and have no control over. His filmography invents its own mysticism and sinister worlds as he subverts elements of his own upbringing and the odd circus of Catholicism. His protagonists often undergo a heroic journey, but the cast of characters that surrounds these protagonists straddle worlds of ancient traditions and optimistic dogma and the decay of those ancient worlds as we occupy the ruins of long dead cities built by civilizations whose influences and ideals are mere shadows and whispers that haunt these decaying monoliths and rotting artifacts. The result is a Fellinesque circus of madmen and lost souls, occupying the present but driven by sinister ideas and long dead philosophies.

Jodorowsky’s feature length debut is a powerful road movie about the journey we all take when entering a relationship. We seek a fictional land of purity and perfection and lose sight of the fact that love itself is its own journey and death is the only inevitable destination. Our titular couple sets out on their journey to “Tar” and must navigate through a barren landscape of putrid denizens of debauchers, temptresses, and tempters that are oblivious to the fact that they are standing in the ruins of a civilization in decline. They initiate this quest by burying the artifacts of their youth but are unable to bury the damages that are imbued on to their souls. They are haunted by resentment of their parents, religious upbringing, and damages done by childhood abuses so vile that they leave a permanent mark on them. We must learn to bury our mother before we can learn to love.

Lis is a paralyzed albatross that is essential to Fando’s journey of discovery despite the arduous task of having to carry her. The film doesn’t seem to think much of women and they are either seen as weak but essential burdens or vile temptresses. They navigate through desolate rocky landscapes in a futile search for an idea that they cannot clearly quantify. They fall in to the trappings of the human condition such as the need to control and possess the ones we love. Gender roles play a part in these trappings as the promiscuous Fando is often sidetracked by temptation and the resolution to his promiscuous nature involves the subversion and reversal of these gender roles. They briefly entertain this reversal and it ultimately ends in bemusement but he may have internalized some important life lesson.

The stark and high contrast black and white cinematography brings a clarity to the surrealist images and a beauty to the “obscene” and ugly. There are lengthy sequences shot with handheld cameras that give a cinema verite quality to the film and it grants a rationality to the absurd and surreal imagery. We feel like we are witnessing the documentation of the evolution of a relationship in the ruins of a civilization in decline. At the same time the high contrast visual style grants an otherworldly quality to the images and it challenges us to accept the absurd as hyperrealistic truth.

When approaching this type of work it is best to turn off the tendency to rationalize every image on the screen. There is a lot of symbolism in this film but if we are constantly dissecting it we aren’t absorbing it on the film’s terms. Trying to bring our own objective meaning to every visual metaphor we see preoccupies our minds and we briefly stop listening to the language of the images. It is better to strike the tuning fork of the film and try to match the tone of the film with our subconscious. It is only then when we can accept the film on its own terms and we can shut off the nagging tendency to brutally subject the ideas presented in the film to our own prejudices and ideas. When the dust settles we will still land on our own meanings dictated by the sum total of our life experiences, but at least we will have been as receptive as possible and our subconscious will know the score.

88/100 ~ GREAT. A Fellinesque circus of madmen and lost souls, occupying the present but driven by sinister ideas and long dead philosophies.

Matthew Blevins

Senior Editor & Film Critic. Behind me you see the empty bookshelves that my obsession with film has caused. Film teaches me most of the important concepts of life, such as cynicism, beauty, ugliness, subversion of societal norms, and what it is to be a tortured member of humanity. My passion for the medium is an important part of who I am as I stumble through existence in a desperate and frantic search for objective truths.