Monday, December 17, 2007

Finis Hominis (1971): or, I am the Zé, the Truth, and the Light

"If something exists, it is because there is a reason for it to exist."--Finis Hominis

Let it not be said that José Mojica Marins, the mad genius behind the Coffin Joe series of films, is concerned only with the seedy, evil underbelly of society. Such a narrow focus would impose far too stringent a restraint on the director's expansive, all-encompassing vision. While perhaps few have captured (and even induced) such pure, direct-to-the-cortex blasts of gibbering evil insanity than the self-taught Sultan of Sao Paulo, Marins has also spent some time thinking about the flip-side of that equation--the good to the evil, the yang to the yin. The results of that consideration are presented to the thirsty masses of his fans in another Marins masterpiece, 1971's Finis Hominis (aka The End of Man).

The story is quickly told: a naked man emerges from the sea and wanders through the city of Sao Paulo, leaving mystery and miracle in his wake. Though he speaks little, his enigmatic nature and the reports of his powers lead many to hail him as a messiah, eventually setting off a spiritual reawakening (not to mention a media firestorm) throughout Brazil.

After a series of adventures (some of which the man, having taken the moniker "Finis Hominis," is a direct actor in, some of which he is only tangentially involved in), he announces his intention to return from whence he came, and gives a farewell speech detailing his philosophy and the reasons for his coming. Then, true to his word, Finis Hominis returns to the place he came from, leaving he world better and the people happier behind him. Of course we get to SEE where he came from, which gives the audience a bit more to chew on after the final credits roll.

Though this film does not partake of the same mind-crippling evil as the Coffin Joe films and the brain-broiling insanity of Awakening of the Beast, it does share with those films the indelible stamp of their maker's taloned hand. Like those other movies, Finis Hominis concerns a powerful, charismatic personality who largely by force of will is able to transform the world around him and change the way people perceive their existence. And just like Zé do Caixão, Finis Hominis is intent on showing the viewer the essential truths of life, however ugly or insane or even beautiful they may be.

Finis Hominis: The End of Fashion

But even if a viewer is not open to the deeper truths Marins is putting forward here, every viewer will leave the movie with one undeniable truth cemented forever in his brain:

Brazilian people are WHACK.

The narrative structure of Finis Hominis is very similar to that employed in Awakening of the Beast--which is to say, there's not much structure at all. It's more a series of shorts tied together by the central figure of Finis Hominis himself; in this case, most of the shorts involve FH emulating the acts of Jesus in some way--making a lame woman walk (hilariously, in the first few minutes), saving an adulteress from being lynched, healing the sick, etc. However, it's important that FH never claims supernatural powers, never mentions God--he presents his teachings as truths available to everyone, and never concerns himself with the afterlife, concentrating instead on the here and now. He's a godless messiah, but nonetheless good or powerful for that.

Not all of the scenes are direct biblical analogs, however. The most powerful sequence comes near the end, and seems to be drawn from a biographical incident in Marins' own life, about which I've read before. A woman and her lover plan to kill her husband in a very unorthodox way, but don't count on the fact that he's subject to cataleptic seizures. Before the poor sod can be buried alive, Finis Hominis comes to the rescue just in a nick of time.

"What is this? Oregano? Jesus, guys, I was just sleeping!"

The camera work here is great and innovative, as usual. And of course it wouldn't be a Marins flick without the boundary-pushing sex, and FH is no exception. The adulteress FH saves early on is indeed guilty, as we get to see her committing adultery very energetically from a variety of unusual angles. Later, when the aforementioned woman and her lover are going at it, we get some stunning angles and compositions, and the fact that she weeps during sex is used during an incredible funeral sequence to keep the other mourners from realizing she's not mourning her "dead" husband as a widow ought (this truly must be seen to be believed). Also, a memorable shot of a naked Zé standing at the top of a staircase looking down on a surprised woman coming up is, I'll say it, iconic.

Also worthy of special mention is the music. This soundtrack has everything: strange, ambient sounds with weird echoing moans and laughs; action-score, "Mission Impossible"-type tunes; bubble-gum Brazilian pop music; carnival music played on a calliope; classical pieces including the Hallelujah chorus; and finally a memorable and head-spinning muzak rendition of "Raindrops are Falling on My Head"! Somehow, though, this piecemeal approach works. A truly memorable score to a truly memorable movie.

"Why yes, I'm deathly afraid of spiders. Why do you ask? ...Hey, what's going on down there?"

I will say that the pacing of the movie baffled me a little at first--it seemed to start out running, then slow down considerably, to the point I was almost thinking it was losing steam. I should have known better, though, as it finishes very, VERY strong with the love-triangle thing I mentioned, Finis Hominis's farewell address, and the very effective ending.

While not a horror movie but rather a meditation on religion, messiahs, and ultimate truth, I would place Finis Hominis up there with AotB, almost as a companion piece to it. It has certainly given me an even deeper appreciation of the art and philosophy of José Mojica Marins. Praise be to Zésus Christo!

Rating: every thumb in the house. Thou shalt not steal, except in order to see this movie. God will be forgiving, and the Vicar absolves you in advance. Go now, my children, in peace, and don't play with the dog.

Note: Finis Hominis has not as yet received a DVD release, and was previously only available in a Something Weird Video VHS version from the 80s. This review is based on the dub of that version, which is visually somewhat lacking. You can find it, though, if you know where to look. Let's hope, for the sake of our souls, that after Marins' new movie comes out in 2008 we'll get a pristine dvd release stamped from the original negative.

Way too cool for Sunday School.

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