The seeminly clumsy title for this Spanish mystery is drawn from the practice of assembling a collection of words or images from a number of people none of whom has the complete picture or knows what the other has done. Invented by the surrealist movement, André Breton reported that the exquisite cadaver started in fun, but became eventually enriching: presumably by being either a mess or revelatory.
On balance I would have to say this unusual film succeeds very well in the latter even though it does have the disjointed approach defined by the rules of the game: both narratively and literally as parts of a corpse are detached and sent to provide clues to one of four main characters, all acting independently.
Vincente Aranda directs with discipline and establishes the mystery well before resolving most of his entanglements in a pacier closing half hour. It’s kind of a love story, part-giallo and horror but all based on the existential crisis triggered by one man’s indifference to his lover’s passionate frailties and her lover’s determination to right her wronging.
There are two more sides to this bizarre love quadrangle and they are the man’s wife, Spanish actress Teresa Gimpera and Esther’s next lover, Lucia Fonte (the beyond glamorous Capucine). It is quite a line up and the four interact in unexpected ways throughout… there’s just a touch of Luis Buñuel about Aranda’s style: we think we know what’s happening, but nothing is necessarily as it seems and even at the end there are possibilities to consider.
|The exquisite Judy Jarvis née Matheson|
The set up is pure Giallo with a boorish publisher of horror fiction being interrupted by the delivery of a box containing a severed hand. We’ve already seen a young woman head down to place her head on an isolated railway track and assume that this belongs to her body.
The man buries the hand after initially thinking it was fake sent by one of his writers… his reaction makes us think the same. Another parcel arrives at home following a message read by his wife asking if he wants a forearm next time.
|Carlos Estrada and Capucine|
The man’s explanations do not convince his wife and she starts to follow him when she notices a glamorous woman in a chauffeur-driven Citroen following him as well…
The man gets driven by Lucia – calling herself Parker – to her mansion where she has the strangest of encounters with him. She has an artificial hand, did she cut it off to scare him? She makes him take LSD and leads him deep into the house listening to recording of Esther’s voice before revealing her perfectly-preserved body in a fridge.
|She knows... Teresa Gimpera and Carlos Estrada|
Lucia had called his wife to her house after, she says, he turned up looking for her… neither wife nor watcher are now sure who or what to believe. There’s a neat Antonioni-esque moment at the park when the could fail to communicate whilst young men are flying a toy plane – it buzzes around like nagging doubt before the man breaks it.
Finally, we discover the relationship Esther had with the man… a brief fling according to him and years according to Lucia. Esther was full on and wanted truth in her life even at the extent of her own death… she was broken by the man.
Dusty verdict: This is such a powerfully performed film and Judy Matheson is superb as the conflicted women who flutters between life and oblivion. Judy later went on to feature in a number of Hammer horrors as well as Peter Walker’s excellent Flesh and Blood Show which has something in common with this film: she is an actor with nuanced expression and here is indeed exquisite, creating a character we instantly connect with - perhaps the truest of any in the film.
Around her Carlos Estrada is suitably broody and reminds me of an Antonioni male, lost in the subtext of life while all the while expecting that success and dominance will enable him to have his way. This affair is clearly not the first and Teresa Gimpera’s portrayal shows she has already reached a position of little trust, batting away his excuses and feeble explanations and following him to find out the truth.
Capucine is high intensity and as ever has intelligence and protean depths that convince you that her character is capable of anything. The film’s final twist is not something those other reviewers seem to have picked up and even then, we can only imagine what is going to happen…
The Exquisite Cadaver deserves to be less obscure and hard to find – there are currently no official home video releases and I got my copy from a US supplier of out of copyright schlock horror flicks a genre of which this most certainly is not! Seek it out if you can, hopefully it will get restored and re-released.