It’s a daunting task to sit down and write about a film like SANTA SANGRE. It’s so packed with subtext and symbolism, style, the beautiful and the macabre, the sacred and the profane, surrealism and storyline, earthiness and transcendence. I could go on and on. But first I’d have to figure out where to begin. I suppose I could share a hint of the story. There’s so much going on here. On every level. It’s linear yet tangential … OK, the story. I’ll give you a recount of the kick-off or a nutshell or something. Nothing I can write can do much more than hint at SANTA SANGRE’s elegant and ruthless beauty. At the center is the son of circus parents; he is a wee circus star in the making himself. His father is a powerful and fiery tempered man, a big man, a man of passions. His wandering sexual attentions and his ego clash and reach crisis with his equally strong-minded spouse, who, in addition to being a priestess of sorts in a rogue Catholic shrine devoted to a noncanonical, armless Saintess. As for the circus at large, it is a family, a community of people set apart from the rest of society though they participate with normals all the time. Indeed, who are their customers at the circus? The death of an elephant brings about the most unique funeral procession imaginable. When the clowns spray gag tears, they mean it. Clownism isn’t a job. It’s a lifestyle. So it is for the others. The procession ends in a scene as beautiful as it is horrifying. It is one of many mergings of beauty and grotesquery. Truthfully, such is SANTA SANGRE in its entirety. The family dynamics both with the nuclear family conflicts around the boy and with the circus at large sport fascinating dynamics. And it is this boy who is at the center of the story. The horrors of his youth follow him into adulthood. It’s a Terry Gilliamesque juggling of dense symbolism and storytelling, an arthouse Argento, Fellini gone mad, absurdism multiplied by itself, Hitchcock through a hallucinatory kaleidoscope, a dreamlike explosion of both subtle and archetypal symbolism, unforgettable characters and visions, art cinema, tragedy and humor, the human and the extraordinary. As per the tagline: “Forget everything you have seen.” I should have just said that from the beginning.
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