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  • Writer's pictureGabe Powers

Fata Morgana Blu-ray Review




Mondo Macabro

Blu-ray Release: June 11, 2024

Video: 2.35:1/1080p/Color

Audio: Castilian Spanish DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono

Subtitles: English

Run Time: 87:27

Director: Vicente Aranda


A man rehearses a lecture he is planning to give, analyzing serial killers. He claims that a woman is soon to be murdered in the city. It is inevitable, he explains, as some people are born victims while others are born to kill. He plans to identify the future victim through a series of photographs of violent acts. Meanwhile, fashion model Gim (Teresa Gimpera) finds herself alone and seeking answers in a seemingly deserted Barcelona. (From Mondo Macabro’s official synopsis)



The concept of giallo is hard enough to define on its own without considering the larger impact of pop-thrillers made outside of Italy. Therefore, it is even more difficult to delineate the idea of Spanish-made gialli. Some films, like José María Forqué’s In the Eye of the Hurricane (Spanish: El ojo del huracán; aka: Fox with a Velvet Tail, 1971) and Eugenio Martín’s The Fourth Victim (Spanish: La última señora Anderson, 1971), clearly fit the mold and even feature non-Spanish actors already affiliated with the genre. Others, like Miguel Madrid’s Killer of Dolls (Spanish: El asesino de muñecas, 1975) and Eloy de la Iglesia’s The Cannibal Man (Spanish: La Semana del asesino, 1972), offer a sense of what Spanish filmmakers could do to differentiate their version of giallo from the Italian mainstream. And others yet, like de la Iglesia’s Murder in a Blue World (Spanish: Una gota de sangre para morir amando, 1973) and Forqué’s It's Nothing, Mama, Just a Game (Spanish: No es nada, mamá, sólo un juego, 1974), emerged from the same cultural miasma as the gialli without necessarily fitting any specific genre criteria.


Vicente Aranda’s Fata Morgana (aka: Left-Handed Fate, 1965 – not to be confused with the 1971 Werner Herzog’s avant-garde documentary of the same name) is an interesting case of an arthouse Spanish thriller being made at the dawn of the giallo movement. It’s not a giallo by the most concrete definitions, but exists adjacently to some of its Italian counterparts, drawing upon the same commercial and counterculture sources as both genre forerunners, like Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace (Italian: 6 donne per l'assassino, 1964), and non-giall Italian pop-art, like Elio Petri’s The 10th Victim (Italian: La decima vittima, 1965), especially in terms of its interest in fashion and advertising, though it approaches both in an even more surrealistic manner that extends to its Buñuel-esque sense of humor.



Fata Morgana is so dense with ideas that it sometimes ends up anticipating genre trends. There is a sort of murder mystery at play and a couple of horror-like set-pieces, but these are pieces of a larger media tapestry that acknowledges clichés and metatexts, usually only to subvert them. Many of the pop-thriller tropes it parodies, such as overly expository dialogue relating to the murders, strange weapons (a metallic fish with a switchblade mechanism, in this case), and the fact that the killer is wearing black gloves, were barely established at the time of release, if at all. Some of the hallucinatory aspects remind me of Sergio Martino and Lucio Fulci’s ‘70s gialli, though without the narrative grounding of a point-of-view protagonist. Gim is more a vessel for projection, but supporting actress Marianne Benet’s character, Miriam, has all the hallmarks of author Michael Mackenzie’s concept of an F-Giallo heroine. Like Martino’s Torso (Italian: I Corpi Pesentano Tracce di Violenza Carnale, 1973), Fata Morgana presents a world in which every man is a potential lecher and physical threat, though this is also tied to ongoing themes of false identity and the commodification of sex.


The thing that’s always interesting about politically-charged Spanish thrillers and horror movies released during the ‘60s and early ‘70s is that, while certainly more liberal than it had been earlier in the Franco era, the country was still technically a fascist dictatorship until 1975 and films were subject to censorship. With the consequences for misbehavior lightened, transgressive filmmakers delighted in pushing the new boundaries. Fata Morgana’s subversive messaging (i.e. sexual politics, commercialism, and so on) is so obfuscated by its surrealistic nature and its sexuality so tame – typically pertaining to cheeky flirting and scenes satirizing the soap-operatics of romantic dramas – that I assume that Franco’s censors were too confused to see any actionable controversy. 



