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Perdita Durango

Other // Unrated // October 10, 2001 // Region 2
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Scarecrow]

Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted March 30, 2002 | E-mail the Author
"The island of Petit Caribe, where I was raised is approximately one mile long and three miles wide. There were only two automobiles on Petit Caribe, and, of course, one day the collided with each other... It was in fact impossible for it not to happen. This is the working of the world."

Romeo Doloroso is a Santero, a shaman, a priest of the old ways, and also a part time grave or bank robber. Perdita Durango, well, shes just all around bad news. Together they make a formidable pair as they carve their way through the world with violence, magic, and sex. From their first fateful meeting, it is a dark destiny, a collision of two black souls... Romeo strikes a deal with the crime boss Marcello "Crazy Eyes" Santos to drive a truck full of fetus' destined to become black market makeup across the border. Perdita suggests to ensure some luck on their journey they kidnap and sacrifice two suburban white kids, which they begin to do when they grab the squeaky clean, teen dream couple of Duane and Estrellita and take them along on their journey. Also on their heels is the dogged DEA agent Woody Dumas, and when the deal with Santos goes sour, Romeo and Pedita find their love affair may be a brief one.

The Film: The best way to approach describing Perdita Durango (aka Dance with the Devil, 1997) is to say it is an amoral love story. It's Romeo and Juliet cast with Iago and Lady Macbeth. They are sadistic, perverse, and perfect for each other. If the movie has any message, it is that even the most wicked person has a diabolic soulmate- Love does not discriminate. And, its not even necessarily that they are evil. As a matter of fact, Romeo wears charms to protect himself form evil. It is just that their moral compass strays in a different direction. They are predators, higher on the food chain. Romeo and Perdita are products of survival, they have honor, but they have also learned that the world is a place where they've had to chew, tear, and claw their way to get ahead.

Now I approached this film when I first saw it, with TONS of bias. I'm a huge fan of writer Barry Gifford's work. Not only was "Perdita Durango" a story in my favorite Gifford book Sailors Holiday, but Gifford co-wrote the screenplay for the film. I had also seen director Alex De La Iglesia's Day of the Beast and thought the guy had some style and promise. Plus, I think David Lynch's adaptation of Gifford's Wild At Heart (the prequel of sorts to the Perdita character) is one of the single greatest book-to-cinema adaptations ever filmed. Plus, I have no fondness in my heart for Rosie Perez as an actress. So, there were a myriad of reasons why I would potentially hate/dislike the film... Boy, was I surprised.

Like Lynch did with Wild At Heart, De La Iglesia's adaptation of Perdita Durango manages to take liberties with the original source material and also find inspiration in it, never maligning the original spirit of the story and characters. De La Iglesia stays true to the book while putting in his own personal touch that fits perfectly with the Gifford attitude. He handles with the film with great skill. The pacing is fast and furious. He keeps the scenes is alive with energy, simple quick little stories become manic flashbacks, whether it be Perdita talking about her sisters recent death, Romeo recalling robbing a bank, or Romeo explaining to Duane about sacrifices, which flashes to Christ being nailed on the cross. De La Iglesia's film is the exploitation answer to Badlands. Its Natural Born Killers without the hammy anti-media rhetoric. Its a manic, surreal love story.

The performances are great. Best known for his Oscar nominated role in Before Night Falls, Javier Bardem as Romeo was totally unrecognizable as the same guy I first saw as the stud in Jamon, Jamon. He plays Romeo as charming, dirty, and dark, with a Burt Lancaster smile and clear but wild purposeful demeanor. My fears of Rosie Perez, an actress I am not fond of in any way, were unfounded as she embodied Perdita perfectly with sadism and sizzle, purring out her lines with a cobra grin. A pre-Sopranos James Gandolfini, is also very good as the perpetually abused, Wile E Coyote-like DEA agent Dumas. B-movie fans will be pleased to see Don Stroud, Coogan's Bluff, Bloody Mama, Angel Unchained as Santos. Cult director Alex Cox, Repo Man, Sid and Nancy, makes a cameo. The late great, Screamin' Jay Hawkins has a role, as does perpetual sibling and equally lovely sister, Amiee Graham (Heather Graham's little sis) as Estrellita.

The DVD: This German Region 2, PAL, Special Edition is curently the only uncut version of the film on DVD. Although released Unrated in the US, under the title Dance with the Devil, by the now defunct A-Pix Entertainment ( see these DVDTalk reviews by G. Noel Gross and Adam Tyner) that edition was cut, some scenes altered and some nudity was trimmed, but most glaringly were two scenes involving American properties like The Mary Tyler Moore Show and the classic western Vera Cruz which figures prominently in one important characters death scene.

Picture- Leterboxed, 2:35:1, 16X9 enhanced. Unfortunately the picture is not very good. Resolution artifacts, and most of all, very lackluster, ugly faded color and dull sharpness. It is a shame that a company goes to the trouble to present a newer film uncut, letterboxed, and anamorphically enhance it but use a lass than dynamic print for the transfer.

Sound- German dub Dolby Digital DTS track, and Original English (and some Spanish) Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround track. Optional German or English Subtitles. Perdita was filmed in English and Spanish, since the characters are Spanish and in Mexico/on the border, it is 85% English and 15% Spanish. Its a shame the DTS track is only for the German dub. The Original language track is fine, although it doesn't sub the parts that are in Spanish, so you have to turn on the subs for the entire film to know what they are saying in Spanish. Luckily the subs are small and located in the black lower letterbox border.

Extras- 20 Chapters--- Trailers: Perdita Durango (both German and English), and German trailers for Laurin, Another Day in Paradise, 5 Seconds to Spare and Stranger than Fiction--- Slide Show, basically just boring screen captures, no posters of candid production photos.--- Video Game Preview for "GOTHIC"--- A whole bunch of great supplemental material that, sadly, is in German only, Bios and Filmographies (with voice over) for Javier Bardem, Rosie Perez, Amiee Grahm, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Haley Cross (Duane), and Alex De La Iglesia. Production Notes, both in text and voice over. And a text interview with Alex De Iglesia, once again, sadly, only in German.---Film Soundtrack by Simon Boswell (Lord of Illusions, Shallow Grave, Hackers, Stage Fright) and others. The soundtrack is pretty all over the place, going from Boswells driving, chugging Perdita themes, to classic tejano music, to Johnny Cash's "I Walk the Line" and Screamin' Jay's "I'm Lonely". In the context of the film these contrasting song styles works fine, but as something to casually listen to it is awkward.

Conclusion- Although it has plenty of drawbacks- not English friendly extras, German dub only DTS, and lackluster picture- it is the only way to see the film in its complete, true, unedited form, and the edited US release is long out of print, making this edition a worthwhile purchase for fans.







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