INTERVIEW: Jose Mojica Marins - aka Coffin Joe - Honoured with Lifetime Achievement Award at the Canadian Premiere of his new film EMBODIMENT OF EVIL

July 25th, 2009 12:26:00


Legendary Brazilian filmmaker Jose Mojica Marins - better known to film fans by the name of his sinister alter-ego Coffin Joe - will be honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award at Fantasia tonight at the 9:10pm screening in the Hall Theatre of his latest film, EMBODIMENT OF EVIL.

EMBODIMENT OF EVIL is the long-awaited third instalment in the 'Coffin Joe Trilogy', its predecessors being AT MIDNIGHT I TAKE YOUR SOUL (1964) and THIS NIGHT I WILL POSSESS YOUR CORPSE (1967). This gets confusing when one considers that THE STRANGE WORLD OF COFFIN JOE (1968) does not contain the titular gravedigger as a character in the film, while other Marins films - such as AWAKENING OF THE BEAST (1970) and THE BLOODY EXORCISM OF COFFIN JOE (1974) do have plots involving the character, and yet are not considered a part of the official trilogy. But that Marins frequently returns to this character, even peripherally, in so many of his films is a testament to the lingering power of Coffin Joe as a symbol of anti-authoritarianism and enlightenment.

Coffin Joe is an undertaker and a murderer, a torturer of women, and - most offensive of all to the Catholic Brazilian culture that surrounded him - he is a despiser of the Church, defaming God and Jesus with every opportunity. In simple terms, one could say that Coffin Joe is a Satanist in the LaVeyan sense, or a humanist in the Nietschean sense - he believes he is his own God. EMBODIMENT OF EVIL - which was co-written by Dennison Ramalho, the fearless filmmaker who appeared at Fantasia in 2003 with his terrifying Macumba voodoo short film LOVE FOR MOTHER ONLY - continues Coffin Joe's decades-long pursuit of the perfect woman to bear his child, thus carrying on his superior bloodline.

Brimming with surreal imagery and bizarre setpieces, EMBODIMENT OF EVIL fits seamlessly with his earlier self-reflexive, lysergic and provocative films (and in fact uses footage from some of them as flashbacks in this film), which - although comparisons can be drawn to the artistic and political concerns of other surrealists of his day - stand on their own as thoroughly unique auteur visions.

More info on the film, including full description, images, trailer, website and more on the film page HERE.


The following interview was conducted with translation by Mojica's son Crounel, and co-writer Dennison Ramalho. Where applicable, Crounel's comments are credited as CM and Dennison's as DR.

The opening credits show a lot more funding bodies involved than your films usually have. What do you think happened that made the governmental and arts + culture funders finally recognize the validity of your work?

JMM: It was due to the combination of myself, the producer Olhos De Cao and Gullane Films. These producers have made many respected films and the government took me seriously as a result. When the film was completed, it participated in an important festival in Brazil called the Paulinia Festival and it won seven prizes, so the government finally understood my worth.

CM: Personally I think it's that our president Lula [Luiz Inacio "Lula" Da Silva] is a big fan of Mojica.

Can you talk about how your films, and the character of Coffin Joe were perceived in the 60s when you started making films?

JMM: Because I was the first to work with this genre of films, I had to initially fight against a lot of prejudice. I think that the popularity of the films was the only thing that allowed me to escape from the most severe consequences of the government in that time, because we were a dictatorial age. The people were impressed because I dared to comment on religion within a genre film context; the Brazilian people in that time were very religious. But at the same time I was persecuted by many people who confused me with the character of Coffin Joe.

In the late 60s, when AWAKENING OF THE BEAST came out, it was a very thriving and also turbulent time in Brazil for artists - musicians like Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil were being forced into exile, surrealism in art and cinema was at its height - can you tell me about where you fit into all this as an independent filmmaker making politically-charged and sacrilegious horror films?

To a certain extent I was persecuted by the dictatorial government and I definitely suffered my share of censorship. But I was never arrested for any length of time, and never had to go into exile, because I had a strange advantage: I would go out dancing with General's daughters and would put them in my films! And so whenever I was threatened with arrest, these women would defend me, saying that I was only a filmmaker and playing down my political statements. But AWAKENING OF THE BEAST was banned for 20 years, because it provoked the government and the censors when I said, "Yes, my world is strange, but not as strange as your world." These first words of the film were addressed to the establishment - so they banned it for 20 years. It couldn't be screened.

CM: I read something saying that some censors had recommended destroying it, burning every photo.

JMM: Yes, it's true. As for whether I felt connected to the other artists at the time, I was politically neutral, and I had friends on both sides. Although If I was asked by other artists, actors or filmmakers to intervene in their difficulties, I would try to use my connections to help.

DR: But even though he had friends on both sides, the Generals had a problem with the subject of his films.

How collaborative was the writing process for EMBODIMENT OF EVIL? Did you already have the basic story in mind when Dennison Ramalho came on as a writer?

DR: For me, it was a dream project, something I had been looking forward to since the beginning of my career 15 years ago. Every time I would go to Sao Paulo I would go after him, to see his films, to see how he worked. In 2001 he showed me the 6th draft for EMBODIMENT OF EVIL. After I got involved we wrote 9 more drafts. The two last drafts we had to write on set because Jece Valadao, the great actor who was Coffin Joe's rival, died in the middle of shooting. So we had to create a new story, a new character that would interweave with what he was doing. The greatest thing for me of working with Mojica was that we went through some very risky situations and I had the benefit of his experience, I had the guidance of my master and this was very important to me. I'm Daniel-san and he's Mr. Miyagi.

