The Rainbow Thief (1990)

Genres - Comedy Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Fantasy Comedy  |   Run Time - 91 min.  |   Countries - United Kingdom   |   MPAA Rating - R
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At once stupefying and whimsical, unconscionably absurd and yet undeniably enchanting, the legendary Alejandro Jodorowsky's little-seen British follow-up to his X-rated Mexican horror piece Santa Sangre (1989) is a kind of baroque, mildly surrealistic, and irreverent slapstick parable about platonic love and friendship between two miscreants -- the dispossessed prince Meleagre (Peter O'Toole) and his sidekick, the diminutive and chubby thief Dima (Omar Sharif), who live together in the city sewers. And the overtone of this story? Imagine Midnight Cowboy, as if rewritten by Luis Buñuel, Terry Gilliam, and Roald Dahl as a madcap comic fairy tale. There are acute traces of Jodorowsky's penchant for anticlericalism and provocation (as when two men are mock-crucified in a carnival act) that became so potent in El Topo, but here, Jodorowsky reveals a softness of heart that remained conspicuously absent from the earlier works in his oeuvre -- as in the opening scene, when Dima feeds a gentle, slightly anthropomorphized white rat. Gone is Jodorowsky's cruel streak. As is typical for the director, however, he populates his film with social outcasts and freaks -- a towering yet slightly backward and soft-spoken giant; a dwarfish "bug man," dressed all in green, sent into a state of utter panic when Dima steals his Victrola; Kronos the dog, an Afghan-hound puppet given life by Meleagre. One would be hard-pressed to explain the meaning of this piece of arcanum, yet it retains a dotty charm throughout. The film also evolves, inexplicably, into something close to a Goonies-style adventure in its last third, with set pieces so fantastic that they begin to resemble the high-flown adventures of a preadolescent dream. There are indeed traces of Spielberg and Chris Columbus in the picture, in addition to Jeunet and Caro, Buñuel, Fellini, Walt Disney -- even Sir Carol Reed. Even given the heterogeneity of its influences, The Rainbow Thief flows together with astonishing smoothness and dexterity and retains a magical aura throughout. One only wishes the running time were longer -- it feels as if it might have been cut, a likely prospect given the logistical and bureaucratic problems that reputedly plagued Jodorowsky on set.