Anchorites are people who withdraw from society for spiritual reasons, choosing to live hermit-like lives of solitude in their ascetic pursuit of whatever it is they are searching for. What makes them anchorites, however, is their commitment to living, 24-7-365, in the same small space, never leaving, never giving in to the temptations of the outside world.
“Temptation” is the operative word here in Juan Estelrich’s surreal Spanish comedy, El Anacoreta. Though most known anchorites lived in the middle ages, Fernando has chosen such a life in modern society (modern for 1976, that is.) Never leaving his bathroom, he is nevertheless constantly surrounded by a colorful cast, including his wife, her lover, and his maid, who constantly interrupt his desire for solitude. He focuses his energy on composing letters to the outside world, flushing them down the toilet in little bottles, hoping one will someday reach another soul.
Somewhere between Buñuel and Fellini, Estelrich’s film is a surreal but sharp comedy full of cartoonish characters and a serious desire to find meaning in one’s life. Loosely based on Flaubert’s The Temptation of St. Anothony, El Anacoreta tempts its protagonist in the form of a beautiful, rich, and bored young woman who happens to find one of his bottled messages. Of course, she’s determined to use every one of her feminine wiles to coax Fernando out of his shell; he, in turn, is determined not to.
El Anacoreta is silly and goofy, but it also hits upon the serious nature of our desire for companionship and need for connection. Despite his misanthropic demeanor, at the end of the day, Fernando just wants to be loved. Afraid to let himself go with the too-good-to-be-true Arabel, he does everything he can to avoid her- an impressive feat for both Fernando and the film, given that we never leave his bathroom. In fact, the entire movie reads as a poster child for how one can achieve a great, artistic low-budget film, with a script that manages to stay fresh and compelling despite its claustrophobic nature. While Buñuel would have made this a sharp political allegory and Fellini a nostalgic celebration of our carnal desires, Estelrich reveals himself to be a romantic at heart- though certainly not in the American Hollywood sense.
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