Embrujada: Sometimes Making A Movie Badly Makes It Better
Embrujada answers the question what would a Buñuel film look like if Buñuel had no money, no talent, and very little skill. However, it is Embrujada’s clunky, amateurish construction that actually enhances its efforts to be surreal. The surrealists were interested in random juxtapositions and Embrujada excels in this area. The awkward, poorly timed editing emphasizes the contrasting imagery and breaks what is meant to be a montage into a jarring series of images slammed together.
Embrujada (Bewitched) was written, directed, and produced by Armando Bo in 1969. It’s Bell de Jour, meets Rosemary’s Baby by way of Russ Meyers. It’s one part surrealist art film about a wife who is secretly a prostitute, one part a woman convinced that she is being pursued by the devil in order to give birth to his child, and one part soft-core sexploitation flick. The result is hard to quantify but it kind of works, or almost works.
Embrujada is the story of Asise a raven-haired woman with an hourglass figure, provided that the hourglass is one hell of a curvy hourglass. She is married to Leandro the head of a logging company. Asise wants to have a baby, specifically a blonde-haired, blued eyed boy. Leandro is impotent and so Asise decides to look elsewhere to get pregnant. She joins a brothel in hopes of solving her problem.
With these elements in place, Armando Bo sets about creating one montage after another to not only forward the plot but to illustrate the psychological connections between everything. A typical sex scene in the film will involve images of the act interspersed with footage of tribal people dancing and chanting around a fire, long shots of waterfalls, close-ups of other characters’ faces, and an evil creature who seems to be a mix between a Pombero and the devil.
A Pombero is a creature from South American folklore, in particular Paraguay and Argentina. It’s a creepy, little man with hair on his hands and feet who creates mischief in the night. Asise believes she is alternately being pursued by and/or possessed by one of these creatures. Armando Bo’s version of the Pombero is hairy but he is not small and looks a lot Satan. As in Rosemary’s Baby, the Pombero visits Asise in feverish visions, particularly when she is having sex. She will see her partner as the Pombero, or herself as the Pombero, or even animals passing by as Pomberos.
As the movie progresses the montages get looser and more self-referential. Eventually, the film becomes a montage of itself, recycling past images with present ones.
There is a scene where Leandro is having one of his workers whipped. The event becomes a vortex of spiraling issues. There is colonialism, capitalism, sado-masochism, mixed with sexual ideas about male domination, and Laeandro’s frustration with his impotence. They collide with hints that Leandro might be gay. There are also hints about colonialism being at the heart of the troubles between him and Asise.
Later we find out Leandro is in fact gay or at least bi, it gets a little confusing. We also find out that Asise is a native American and was romantically whisked away from the bosom of her tribe by the handsome Leandro who took her on a whirlwind tour of the world. Cue the clumsy travel montage which looks suspiciously like an advertisement for Pan Am Airlines.
What starts out as a romance degenerates into bitter conflict until Asise yells over the sound of the ever-present waterfalls “You are the scum of civilization. You are a pervert!” I’m not sure, but this may be a reference to the idea that homosexuality is caused by decadence. It’s a belief that before the white Europeans invaded the four corners of the earth indigenous peoples were entirely heterosexual, and that homosexuality is a plague the whites brought with them. As ludicrous as it sounds there are people who subscribe to it.
Unpacking the messages and meanings of Embrujada is not likely to result in a coherent or consistent ideology, but there are deliberate messages being sent. Embrujada wants us to see that both colonialism and sex can involve degradation and admiration. It is often the case that an imperialist country admires and celebrates the country it is busy raping. Orientalism was a fascination that Europe had with places like China and India which were suffering under Europe’s boot.
The root cause of all Asise’s trouble is never made clear, but the result is that everyone who has sex with her ends up hacked to death by a machete. Sometimes it seems as if it is the devil committing these murders. Other times it seems as if Asise is the culprit either because she is possessed by the devil or simply because she is going insane. There are numerous ways to interpret what exactly is happening. Asise could be losing her mind because Leandro can’t give her a baby, or it could all be a native curse put on Leandro for stealing Asise, or It could all be the devil’s fault. The ending does not offer a resolution, but it’s better that way. Without a resolution, the film’s loose associations and raggedy montages serve a purpose. They contribute to a pool of possibilities that are surprisingly rich and diverse. For a poorly made film, Embrujada manages to bring a compelling group of ideas to bear.
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