Saturday, February 5, 2022

#2,704. El Topo (1970) - The Wild West


To say Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo is a strange motion picture is an understatement, and perhaps even an injustice.

This trippy 1971 film is as much a fantasy as it is a western, following the exploits of a black-clad gunfighter named El Topo (played by Jodorowsky) as he encounters one eccentric character after another on his quest for spiritual enlightenment.

El Topo’s journey will take him through the desert, accompanied first by his young son Hijo (Brontis Jodorowsky) - who he eventually abandons – and later by Mara (Mara Lorenzio) and a Woman in Black (Paula Roma). Urged on by Mara, El Topo sets out to defeat the desert’s four greatest gun masters (played by Hector Martinez, Juan Jose Gurrola, Victor Fosado and Augustin Isunza), each of whom teaches him a little something about religion, philosophy, and life in general.

Guilt-ridden for having challenged these masters, a wounded El Topo is taken in by a society of outcasts, who treat his wounds and, over time, look upon him as a God.

Years pass, and El Topo and his new lover, a little person (Jacqueline Luis), work to free the outcasts, who have been imprisoned in a cave. Performing odd jobs in a nearby town to raise money, El Topo is reunited with Hijo (played as an adult by Robert John), who, still bitter about being left behind, vows to shoot El Topo once the outcasts have been freed.

At times a violent film (In an early scene, El Topo and Hijo ride through a town whose citizens have been massacred by bandits), El Topo also sports an art house mentality. The lead character’s interactions with the quartet of gun masters, as well as his eventual wounding and redemption, have religious connotations. The Woman in Black betrays El Topo at one point and shoots him while he’s crossing a bridge, inflicting injuries that are consistent with those of a stigmata.

Teetering back and forth between art film and exploitation (there’s nudity, graphic violence, and even a scene in which the title character rapes Mara in the desert), El Topo may leave you scratching your head at times, wondering what’s happening. But Jodorowsky’s unique approach coupled with the film’s imagery (the stark desert landscape is, at times, quite beautiful, and the film boasts plenty of colorful costumes and set pieces) is enough to keep you watching all the same.
Rating: 8 out of 10

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