(A.k.a. THE AUTOMOBILE GRAVEYARD; LE CIMETIERE DES VOITURES)
In an unspecified place, in an unspecified post-war future, the world is divided into two factions: the brutal Government-sponsored police regime, and the punks they hope to quash.
The punks spend their days scavenging the barren, post-Apocalyptic wastelands. Their nights are spent searching for "cemeteries" - secret places where they can hide from the authorities and enjoy a taste of their former lives. Much of the action is set in the titular car cemetery, a junkyard fashioned to house people in, fortress-style. Imagine a cross between STREET TRASH's scrap-yard and Barter Town from MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME.
The cemetery's pig-like keeper Milos (Roland Amstutz) welcomes the latest bunch of motley punks into his haven, referring to it as "Babylon". Through his loudhailer he tells his guests that while they are there they are free to indulge in whatever perversions tickle their fancy. That includes the services of his own prostitute girlfriend, Dila (Juliet Berto).
The young adults retire to their individual car wrecks and get busy with all manner of sexual kinks, which allows director Fernando Arrabal to wallow in some customary carnal images before honing in on 80s fashion victim Tope (Boris Bergman) and his loyal friend.
They, along with everyone else, have heard that a Messiah-like rocker by the name of Emanou (Alain Bashung) is rumoured to be headed for the cemetery. There is a buzz in the air concerning his expected arrival but Tope, who has crossed paths with the new-age Christ figure once before, intimates designs on betraying him.
When Milos demands money from his transient guests for supper, they revolt. Fortunately for all, a riot is avoided by the arrival of the enigmatic Emanou. He is able to take two Big Mac sandwiches and feed the entire flock with them.
Meanwhile, as Emanou's story is told in flashback by awestruck onlookers and Tope plots against the sultry music man, the cops await orders from their mysterious ruler The Bunker to locate and kill the Messiah.
Ah, I get it! Dila is the whore of Babylon ... the cops are the Romans ... Emanou walks on water and feeds the, well, around 20-or-so extras. Yes, Arrabal is reworking tales from the Bible through the filters of post-Apocalyptic sci-fi and new wave music.
Arrabal became a prominent figure in the Panic Movement of the 1960s, penning the play FANDO AND LIS - the screen adaptation of which later became the feature film debut of Alexandro Jodorowsky (SANTA SANGRE; EL TOPO). The Spanish surrealist then went on to become a cult filmmaker of his own distinction in the 1970s, with the brilliant VIVA LA MUERTE, the even wilder I WILL WALK LIKE A CRAZY HORSE and his nihilistic epic THE GUERNICA TREE (all three of which can be found in Cult Epics' superb THE FERNANDO ARRABAL COLLECTION VOLUME 1 box-set).
CAR CEMETERY then, from 1983, comes as something of a disappointment. It's not overly bad, just not as out-there or creative as its predecessors. The religious allegories have always been rife in Arrabal's work, but here the blasphemy seems only half-hearted. The anger appears to have dissipated along with the budget for this low-rent REPO MAN relation.
The cast are game. Bashung, a famous singer in his native France up until his death from lung cancer in 2009, has an undeniable presence: he succeeds in the effortless cool of many a rock star. Everyone around him seems overly animated, as if being directed by Andrej Zulawski. But, somehow, it helps to keep the odd atmospherics afloat.
The problem is that the script is horribly ripe. Borrowing liberally from the Bible, this is portentous claptrap even by Arrabal's standards (I say that with all due respect: I am a fan of the man). It's true to say that his previous films were stuffed to the brim with surreal religious motifs and visual correlations between sex and death. Nothing has changed here, but everything feels so sedate in comparison. It's no surprise to learn that this film is based on Arrabal's play of the same name - and that explains its clunkiness: the limited sets; the dreadfully wooden dialogue; the cheap arthouse pretensions.
Worse still, the whole thing is given a punk rock look that firmly dates the film in the early 1980s - and not in a good way. It's like Peter Greenaway directing CAFE FLESH with no budget, or the cast of JUBILEE racing through a softcore sci-fi variant of JESUS OF MONTREAL.
Cult Epics' disc presents the film uncut in anamorphic 1.66:1. The transfer is generally dark and colours look a tad faded. Having said that, this is an obscure and largely unseen film - it's amazing just to see it on DVD. It's perfectly watchable, and relatively clean to boot.
The French audio track offered is 2.0 and is a good proposition throughout. Optional English subtitles are easy to read and, for the most part, free from typing errors.
A static main menu page leads into a static scene-selection menu allowing access to CAR CEMETERY via 10 chapters.
The only extras on the disc are trailers for VIVA LA MUERTE, I WILL WALK LIKE A CRAZY HORSE and THE GUERNICA TREE. The first and last of these are equipped with English subtitles, while the HORSE trailer has no dialogue.
The disc is a basic one, but fair when you consider that it's likely to be the only legitimate standalone release this film is likely to receive. Cult Epics have also released CAR CEMETERY as part of a three-disc box-set - THE FERNANDO ARRABAL COLLECTION VOLUME 2 - which also contains the whimsical family film THE EMPEROR OF PERU (with Mickey Rooney!) and a third disc of documentaries, including the recommended watch FAREWELL BABYLON.
CAR CEMETERY is a hideously dated 80s film that fails to escape from the pratfalls of its stage origins. The fashions, the sets, the allegories - its all rank. But there is something that makes it just-to-say work regardless, be it the occasional inspired image (Dila conversing with a miniature angel; Tope's fate) or authentic squalor and subversive anti-establishment message that seeps through. Arrabal is a cinematic terrorist of considerable intelligence and even a lesser film such as this demonstrates as much. Just don't go into it expecting the same levels of polemical art or extremism of his earlier films.
Review by Stu Willis
|Released by Cult Epics|
|Region 1 - NTSC|
|see main review|