Elephantine elegy


Georgina Jiménez explains why
Tusk is not Alejandro Jodorowksy’s greatest work, but still leaves viewers scratching their heads



Alejandro Jodorowksy
1980, Yang/Films 21
119 minutes (French)

LATAMROB rating: **

AS WITH EVERYTHING created by the Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowksy, one is left at the end of Tusk with little but questions.

It is an unusual film – and very hard to come by (almost certainly buried), which makes being able to view it valuable in itself for aficionados of this enigmatic filmmaker.

But that goes little way towards answering the puzzle that is this movie, or being able to place it in this director’s body of work.

At one level, Tusk is a straightforward, rather dull narrative about the British in India as the country begins to assert its desire for independence. It tells the tale of Elise (Cyrielle Clair), the daughter of an arrogant English logger who uses elephants to clear his lands.

Elise has an unusual empathy with an elephant that she was born on the same day as, Tusk, a metaphor for Ganesh, the most worshipped god in India. Tusk is rebellious and independent, and Elise is the only human that can soothe this at times ill-tempered giant.

Elise grows up, falls for an American hunter and defends the elephant against the avaricious maharajah and some boozy poachers who are after his ivory.

The cinematography is impressive, especially in the hunting scenes, and the large number of elephants used in the film attest to Jodorowksy’s skill as a director. It is said that he enjoyed working with the animals, and it must be noted that an elephant appears in his next movie, Santa Sangre.

Hindu cosmography

But fans of Jodorowsky will be disappointed by the lack of philosophical depth, which beyond some symbolic allusions to Hindu cosmography and the authoritarian nature of British rule is reduced largely to an exploration of empathy between man and beast.

Tusk lacks all the qualities that make this director so intriguing: bizarre imagery, concealed messages, hidden coda.

Tusk is also in French, begging the question about why the director used this language to
explore the colonial role of the English in India. It is long, at times tedious, and even simplistic.

One suspects that Jodorowsky was drawn to India by the country’s esoterica, sharing the fascination of that era with gurus and shamans and unwritten wisdom.

One also suspects that the director himself recognised the many flaws in this work, and that is why it appears to have been put on ice and is so hard to find.

Georgina Jiménez is a freelance Mexican writer

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