FATA MORGANA (VICENTE ARANDA, 1965)
Fata Morgana, not to be confused with the Werner Herzog film of the same title, is the brilliantly complex debut film from Vicente Aranda that lies somewhere between the films of Jess Franco, Alain Robbe-Grillet, and the gialli film.
Set in a town that, for reasons unknown and never revealed to the audience, is being abandoned, the story centers around supermodel Gim. A pre-credits opening sequence reveals that five years ago, a woman was murdered; her killer never found. Why was
she murdered? Because she was born to be a victim, in the same way many are born to be killers. The sequence (which is illustrated in a sort of pseudo-comic book form, similar to certain scenes in Corrado Farina's Baba Yaga) then reveals that now the same killer will kill again. The new victim is to be Gim, and special agent JJ accepts the mission to try to rescue her, despite the near impossibility of success.
Gim is tangentially romantically linked with a man, Alvaro. Unfortunately there is another woman romantically linked to Alvaro; the extremely jealous Miriam who, after the death of her beloved husband Jerry, is not quite stable. The first half or so of the movie develops the relationships and interactions between the three; none of them want to leave the city despite the fact that it has been virtually abandoned. Other inhabitants still in the city include a professor lecturing on the nature of the victim/killer relationship, a few servant-types, a group of five boys who are obsessed with Gim and never speak, as well as what appear to be some social deviants (criminals, roughnecks).
Somewhere in the second half of the movie the special agent in charge of tracking down Gim shows up, and some blood is finally shed; all the while a higher power continues to suggest that all inhabitants of the city get out. It's a very interesting technique by which Aranda subverts the idea behind a gialli film (a genre in which this film is often grouped); the audience is not waiting to see who will be killed next, or who is the killer, rather, the audience is waiting to see whether or not Gim will actually be murdered, and there are many moments (this is where Aranda shows a fantastic handle of suspense) where it's a high possibility.
The film fully succeeds existing in it's own world, which many films set out to do. Aranda's success come from a number of things; mainly his method of keeping the audience in the dark about virtually every characters motivation. There is no police force left in the city, and it appears that the only two women still around are Gim and Miriam; whereas virtually every man who's present, except for Alvaro, is an implied threat.
A chase scene through abandoned factory buildings is highly reminiscent of an early scene from Alain Robbe-Grillet's Eden and After. Robbe-Grillet's film, made five years later, with such similar tone and atmosphere (which is one of pressure and confusion) to such an extent than one must wonders if Robbe-Grillet had ever seen the film. The chase scene, involving Agent JJ and a group of three unknown men, echoes a scene that almost directly follows it; Gim running through the city trying to encounter some sort of solace in a world where it everybody is against her. The parallels provide an interesting contrast to what normally occurs in a regular suspense film; the main structure therein being something along the lines of authority figure chasing 'killer' chasing victim. The deconstruction of the cliche, aside from heightening the surreal atmosphere, serves to create a sort of tension that is unlike almost anything one can generally encounter in film.
The crux of the film, or the thesis, if you will, lies within the lecture that a professor gives on the nature of the killer/victim relationship, and the idea that individuals are born into the position they take on within the dynamics of the killer/victim relationship. Through a slide show of photographs, which starts out depicting frightened women, the professor describes that these victims were victims because they were born to be victims, their beauty an element of the fact that they are victims. The professor then delves into the murder that happened before, committed by the killer who is presumably going to kill Gim. Aranda brilliantly uses the voyeuristic device of a camera as the only proof of the crime being committed; the body from the former murder has not been found, but there are photographs that graphically depict the murder. It is through this device that the film, by way of the central idea (being that an individual can be born a victim) only applies to the woman as victim, escapes claims of misogyny. Because the viewer is watching the incidents on screen, the film, which itself was shot with a camera; a separating element that very cleverly (and subtly) calls attention to the fact that it is a film that one is watching.
Another interesting point to note is that the film was shot in 1965, but the plot places 1965 somewhere in the past. It is in this method that the audience discovers that what is on screen is an image of the 'future,' subverting the all too typical ideas of a dystopic future evident in much genre film of the same time period.
All in all, the film is a brilliant surprise, very refined and innovating, enigmatic and stimulating. Even if watched while presumed a gialli film the audience would not be disappointed; while the film obviously doesn't have all of the markings of the genre, it's an adventurous film that is exciting nonetheless.