Confrontational, dark and murky in image and plot, O, Fantasma is a European art film that surpasses Irréversible in anal rape, general misanthropy and grim worldview.
A latex-clad figure takes a man from behind. The sounds of the suit and sex recall cracking bone and tearing meat. A small dog yaps and claws at a closed door. This opening scene may be the kernel of this film where a shark-eyed Portuguese garbage man, Sergio (Ricardo Meneses), seems to virtually mutate into the latex-clad, canine phantom of the title.
O, Fantasma constantly drums out Sergio’s doglike nature. He whimpers while he sniffs the crotch of his co-worker, Fatima (Beatriz Torcato). Finding an inexplicably handcuffed and leather-clad cop in the rear of a car, Sergio’s fingers seem to chew at the cop’s body, masturbating him. Later, at work, he sniffs the smell of semen on his palm and licks it.
Director Joao Pedro Rodrigues seems to be telling a horror story of consumption that’s visually and thematically darker than any film noir. There’s anonymous and vicious gay sex. Sergio receives graphic oral sex in a men’s room. He covets the motorcycle of a man on his garbage route and he wears the man’s discarded motorcycle gloves. Leather-clad cops move like automatons. One handcuffs Sergio while catching him literally sniffing around the motorcycle owner’s house. The cop briefly threatens him with his nightstick — until Sergio takes it into his mouth.
Though the dialogue is minimal, the theme of sadomasochistic homosexuals, police and industry as carnivorous consumers seems to emerge from the gloom that’s only broken by one relatively tender moment between Sergio and Fatima. (Sergio breaks it by sniffing her dirty underwear and complaining that they smell like “a bitch in heat.”) From the rear, a swarm of garbage trucks seem like open maws as they leave the streets of Lisbon for the landfill.
Sergio eventually takes the black latex suit of the man that took him in the opening. Sergio, now a phantom of consumption, sniffs, laps and licks his way into the mechanical heart of an industrial facility. This is a shockingly difficult film both to watch and to understand. But, if one persists through scenes that seem designed to disgust, O, Fantasma yields itself up as an extremely grim fable of human hunger.
Opens Friday exclusively at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main, Royal Oak). Call 248-263-2111.
James Keith La Croix writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.