Thursday, July 22, 2021

Holy Beasts: Ode to Jean-Louis Jorge

Jean-Louis Jorge did the nearly impossible. He made avant-garde filmmaking fun and sexy. Sadly, the Dominican filmmaker’s output was cut short when he was mysteriously murdered in 2000. Years later, his meta-muse is planning to direct his unfinished masterwork, the vampire romp, La Palace. Arguably, it would be just as a much a Jorge film as the last three or four Raul Ruiz films were that of the Chilean auteur. Unfortunately, getting it finished will be a dicey business in Israel Cardenas & Laura Amelia Guzman’s Holy Beasts, which releases tomorrow on Film Movement Plus.

Vera had a complicated relationship with Jorge. That in turn, led to complicated relationships with those in their circle. Nevertheless, she has convinced their old crony Victor to produce the long-deferred
La Palace, with her as director. Her first choice for cinematographer joined Jorge in the great wrap party in the sky, so she settles for Martin, an old classmate the late director had a falling-out with. Of course, she recruits her friend Henry to serve as choreographer. He is portrayed by Udo Kier, who played the famous vampire in the Andy Warhol-produced Blood for Dracula (an association that suits the film just fine).

Is the vampirism of Jorge’s screenplay bleeding into real life? Maybe so, but nobody seems to notice or care very much. Vera is so driven to complete the film, she only allows herself to be distracted by Yony, the dancer she assumes must be her grandson, based on highly circumstantial evidence.

Holy Beasts
is a little bit crazy, a little bit pretentious, and a whole lot messy. Jorge most likely wouldn’t have made this film exactly, but he would have probably enjoyed it, particularly the bizarre dance numbers, which often resemble a cross between a Broadway chorus line and a Calvin Klein commercial.

Genre fans might be disappointed Cardenas & Guzman de-emphasize the vampire angle, but it is still always fun to watch Kier acting weird. Geraldine Chaplin gives a tour-de-force performance as the center of it all, as the brittle and tart-tongued Vera. It is a strong and sensitive turn, in the tradition of the best of late-career Hepburn. James Spina is wonderfully sly as the slightly sleazy producer, Victor, while the late experimental Columbian filmmaker Luis Ospina radiates world-weary resignation as Martin.

Holy Beasts’
sun-dappled insanity will truly leave viewers disoriented. It is potent filmmaking, but the point is sometimes lost amid the style. Still, it is an appropriately distinctive tribute to a truly cult filmmaker. Worth a look if you’re suitably adventurous, Holy Beasts releases tomorrow (7/23) on Film Movement Plus.