Fata Morgana was Aranda’s first film as a solo director, after co-directing Promising Future (Spanish: Brillante Porvenir, 1965) with Román Gubern. His was a founding member of the Escuela de Barcelona (Barcelona School of Film) movement, which was an avant-garde answer to things like Spanish neorealism and the similarly left-leaning, Madrid-based New Spanish Cinema movement. Fata Morgana, in particular, is often cited as one of the first Escuela de Barcelona films, if not the first. Aranda is known in Eurohorror fan circles for The Blood Spattered Bride (Spanish: La novia ensangrentada, 1972), but really flourished while in the post-Franco censorship era with erotically-charged work and mainstream literary adaptations. He gained international recognition and won Goya Awards for Best Director and Best Film with his 1991 noir drama Lovers: A True Story (Spanish: Amantes) and continued working into the 2000s. His final film was 2009’s Luna caliente (English: Hot Moon).


Bibliography

  • 100 Years of Spanish Cinema by Tatjana Pavlovic (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009)



Video

Wikipedia claims that Fata Morgana was distributed by Troma Entertainment. The film is archived on the company’s website, but I was unable to find any proof that they put it out on VHS. I found evidence of a fansubbed bootleg made using a European HD TV rip, but the film skipped official DVD altogether. Mondo Macabro’s disc is the second Blu-ray on the market following a 2023 disc via French company Artus Films. I had assumed that these versions shared a transfer (along with the HD TV broadcast), but only Mondo Macabro’s advertising makes mention of the new 2K restoration of the original negative (edit: I've been told by Pete Tombs himself that this was actually a 4K scan). A full 4K UHD might have juiced more detail, but overall textures are still pretty complex and there’s only a minor issue fuzz/snow in the otherwise natural grain structure. It’s a stylish movie and includes a lot of flamboyant costumes and locations, but cinematographer Aurelio G. Larraya’s photography also grounds everything with relatively muted or at least normalized colors. Scenes referencing the advertising world tend to be more harshly lit and some of the more surrealistic sequences have a bluish tint, while the rest of the film is warm and maybe even a bit overcast.


Audio

Fata Morgana is presented in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio and its original Spanish 2.0 mono. Like most Italian films from the period, it was likely shot without sound and dubbed in post, but the actors appear to be dubbing their own performances, because the lip sync and tone matches throughout. The mix is a bit flat and background effects are thin, but there’s little, if any distortion and buzz and composer Antonio Pérez Olea’s indelible, consistently bebopping jazz score sounds great.



Extras

  • Commentary with Rachael Nisbet – The critic, writer, co-host of the Fragments of Fear podcast (with Peter Jilmstad), and all-around Euro-cult expert explores the work of Aranda, the making of the film, the intended themes and influences, the Madrid New Spanish movement, the differences between the theatrical and TV/video versions of the film, and the wider careers of the cast & crew. She does contrast Fata Morgana with Italian films from the era, including gialli, but makes more comparisons to the French New Wave, which is an aspect I completely overlooked while I was watching it. This is a valuable track from the standpoint that the film itself is so dense and that there isn’t a lot of English-friendly information about its meaning and production.

  • The Muse of Pop Cinema (24:27, HD) – An interview with actress Teresa Gimpera, who looks back on Fata Morgana, how the film accounted for her previous work as an advertising model, how the film kickstarted her acting career, her co-stars, Aranda’s directing style, feeling intimidated on set as someone new to the industry at the time, her post-Fata Morgana films, and her role in the founding the Bocaccio nightclub.

  • Inside Fata Morgana (19:20, HD) – An interview with Angel Sala, the director of the Sitges Film Festival, who further discusses the film’s influences, the state of fantasy-terror and pop cinema in Spain at the time, the differences between Barcelona and Madrid during the last decade of Franco’s regime, and Fata Morgana’s genre mash-up qualities, emphasizing the science fiction elements, which were a rarity in Spanish cinema. 

  • Alternative opening sequence (0:59, HD, no audio) – A different collection of still comic panels that explain the plot set-up a little more clearly.



The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.

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