JMM: I felt very gratified at our collaboration, not only in the sense that we were very cooperative but also in that he really wanted to protect my vision. Dennison and the producer would stand up as a blockade trying to protect my vision, because there were some harrowing situations and risky situations that we couldn't follow through with because the crew were practically rioting on us. If we would have been able to have proper safety precautions in place , the woman in the scene with the rat would have allowed the rat to go right into her vagina. But days before, when we did the scene with the woman inside the pig, she originally agreed to it, but then she panicked when she saw the pig. Eventually she accepted it, but the crew was really against us for making her upset, however briefly, and they threatened to shut down production. So then we had to retreat a bit in how far we would go. This was a frustration for me, but I felt gratified in that my collaborators were really willing to stand up for me. It wasn't a matter of money anymore, because the film was funded, it was an ethical issue, and we had to protect the production by appeasing the crew.

The film is highly surrealistic, which we can also see in the films of Jean Rollin, Jess Franco, Alain Robbe-Grillet and other non-North American filmmakers who have been working since the 60s - do you think this expressive, abstract school of genre filmmaking is lost in most new films?

JMM: I think the younger generation of filmmakers are very contrived and too reliant on technology. There is a great deficit in the storytelling skills of young filmmakers, and much has been lost in terms of craftsmanship. Unfortunately, I have seen that the generation that succeeded me was composed of many filmmakers who were my disciples and many of these guys are too old now, although they have proved to be so much more creative than the young filmmakers There are very few daring young filmmakers. Proof that our generation hasn't come up with something that really struck me as important is that no one ever came up with another ROSEMARY'S BABY. Nothing has emerged in terms of what I consider a good horror film. I'm still waiting for it.

Can you explain the significance of finding the perfect woman to produce a child with, and Coffin Joe's 45-year-long obsession with carrying on his 'superior' bloodline?

JMM: What Coffin Joe believes is that he is the herald of human evolution; despite being a mortal man, he believes in immortality through the continuity of the bloodline. Because the only way there is a continuity of the species, a continuity of the mind and of ideas is through the blood. For example, what is the first inarguable proof that a father has that a child is his? It's the blood, the DNA. But for Coffin Joe the blood is more than a physical thing, it has a mental essence, a composition of ideas that can be transposed into further generations. It's not as though Coffin Joe is a Nazi or a pro-eugenics character. But he has such strength and belief in himself that he knows the future generations will be the carriers of this inner strength that he has. So he values this as the essence of a real man.

As for the search for the perfect woman, Coffin Joe is very selective because he is plainly looking for a woman that thinks in terms of life and death and the continuity of the blood as he does. The act of procreation should be between a fearless father and a fearless mother - he is looking for a woman who mirrors his ideas about superiority; someone with an unscattered mind, who will not be influenced by superstition.

The films appears to be very misogynistic - he tortures many of the women before impregnating them. Why does he do this, and why are they so willing to serve him? Is it important that the perfect woman be able to endure an inhuman amount of torture and humiliation?

JMM: All the trials the women have to undergo are not meant to be a hollow sadistic acts, but proof that the women are as brave and courageous as he is. That they would die for their sons willingly, because they know that otherwise they would be losing the legacy of the blood, which is the child. So he looks for a woman who would not only deliver herself into the pleasures of sex, but who also is looking for the perfect man. It's a sexual game based around this very important ideal concerning the destiny of his bloodline and the bloodline of the women who endure these horrible tests. It's very important to express that any woman who finds pleasure and glory in this kind of sexual game proves to be very broad-minded. One character who summarizes well how this sexual exchange happens is Dr. Hilda, who is a gorgeous woman who is aware of Coffin Joe and his ideas before she meets him. And she is willing to be humiliated by him because it's part of a game. The whole Sado- masochistic game with the women is part of proving that she is fearless to face pain just as he is fearless. It's a twisted pattern of values, but it's not just domination - it's a true exchange of desires.

How does Coffin Joe fit in with the monsters of today? Just as Coffin Joe comes out of jail to find a different world, I imagine it was much the same for you as a director, having not made a Coffin Joe film since the 70s.

JMM: Coffin Joe left prison to find a new world, a world of subjects he hadn't faced before: rampaging urban violence, kids in the street doing drugs. As Coffin Joe finds this new harrowing world, he immediately adapts to it, So it's not a matter of me as a filmmaker having to step up to today's trends or fads in filmmaking. I was always very faithful to the philosophy of the character, my vision of the character. So as Coffin Joe finds this new twisted world, he adapts to become just as violent in return. Just as the character was many years ahead in the 60s, nowadays he's even more ferocious. If I made a new film 40 years from now, Coffin Joe would respond according to the violence of the man he is, but always sticking to the character. So if I have made an extreme film, it was not to try to meet the standards of today - it was because the character demanded it.

Are you still hosting a weekly television interview show in Brazil? Can you tell me about it?

I've been airing for more than a year now and everything indicates that it will go for another year at least. It's a top ranking TV show in its timeslot. It's a talk show. Whenever I find bizarre stuff the news, or in the streets, I cover it on the show. I talk to great actors, filmmakers, musicians and more, but I always try to uncover the weird experiences of my interviewees. So I ask about strange or paranormal experiences, dangerous stories, mystical experiences. I always use this approach. I am always looking for the other side of the interviewee.

- Kier-La Janisse

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