The film has been given a stunning 4K restoration that further highlights its intoxicating and experimental style
Iván Zulueta is one of Spain’s most influential filmmakers despite having a relatively small catalogue of work. His bold and experimental films play with sight, sound, timing and content in a way that provokes audiences just as much as it sucks them in. His style can call to mind other art house filmmakers like David Lynch or David Cronenberg, but no work of his bleeds his unique aesthetic and atmosphere quite as distinctly as 1979’s Arrebato (Spanish for Rapture). The only thing is, the film saw a limited release in Spain and subsequently became relegated to the country’s underground scene.
But like many a bizarre and original horror film, Arrebato steadily attained cult status, being praised for its influence by prominent Spanish filmmakers like Pedro Almodóvar – Zulueta was also known for designing a good number of posters for Almodóvar – and is now set to finally premiere in U.S. theaters this fall. The film itself is considered a masterpiece by many, and for those looking to expand both their tastes and their minds, it is undoubtedly a rewarding experience – and it’s definitely an experience. A hallucinatory and unnerving dive into obsession and addiction, Arrebato is challenging, beguiling and thought-provoking.
The film follows a movie director named José Sirgado (Eusebio Poncela) who is growing exceedingly irritated by the progress on his latest project. Frustrated and unhappy with how things are going he leaves the studio to unwind at home. For José, that usually means doing heroin. The director is a functioning addict, one who relies on the drug for everything from getting up the morning to editing his film, and it’s likely the cause of his artistic rut as much as he’d refuse to admit it. To be an ongoing addict is to live in an almost constant fog, a haziness that both dulls and engages you and can spread to others if you will it.
In this case, José has seemingly shared his addiction with his actor girlfriend Ana Turner (Cecilia Roth), but what once brought them together has now torn them apart. When José arrives home, he’s angry to find that Ana is snoozing in his bed, and is then promptly befuddled by the arrival of a strange package that contains a disturbing audio tape, an equally as disturbing reel of Super-8 film, and a key to the sender’s apartment. That sender is none other than a fellow filmmaker and brief acquaintance of José by the name of Pedro (Will More).
The film blurs the apartment setting of José and Ana listening to the tape and watching the reel of film with flashbacks to the two moments where José spent time with Pedro. Pedro is, to be blunt, a complete weirdo who hunches in the corners of rooms and stares wide-eyed at people, and according to his cousin Marta (Marta Fernández Muro), often weeps and screams and moans at his own homemade films while shut away in his room. But a simple snort of the heroin that José gives him when the two meet changes the strange young man completely. The nearly neurotic version of Pedro is replaced with a calm and confident one that talks slowly and precisely and is able to lay out exactly what it is his films do and what makes them special.
Arrebato is a deeply personal piece of art from Zulueta. A heroin addict himself, Zulueta crafts a trippy and frightening descent into how addiction takes over the mind until you end up never being in a right state of it. None of the film’s characters are ever sober or completely with it, so as José learns about the bizarre journey that Pedro has gone through since the last time they saw each other, it’s hard to say whether his growing intrigue is driven the drugs or a genuine curiosity – just as it’s impossible to know what drove him to give Pedro the time of day the first time they talked. Perhaps it’s a bit of both. Pedro’s tale could likewise simply be the ramblings of a similarly addicted madman, and it’s obvious that the addictions Zulueta is laying bare are those of both the physical drugs and the artistic ones. Both José and Pedro’s obsessions with capturing things on film are just as destructive as their reliance on heroin, and the two combine in spectacularly unsettling fashion.
Does the artist control the art or does the art control the artist? José and Pedro are constantly looking for that feeling of rapture that comes with artistic catharsis, forever chasing that high. Zulueta’s film explores how art, obsessions and addictions all blur into one and can consume you. It’s one of those films about films (José’s drive home even takes him past the lit-up marquees of his city’s theaters), but one that acts as a terrifying and cautionary tale about the unsettling power of them, rather than the usual love letter to the art form. It’s a criminally underseen cult classic for a reason. You won’t see anything quite like it.
‘Arrebato’ has upcoming screenings in the following cities, with an upcoming home release as well.
Anthology Film Archives (NYC, NY) — 10/1-7
Nuart (L.A., CA) — 10/8-14
Austin Film Society (Austin, TX) — 10/8-10
Lightbox Film Center (Philadelphia, PA) — 10/9
Cleveland Cinematheque (Cleveland, OH) — 10/14-15
Beacon Cinema (Seattle, WA) — 10/15-17
Belcourt Theatre (Nashville, TN) — 10/16
Apohadion Theater (Portland, ME) — 10/16
Roxie Theater (San Francisco, CA) — 10/18
Stray Cat Theater (Kansas City, MO) — 10/22
Brattle Theater (Boston, MA) — 11/19-21