Moviegoing at Cannes: Classics without labels

Re-discovering the silent cinema through largely "documentary" means, Pere Portabella's Vampir-Cuadecuc was at once the most original movie at the festival and the most sophisticated in its audacious modernism. Initially, the documentary subject is the filming of a commercial Spanish version of Dracula with Christopher Lee (directed by Jesus Franco), but what Portabella makes of this occasion is so personal that it completely transcends the anecdotal. In his homage to Murnau's Nosferatu and Dreyer's Vampyr, he re-creates not only many of their loveliest visual textures, but also the dissolution and decay we perceive when we see them today in fading prints -the sense that these wispy, unearthly images are on the verge of evaporating from the screen, like Nosferatu himself.


Moving back and forth from the story being filmed to stray details in the production (a fan blowing confetti over a corpse, a fake bat pulled around on strings, a ghoulishly made-up actress making a face at someone between takes), Portabella somehow manages to maintain the same eerie atmosphere throughout. A remarkably varied soundtrack plays against his silent imagery: the barking dogs, jet planes, drills, operatic arias, Muzak melodies, and sinister electronic drones all ingeniously locate Dracula and our perception of him in the modern world. Speech occurs only briefly in one sequence near the end-when Christopher Lee describes the death of Dracula, and then reads the scene from Stoker's novel -and its effect, much like that of the other sounds, is only to highlight the brooding silence that Portabella's world breathes in. Space prevents me from doing justice to the range and depth of this film, but a few indelible images must be cited: a trip to "Transylvania" by car (presumably Portabella's invention) that accelerates into jet propulsion; a girl in a pocket oval portrait who smiles and moves away; a bag of unspecified something that starts crawling across a floor. In this prodigious film, Portabella recaptures certain fragments of the past in all their lurid beauty and shows how we may-and must -comprehend them now. 

Autor:Jonathan Rosembaum. THe Village Voice. June 1971
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