Monday, December 12, 2016

Pura Sangre – review

Director: Luis Ospina

Release date: 1982

Contains spoilers

In 1977 Columbian filmmaker Luis Ospina co-directed a short film with Carlos Mayolo entitled the Vampires of Poverty. The film was a retort to a certain type of documentary in which, in the words of the filmmakers, “poverty became a shocking theme and a product easily sold, especially abroad, where it is the counterpart to the opulence of consumption”. This sensationalist documentary type could be said to have evolved in the West to the concept of “Benefits Porn”, where the poor are manipulated into being the source rather than the victim of societal ills and the disabled are made scapegoats for the sins of capitalism.

For Ospina, the vampire figure was an allegory and never more so than in his feature film Pura Sangre. In it you will not meet a supernatural vampire, but you will meet capitalist vampires, serial killers and belief in the “Monster of the Valley” an urban legend that might have been believed to be a supernatural vampire. Ospina said of the vampire, “The story of the vampire has always been a political one. It is a tale of power.” Please note that the copy of the film that I watched was a low-res upload to YouTube, which is telling in the screenshots. I assume its washed-out nature was a fault with the print and not the original film.

the ambulance
The film begins with blood on tiles, bodies in hallways and a bloodstained bed. It then moves to a photo lab as a man makes pictures, presumably of the slaughter. We see a plane land and a patient taken from the plane and transferred to an ambulance. The patient is Roberto Hurtado the patriarch of a family who run a sugar cane company. His middle-aged son, Adolpho, is informed that the father has blood poisoning, anaemia and a phobia of germs, For the blood conditions it is recommended that he has transfusions not only of the same blood type but from young, healthy donors of the same sex.

Adolpho goes with one of his drivers, Perfecto (Carlos Mayolo), to the blood bank where Perfecto buys the blood needed for Roberto, which he is told is rare. Whilst Perfecto is in the blood bank Adolpho waits in the car and finds an envelope containing the photos of the murders. He takes the photos. Back at the apartments Perfecto, and his accomplices Ever (Humberto Arango), another driver, and Florencia (Florina Lemaitre), the nurse, discover the photos are gone. They are called to Adolpho, ostensibly to be given their paychecks. He lets them know he has the photos and essentially blackmails the murderers to get the blood Roberto needs.

the gang
So we have the trio both picking up young men in bars and getting them stoned, as well as snatching children from the street. They are raped by Perfecto, whilst drugged, and then blood typed and drained. There are questions that come to mind. Primarily one wonders how they find so many victims with the rare blood type (only one is mentioned as having the wrong blood)? This is relatively unimportant as the film is a patchwork of allegory and perhaps they leave more in their wake than we see. We also wonder what they did before they started collecting the blood for Roberto's use? Did they simply kill their victims or were they draining blood even then to sell on the black market?

What is disturbing is the juxtaposition of their normal lives. Ever is a family man with kids of his own. Florencia is a nurse. Perfecto lives with his mother and takes Confirmation photos (as well as leaving incriminating photos were kids might find them – though nothing comes of that). That these three ordinary people have banded together to become “the Monster of the Valley” provides a sinister undercurrent. There is a racist element, they won’t pick up black kids, and we see a speculative news report suggesting that some people believe there is a vampire on the loose, but goes on to say that “The ‘human-vampires’ appear to use sophisticated equipment to extract their victims’ blood” going on to suggest an organised gang selling said blood. When they accidentally pick up a girl they then dump her relatively unharmed on the street.

shadow of the vampire
Adolpho is also in neck deep with a criminal gang and there is, through him, another type of vampirism – the capitalist that exploits his workers and his insurance, whilst breaking the law to make a profit. Of course, albeit almost unwittingly, Roberto is our primary vampire. The serial killing gang refer to him as the Flea (due to the amount of blood consumed through transfusions) and we see him a couple of times in silhouette and seeming to rise upwards in a manner I feel was designed to bring Nosferatu to mind. He occasionally brings up blood and this leaves him looking like he has blood round the mouth. One could argue that he is unaware of where the blood comes from, but this is not entirely accurate. There is an earthquake and his last bag of blood is spilt and so the gang snatch another child and, for expediency, he is transfused directly from the boy. Although he is sedated when transfused, the camera lingers on a CCTV camera, which he uses to voyeuristically observe the house, prior to the sedation and he comes around briefly, during the transfusion, and sees the boy.

dressing as a vampire
If one felt that he might react to this, he doesn’t. Indeed he never mentions it although he lambasts Adolpho for working with criminals when he realises what his son has been up to business wise. At this point Adolpho suggests that Roberto has cheated people all his life. What we also see is a cynical conclusion with Adolpho condemned to a half-life, the gang not only getting away with their crimes but another (presumably mentally ill person) taking the rap and the people wishing Roberto eternal life. There is one final vampire to mention. When the gang cruises the street on Candle Day (the traditional Columbian start to advent, with candles and fireworks) we see kids dressed up and one of them has come as the vampire that is believed to be haunting them.

direct transfusion
The film, at first glance, seems to be a B horror. However as it progresses we see layers inside layers and the horror is secondary to those layers. With other serial killer films, where the killer is referred to as a vampire, I have tended towards an ‘Honourable Mention’ but this uses vampirism in its strongest way – as the allegorical figure. This is further underlined in the movie poster, which plays with our expectations of the vampire movie and reminded me quite a bit of the painting Saturn Devouring His Son by Francisco Goya. I would dearly love to see this get a DVD release, a good digital remaster and the recognition in the West that it deserves. 7.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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