Jodorowsky’s notorious debut feature seems to show us a burgeoning surrealist-visualist already fully-formed, but one couldn’t care any less for his meandering storytelling or impenetrable characters.
Dir. Alejandro Jodorowsky
1968 | Mexico | Adventure/Fantasy | 97 mins | 1.66:1 | Spanish
Not rated – likely to be R21 for mature themes and disturbing images
Cast: Sergio Kleiner, Diana Mariscal
Plot: Impotent Fando and his paraplegic sweetheart Lis search for the enchanted city of Tar where spiritual ecstasy resides.
Subject Matter: Mature
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Niche/Cult Arthouse
Most would have discovered one of Latin American cinema’s chief surrealists through the twin sensations that were El Topo (1970) and The Holy Mountain (1973), but before coming into international prominence, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s first feature, Fando and Lis,very much showed us a burgeoning surrealist-visualist already fully-formed. If only he had made a more engrossing film.
Jodorowsky’s notorious debut feature sparked a huge riot when it first premiered at the Acapulco Film Festival, and it was subsequently banned in Mexico. If you have seen the film, it’s easy to see why—in one of its most controversial scenes, several men assault a young girl after she is forced to work in what looks like a circus.
In other scenes, we see an assortment of strange characters, some perverse, but most way too well-dressed to be in the middle of some kind of desert where the two leads, lovebirds Fando and Lis, are journeying through in hopes of finding the lost city of Tar.
“If you ever feel too lonely… search for the magical city of Tar.”
Many of these weird-ass side characters that pop up now and then to distract Fando and Lis are now considered staple ‘iconography’ of Jodorowsky’s surrealist cinema—in that sense, one might regard El Topo as a more compelling if sometimes still incoherent reimagination of his debut feature in the mould of an acid western.
However, one couldn’t care any less for the meandering storytelling in Fando and Lis, which loses the impetus for meaning-making after a while, with one visual gag queuing up after another.
There is some interesting use of sound e.g. scratching, industrial noises, clanking, etc. that shows Jodorowsky’s experimental nous, but Lis and Fando are far too impenetrable for us to really care about their love-hate relationship, or whether they achieve their goal in the end.