Madrid,1980. Jose Sirgado, a labouring bohemian b-movie filmmaker finishes editing the sequel to a previous film. Visibly displeased he journeys home to his girlfriend strung out on heroin. After attempting to tidy his home and taking some heroin himself he opens a mail package from an old acquaintance Pedro P. containing a reel of super-8 film, a cassette tape and a key to his apartment. Watching the film and listening to the accompanying tape on which Pedro talks through the pair’s first meeting, their ensuing friendship and how he developed an addiction to filmmaking, notably recording himself in bed as he reached a state of rapture induced by the camera manifested in a series of flashbacks. As Pedro’s gravelly voice over wears on it becomes clear that his camera has taken on a vampiric life of its own absorbing its subjects and ultimately erasing them from the real world. Pedro’s final recording informs Jose of his suspected fate and informs him to visit his apartment where he too is absorbed by the camera.
In a surprising attempt to blend horror, filmmaking and addiction Ivan Zulueta succeeds in producing a cataclysmic cocktail of peverse characters, characteristics and scenarios. From the introduction there is the anticipation of a meditation on filmmaking as beleaguered director Jose puts the finishing touches on his latest picture – a sequel that appears to be an Ed Woodesque attempt at a vampire flick – visibly dissatisfied he retreats to his bohemian apartment swathed in multi-coloured streams light from studio lights in the corners of the room covered in boldly tinted pieces of silk. Revealed in the opening moments we are witnessing intensely self-reflexive characters and a film produced by a director of the same persuasion. Only once drifting into a dreaded area of kitsch and camp the film manages to steer away from an unwatchable horror film about a vampire camera to being a serious meditation on the addictive powers of cinema, its relation to reality and a study of obsession.
The single most interesting character of the piece is eccentric avant-garde filmmaker Pedro P. named purposefully after JM Barrie’s forever-young adventurer. Noticing and embracing the full power of film and cinema his life is usurped by the quest for finding solace in its presence and his own adventure takes him between the frames as a pained author may try to get between the lines ultimately driving him too far and away from any vision of beauty and creativity. Recording everything he experiences, encompassing the mundane to the dull, we witness his descent as he hopes to ascribe purpose to what he puts on the screen, himself questioning the meaning and existence of something if it is not recorded. All very deep and ponderous, and while Zulueta perhaps achieves his probable aim with the film, it seems watching the editing of P’s film and Arrebato itself as though the 1960s psychedelic eras in Britain and America as quick to arrive as they were to leave never landed on the shores of Spain. Pedro’s home movies bear a startling resemblance to those of John and Yoko’s Tittenhurst experiments in celluloid even including the slowly erecting penis akin to the opening of a flower.
It is within the visual and technical aspects of the film that suspends it in cultural cultish limbo for the ages and in so reveals the main factor that can be attributed to its final outcome. Francisco Franco, conspicuous in his absence, overarches all the themes of the picture, from the freshly imbued freedom of the Spanish arts set, the loose expose of Madrid underground drug culture and embrace of experimental cinema to be embodied in the following decade by the La Movida Madrileña and exported internationally by its champion Pedro Almodóvar – interestingly enough it is he who provides the appalling element of camp and kitsch with some voice over work that midway through almost brings the film the film down to its knees. Occupying an awkward space in Spanish and international film history whilst some years later than the free jazz influenced cinema of Cassavetes, Godard and Schlesinger into doubt anticipates Danny Boyle’s introduction of heroin chic to the street of Edinburgh and London and Aronofsky adopting similar methods of depicting addiction essentially fifteen to twenty years later Arrebato explores of previously uncharted liberated territory and the release of a repressive older regime.