The Big Sick
Finds that laughter-through-tears sweet spot, often in the unlikeliest of places.
Cannes, France – Over in the farthest corner of the bar of the Martinez Hotel, we huddled together like conspirators, Alejandro Jodorowsky and myself, while he told me about the four women he had killed.
“It is why I must make my new film,” Jodorowsky said.
What is your new film about?
“It is a film about a man in Mexico who killed 30 women and buried them in his garden. They put him in jail for 10 years. He was crazy, but he learned to get better, and when they released him he married, and had children.”
Now tell me again about the women you have killed.
“I was a psychological murderer of women. I made six children with four women, and I killed each woman psychologically, but then I renewed my reason by pain.”
“By pain.” There was nothing in his glass, but Jodorowsky carefully drank from it anyway. Around us, the Cannes Film Festival hummed along merrily.
“Pain came to my life,” he said. “One day I was sitting in my own pain, and suddenly all the pain and troubles of the world came to me. I received all the pain of the world, all through my body. And it was then I discovered I was a psychological killer of women.”
And did you bury them?
“I buried them in my own interior garden, but every night they came to me and complained in my dreams. Some died, some went mad, some committed suicide. That is why I make this film.”
I had come to the hotel to have coffee with Jodorowsky because I remembered his 1970 film “El Topo,” one of the great mysterious missing films of the cinema. For years it has haunted my memory. It was a visionary fantasy of bizarre, perverse images, and when it was first released it was a sensation all over the world. But then it disappeared, and there were rumors of a bitter struggle between Jodorowsky and his producer, Allen Klein, who was an early associate of the Beatles. Klein withdrew the film from the marketplace, and for 18 years it has never been seen – not on film, not on video – nowhere, perhaps, except in Klein’s private screening room.
Jodorowsky is one of those international citizens of several talents and many addresses. He handed me a type-written autobiography, which explained that he was born in Bolivia, of Russian parents, lived in Chile, worked in Paris, was the partner of Marcel Marceau, founded the “'Panic”' movement with Fernando Arrabal, directed 100 plays in Mexico, drew a comic strip, made “El Topo,” and now lives in the United States – “having not been accepted anywhere,” he said, “because in Bolivia I was a Russian, in Chile I was a Jew, in Paris I was a Chilean, in Mexico I was French, and now, in America, I am a Mexican.”
He is a striking man of perhaps 60, dressed in loose, informal clothes, with a shock of white hair and a sort of hypnotic presence. Everything he tells you is a secret between the two of you, his head leaning forward so that others are closed out.
“The way I committed my psychological murders,” he said, “was like this: I behaved toward women like a genius. There is nothing more terrible than to behave like a genius. However, I have saved all of my children, and today they live with me not as a father, but as a mother.”
This man who murdered 30 women and buried them in the garden, I said. Have you met him? Do you know how he thinks today? Is he happily married? Do his children love him?
“I have talked a long time with him,” Jodorowsky said, “but in confidence. In Mexico, when we want to speak deep secrets, we drink pulgue together. It is a drink made from the cactus plant, and when you take the bottle from your mouth, it leaves a string behind, between the mouth and the bottle, like a spider’s web. It shows that the truth sticks inside. You have to drink six liters to get drunk. Then you tell the truth. So you see, I cannot tell you what he said.”
Then can you talk about the fate of “El Topo”? Why is this film no longer seen?
“Because Allen Klein is a gangster,” Jodorowsky said. “He’s awaiting my death. He believes he can make more money from the film after I am dead. He says my film is like wine – it grows better with age. He is waiting like a vulture for me to die.”
A fierce scowl passed over his face. Then he brightened considerably, and it took only one sentence to remind me that I was at the Cannes Film Festival. It was: “However, I hear that the film is renting very well on video in Japan.”