Movie Review: Friends film a dead colleague’s long-planned vampire movie — “Holy Beasts”

“Holy Beasts (“La Fiera y la Fiesta)” is a movie about making a movie, an “art film” about old friends gathering to make a murdered filmmaker’s long-planned dream project in his native Santo Domingo.

Geraldine Chaplin plays the aged actress and sometime director who will turn “Water Follies” into a movie. Vera was close to Jean-Louis, and narrates much of this dark, cursed vampire tale as a conversation with his ghost.

“I found your script and I’m going to shoot it,” she begins. But when she gets to the Dominican Republic, her hypeman/producer Victor (Jaime Pina) has leapt ahead, scrambling to bums-rush this thing into production before the money vanishes and/or Vera stumbles, gets cold feet or flips out at the sets, costumes and dancer casting that he’s run off and handled for her.

“I didn’t approve ANY of this!” The sets (seen as models) “look like cheap kitsch!”

“Kitsch is IN!”

She can bark “How can you DO this to me?” all she wants. Victor’s back on the phone, promising the Dominican film community that “This is going to be the BIG one!”

Vera summons her co-star, Henri (Udo Kier), who balks at making the trip. “Hurricanes? Erupting volcanoes? NOT for me!”

But he comes. As their equally aged cinematographer Martín (Luis Ospina) shows up, rehearsals begin and the location scouting ends. And that’s when things go seriously sideways.

This movie about an elderly dancer (played by Vera) whose cabaret is filled with eternally-young hoofers, thanks to the predations of a choreographer/vampire (Kier) starts to lose dancers, and not to “creative differences.” Oh no. They have fatal neck injuries.

One of the dancers is to be played Vera’s long lost grandson (Jackie Ludueña Koslovitch), a lithe, long-haired and exceptionally feminine young man, and through him we start to pick up on what made the real Jean-Louis Jorge stand out. His films –some of which are sampled here — featured erotically-charged, gender-bending sequences. A maid (Yeraldine Asencio) who could be of any number of genders, a short-haired producer’s assistant (Pau Bertolini) who has her/his pick of pronouns, this is apparently in keeping with Jorge’s themes and style.

But will they be able to finish a film that is so accident prone that Vera wonders if long-dead Jean-Louis himself is to blame?

Co-writers/directors Israel Cárdenas and Laura Amelia Guzmán take us back to the artier days of indie/international cinema with “Holy Beasts.” The dialogue feels improvised, the “relationships” seem real and there’s a little in the casting.

Producer Victor wonders if Vera has the “memory” and stamina to star in and shoot this film. But as he ticks off the names of their contemporaries, filmmaker friends who might be able to “help,” he’s the one who didn’t realize this or that “name” was dead.

It’s a dreamy making-a-movie narrative of stunning locations, elaborate costume parties and drugs, of geezers remembering their “Quaalude” days, and thankful that “Tough weeds never die.”

Like the film within the film, there’s a wistful contrast between the aged stars — in front of and behind the camera — and the fit and beautiful and often androgynous dancers in the supporting cast.

I was reminded of any number of cinema classics from the 1960s, starting with Truffaut’s “Day for Night” but staggering into the more obscure indulgences of Pasolini, Goddard, Fellini and Resnais. Like some of their works, “Holy Beasts” doesn’t quite come off in terms of coherence or dramatic tension, but impresses in almost every scene.

That’s the real homage here, to a ’70s-80s Dominican throwback to ’60s cinema who made art without seemingly trying too hard, sweating every detail or fretting too much about how coherent the script will seem to the casual viewer.

It’s offhand and off-the-cuff, extreme effort made to feel tossed-off, effortless. And if it’s all somewhat confusing, that was pretty much the point, back then and right now.

MPA Rating: unrated, bloody violence, nudity

Cast: Geraldine Chaplin, Udo Kier, Jackie Ludueña Koslovitch, Pau Bertoloni, Luis Ospina and Jaime Pina

Credits: Scripted and directed by Israel Cárdenas and Laura Amelia Guzmán. A Film Movement release.

Running time: 1:29

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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