TSPDT 1,000: Sorcerer (1977) - Can't Stop the Movies
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TSPDT 1,000: Sorcerer (1977)

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I'm going through the list of all the films I have not seen on They Shoot Pictures Don't They.  It is arguably the most comprehensive and varied "best ever" list assembled.  If I have seen a film on the list previously, I will write short thoughts followed by a full review of the unseen film alternating between the top and bottom of the list.  Today's film is from the bottom of the pile, William Friedkin's Sorcerer coming in at 1,000.

Experiencing Sorcerer is akin to being pulled down in an ocean wave, gasping for orientation and control in an environment indifferent to your struggle.  That's exhilarating for me as a challenge to my personal physical limits much like Sorcerer challenges my cognition of what the hell is going on.  Describing Sorcerer afterwards is daunting as I think back on how much storytelling William Friedkin crams into the opening vignettes.

There's the effortless sliding cool of Friedkin's zoom pan from an idyllic poolside to the hotel room of a man assassinated by Nilo (Francisco Rabal), doubled up by the long slow descent of the camera as it follows Nilo's problem-free exit.  Shortly after, a shocking splash of red as Victor's (Bruno Cremer) business partner commits suicide instead of asking for financial help.  Kassem (Amidou), the sole survivor of a carefully planned bombing, gets a ruthless shoot first never ask questions response from the Israeli military.  Then the bruises on the face of a bride and matching wounds on the groom tell the story of domestic violence not seen onscreen as Jackie (Roy Scheider) robs a church during their wedding.  Every one of these setups could have spun into their own film, but Friedkin goes deeper and darker by focusing on capitalist oppression on their personal scales long before seeing the desolation of Sorcerer's setting Porvenir.They all meet one another because of their complicity in or resistance of capitalism.  Nilo and Jackie commit horrible crimes because of it, while Victor and Kassem's cases are more victims of it (especially considering the decades of brutal oppression Palestinians face from Israel).  The contagion, the disease, of capitalism finds its most natural form in Porvenir with the gasoline company ruling over all.  A perpetual burning stack looms over the town like a fiery panopticon while on the ground level Friedkin observes the grime over everything and life struggles to cling on as the lizard to a flimsy screen.  This is all communicated in quick shots, groaning on the soundtrack, and the weathered faces of Victor, Kassem, and Jackie as they wonder how they ended up here.

For my money, everything leading up to the transportation of dynamite in those ramshackle trucks is Sorcerer at its best.  It's not that the transportation is without thrills - god no.  It's that Friedkin so unrelentingly paints the Latin American community as a hell for those able to survive (not lucky enough to survive) all fueled by sins of those who couldn't make their ill-gotten gains in "regular" society.  This is just the natural finish line, the blood and smoke-filled pile of bone at the end of the dirty trail, of what most of these men claimed to want and hurt others for.

Everything that happens in the town is the stuff of night terrors and Friedkin spares no one.  Two moments anchor my memory in how little the company thinks of the populace.  The first is after the horrific explosion with bodies burned alive, flesh dripping off, and the screams of the unwary packed into the cacophonous backdrop.  Insult adds to injury as military-assisted delivery of the recognizable corpses takes the image of raw meat packed into flimsy plastic with blood dripping over the traumatized survivors of Porvenir.  The second is when Corlette (Ramon Bieri) auditions potential drivers for the dynamite and the children of Porvenir are little more than inanimate obstacles to overcome.

I felt so exhausted by the time the transportation begins that the slightly more typical man vs. nature scenes gave me breathing room.  Then I stopped to think about it, and Sorcerer is a film where carrying out the suicidal task is a "break".  I appreciated the "break" into humor, and found it justified that the natives (who sense the tension around the quartet) taunt and jump around the trucks.  Then there's that suspension bridge sequence, drawn out to near perfection as nature and man's flimsy construction conspire to derail the journey.  Finally, a moment of peace with a sudden and devastating end, a chuckling corpse, and the unsatisfying (but totally fitting) conclusion for the lone survivor.Between the drawn out shots of the opening vignettes, the rapid-fire despair of the central passages, and the creeping dread of the final act there isn't much room to create characters.  Credit then to everyone, who finds a single note to latch onto and doesn't betray their chosen note for a moment.  Amidou and Cremer do their best to find dignity in their desolate circumstances, an admirable decision that makes their fates all the more nihilistic.  Rabal, as Nilo, owns the nihilism completely and makes the most chilling impression against the regular tough guy facade Scheider throws up that Rabal laughs at menacingly.  It's also Nilo the character who makes the most striking impression, owning with no illusions how evil he is from start to finish.

Friedkin debates whether Sorcerer is a remake of The Wages of Fear.  I'll be watching the latter eventually as part of this project, but I have difficulty picturing how Sorcerer's uniquely unsparing view of capitalism and greed centered in the midst of American atrocities in Latin America owes a debt to anything but the time it was produced.  This is Friedkin's masterwork - every agonizing minute of it.

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Sorcerer (1977)

Directed by William Friedkin.
Screenplay written by Walon Green.
Starring Francisco Rabal, Amidou, Bruno Cremer, and Roy Scheider.

Posted by Andrew

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  1. Andrew, thanks so much for the post.Really thank you! Great.

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