Apr 12, 2010

Iguana (1988)

This, one of the least-seen of all of renegade auteur Hellman's quirky pictures, is a beautifully shot, characteristically slow, admittedly bizarre allegory based on a novel by Albert Vasquez Figueroa. Everett McGill plays the title character, so named because of his deformity: half of his face has reptilian scales. After he is beaten by his shipmates, he escapes to a remote island where he begins to run his own empire of cruelty over anyone unfortunate enough to grace his path. Survivors of a shipwreck who wash up on shore become his unwitting slaves, and most tellingly, Carmen, a recent widow (the very photogenic Maru Valdivielso) becomes the recipient of his sexual violence. To be sure, this film is not always pleasant, but it is never exploitative. Hellman's picture is nonetheless respectful and literate. (On paper, this is quite a story.) Some long early scenes with Carmen, before she crosses Iguana's path, may seem meandering, but slowly you realize that this film is equally about her. Iguana also chronicles her subservience to men, and the consequences which result from this behaviour. As Iguana, McGill, is strikingly good- he finds the conviction to the character's warped sense of the world. Still, for its interesting story, and lovely photography (which itself is contradictory to the anything-but-lovely human behaviour within) it is however a chore to sit through because it is very slow. It's worth a rent (available in widescreen from Anchor Bay), but it is definitely one of the director's lesser efforts.

(originally published in ESR #9)

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