The Holy Mountain by Alejandro Jodorowsky is not just a film but an ectopic experience in 1970s mind bending
The Holy Mountain
Reviewed by Georgina Jiménez
LATAMROB rating: ***
THEY SAY THAT if you can remember the 60’s it is because you were never there. But this cannot be said of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s films: The Holy Mountain is one of those episodes in Mexican cinema that simply cannot be forgotten, not so much because the film is weird but because of the outrage that surrounded its screening.
This eccentric Jewish-Chilean visionary – more European than Latin American in his perspective – who decided to depict his very personal interpretation of the ascent of Mount Carmel by Saint John of the Cross and Mount Analogue by Rene Daumal combining psychodelia, Mexican modern art, Tantra and a bit of esoteric kabbala to explain the pursuit of eternal life did not go down well in Mexico, if not the biggest certainly one of the most Catholic countries in the world.
The film was unleashed upon an unprepared audience used to the cinematic standards forced on them by an authoritarian government whose recent bloody encounter with student protesters had left it paranoid about cleansing its image while obsessed with gaining favourable coverage as modernisers and with enforcing “acceptable” moral standards.
Neither did Jodorowsky’s commitment to “natural imagination” – manifested as it was in part in the use of deformed actors – nor the way he enlisted some of the best Mexican plastic artists for his scenography strike a chord with the masses.
The events of 1968 in Mexico – when troops opened fire on and massacred student demonstrators at Tlatelolco – remained fresh in people’s imagination, and Jodorowsky depicted these in an allegorical way through bloodthirsty toads and chameleons.
Then there is a Christ-like thief who commences the exploration of history and life by coming out of his cross and leading the way to a small group of the rich and powerful who commit obvious excesses, yet search for eternal life. Even more shocking is the fact that this Christ-like figure is challenged by a guru from a higher moral order – the Alchemist, played by Jodorowsky himself – who, effectively, orders him to turn his own shit into gold.
After this the thief teams up with the rich and powerful and, led by the guru, they overcome their individual destructive forces and sexual obsessions to find the way to eternal life – or, more obviously, to liberation.
Attempts to lynch director
Jodorowsky made just six films and imprinted each with his love for Antonin Artaud’s rejection of western theatre. At some of his screenings, such as that of Fando y Lis there were attempts to lynch this pioneering director.
The Holy Mountain as well as The Mole (El Topo) was filmed independently and went down well among off-beat US youth and European film connoisseurs, but although Jodorowsky’s intentions were noble – making the spectators leave the cinema as new people – his elaborate messages were and remain even now just too cryptic to be deciphered. The film remained an occult folly among Mexicans for years.
The surreal and decadent visual ambience of The Holy Mountain could remind us of Federico Fellini’s Satyricon and even the omnipresent Luis Buñuel, but they also offer a cruder critique, loaded with a very Mexican heavy-handed and sado-masochistic purposeful humour all spiced up with tons of psylocibin.
To put it lightly, this film is interesting, visually stunning and thoroughly enjoyable – and will stun your senses.
Georgina Jiménez is a freelance Mexican writer