On my continuing journey of film, I recently ran across the work of director Jose Mojica Marins, or as he’s most commonly known – Coffin Joe
I love my journey of film. I don’t get out much, so the trips that I do take are usually in 16 or 35mm, but their point of origin is the most important part. This week I was able to make it down to 1960’s Brazil, to take in the story of the country’s most notorious funeral parlor owner Coffin Joe or Ze do Caixao (I’m missing all the little swirly things on the name). For those of you who don’t know who this is, let me share the awesomeness.
“Is life everything, and death nothing? Or is death everything and life nothing?”
This is the question that director Marins proposes in the opening scenes of his first two Coffin Joe films At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul and This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse. Our “hero” of the films is a funeral parlor owner in a small Brazilian village, that with his sadism and arrogance he terrorizes. Feeling that man is inferior for their beliefs in religion and fear of mortality, Coffin Joe maintains a firm belief that the immortality of his bloodline lies in the creation of a male heir hosted by the perfect woman. Proclaiming to a room of kidnapped concubines that “Man is only immortal through the fetus!”
Throughout his quest, Joe’s search leaves behind a trail of bodies at the hands of utter sadism. Best friends are betrayed, wives murdered, and families torn apart all in the interest of his lust for a son. Cleverly concealing his tracks, Joe maintains his innocence in the eyes of the law, but the villagers smell his evil like a fart in a car and want no part of it – so it’s grab your torch and pitchfork time.
The embodiment of the ultimate ego, Coffin Joe’s philosophy is that of total narcissism. All men are inferior due to their fear of God and mortality as opposed to his nihilistic ideals that there is no good or evil just impurity and imperfection. Fraught with viewpoints and questions as the quote addressed earlier in this piece, Jose Mojica Marins tells his stories through the masculine in abundance.
Kidnapping, raping, and murdering the women of his village all in the interest of his personal quest is defended by his arrogance and personal code. Those who have the strength and the worth that he deems fit are allowed to live, but at what cost? The women saved become pawns in his game of fear and violence, forced to endure humiliation and guilt.
The Coffin Joe movies are something that just need to be seen to be believed. The level of violence and torture involved at the time of their creation is outrageous. The films did great in Brazil when they were released and a majority of the struggles that they were faced with was not censorship in those areas but mainly blasphemy. At the time of their release, Brazil had dissolved countrywide ratings enforcement and left it up to the individual states. Some of these states banned the film outright while others played to packed theaters for months at a time.
This week’s trip to me to a world of religious and moral philosophy that had me rooting for an anti-hero that truly is despicable.
But super fun.