Sunday, May 13, 2012

Diamonds of Kilimanjaro (Jess Franco, 1983)

I think it's safe to say that the last vestiges of my world famous aversion to jungle movies has finally been whittled away. And by "jungle movies," I'm referring to movies that take place in or around a jungle. But mostly "in," since to be considered a true "jungle movie" it should take place "in" the jungle, not "around" the jungle, as that's not really the same thing as being "in" the jungle. Okay, now that I've cleared that up. I have nothing against the location (I love palm trees and ferns are totally awesome), it mainly has to do with the type of clothing worn by the characters when they're fully immersed "in" the jungle. The sight of attractive people wearing drab colours, such as beige or khaki, is the epitome of off-putting from my gay perspective. This, I've noticed, is never problem when it comes to writer-director Jess Franco (Eugénie de Sade and Faceless), as his jungle films always seems to have one or two characters who are dressed inappropriately. It becomes even more less of a problem when some of the characters wear pretty much nothing at all. Which is the most common non-dilemma in Diamonds of Kilimanjaro (a.k.a. The Treasure of the White Goddess), yet another tale of greedy white people fucking over black people. Taking place somewhere in Africa (the name "Kilimanjaro" isn't uttered once) during a time when t-shirts were scarce, and sneakers were even scarcer, it features topless men and women carrying spears while saying variations of the phrase "ooga booga" over and over again, the film is actually a mildly profound examination of colonialism, and its effect on the local population. Think about it, how would you feel if a steady flow of white people kept poking around your neighbourhood looking for natural resources to steal. Sure, they'll tell that they're just "exploring," but that's same bullshit line Christopher Columbus used, and look how that turned out: Slavery, Genocide, War, and Ke$ha.       
Diamonds, or "sparkly rocks," as they're sometimes called, are what some of the white people in this film want, the others just want to make lots of money. Acquiring the former is rather simple: just hike through the jungle to where the diamonds are and scoop them up. The latter is a little more complicated, as it involves locating a white woman who has gone "native," and bringing her home. A sickly woman on her death bed named Hermine (Lina Romay) wants her to come home when word gets around that she is living in Africa. You see, while everyone thought Diana (Katja Bienert) died in a plane crash along with her Scottish-accented father, Mr. De Winter (Daniel White), the two of them actually survived. And not only that, they became the de facto gods of a tribe of natives. Impressed by the fact that they came from the sky, the natives bow down before them the moment they emerge from their wrecked aircraft.
After opening with the plane crash and some of shots of the jungle it crashed set to bongo music, we flash forward ten years to see Diana, a little girl when her plane went down, all grown up. Lounging in a tree eating an apple, her shapely legs stretched out for the world to see, and by "world," I mean her pet monkey, this is one perennially blouse-free white woman who seems to have her shit together. Free fruit (it's literally growing from the trees), strong calves, a pet monkey, treated like a god by the locals, who wouldn't want to crash land "in" the middle of the jungle?
Meanwhile, as Diana lounges, a slinky drink of water named Noba (Aline Mess) and her band of male warriors are threatening to kill Payton (Albino Graziani), a white man who has ventured into their tribe's territory. Hearing the commotion from her treetop perch, Diana swings into action, and stops Noba from harming the white man (who is carrying a pocket full of uncut diamonds) just in the nick of time. You'll notice when Diana arrives on the scene that all the men drop to their knees; they are, after all, in their mind, in the presence of a god. Yeah, but did you see who wasn't on their knees? That's right, Noba was the only one who didn't bow. And why should she? She's fucking Noba! 
Anyway, Diana decides to spare Payton's life, and let's him go, telling him not to come back. Oh, Diana, you're so naive. Don't you know that white men rarely listen to scantily clad women who enjoy fresh fruit and have one-sided conversations with flea-ridden monkeys. If, say, you were wearing a ladies business suit–you know, one with a modest grey skirt with a mild slit in the back, then maybe he would have taken heed. But you weren't wearing a ladies business suit. You don't even know what a grey skirt looks like, do you? Nonetheless, you were wearing a brown hand towel. In other words, you can expect to see him again real soon. And not only that, he'll probably bring more white people the next time around.
Doing exactly what I said he would do, Payton tells a hunting buddy, Fred Pereira (Antonio Mayans), who tells Diana's uncle Mathieu (Oliver Mathot) that he had encounter with a white woman during a recent trip to the jungle. The uncle tells Diana's sickly mother that her daughter may be alive, and organizes a team to go look for her. This team includes: Payton, Fred, Mathieu, Lita (Mari Carmen Nieto), Mathieu's "girlfriend," and Rofo (Javier Maiza), their headstrong guide.
Whoever decided to cast Lina Romay as Diana's bedridden mother needs to have their genitals examined. Don't get me wrong, I thought Mari Carmen Nieto was a fine choice to play Mathieu's "girlfriend" (the reason word "girlfriend" is put in quotes is because I wasn't buying Mathieu's heterosexuality for a second), but Lina should have played the obligatory female member, the damsel in intentionally distressed jean shorts, if you will, of this so-called "rescue" party.
It sounds like you're not fully convinced of their sincerity when it comes to rescuing Diana from the mossy clutches of the jungle. Is it that obvious? Call me cynical, but I don't think any of the people involved in the search for Diana actually want to find her. I mean, other than Rofo, whose motives seen genuine (he's simply being paid to do a job), they all seem more interested in diamonds, than they do the whereabouts of a leggy jungle girl with zero charisma.
The magnitude of the scam being perpetrated is revealed when Lita shows up in Fred's room and straight up tells him: "We don't want to bring her back." She hammers the point home by seducing Fred with a series come hither looks and, of course, the ultra-smooth appendages jutting out from the bottom of her frilly nightie.
Arriving at what looks like the set of Oasis of the Zombies (a Jess Franco film that also featured Antonio Mayans and Javier Maiza), the group is greeted with stock footage of a charging rhinoceros and the sound of someone dicking around on a Moog synthesizer. Things get off to shaky start almost immediately when Payton decides to shoot one of the locals for no good reason. This angers Noba and the rest of her tribe. Well, duh. Let's just say, don't be surprised if you see Noba holding Payton's severed head aloft in triumph in the not-so distant future.
Watching them as they make camp by the banks of a crocodile-infested river, Diana observes their behaviour with a head tilting brand of curiosity. They're white like me, by they don't act like me, she must be thinking to herself as she observes them carrying on in a white manner: Mathieu drinks booze; Payton whines about his stomach; Rofo grumbles to himself; Fred is scheming in a headband; and Lita goes skinny dipping. Hey, wait a minute. Didn't you say the river was "crocodile-infested"? Don't worry, the crocs weren't really there. Like the charging rhino, all the animals who appear in Diamonds of Kilimanjaro are culled from stock footage.
It's too bad Jess Franco couldn't get a clear shot of Mari Carmen Nieto as she changed out of her cut-off jean shorts, pink boots, and white top, as it had the potential to be really sexy. In retrospect, I suppose the scene was shot that way to create the illusion that Diana was watching her get undressed from the bushes. But still, I was annoyed by the obstructed view.
While not on the same level as the riverside changing debacle, I was still somewhat annoyed by the fact that Katja Bienert can be seen wearing strappy high heel shoes at one point. It's true, they only appear for a brief moment (as she's lounging against a tree). But the second I saw them, my heart sank. I thought to myself: Can't this film get anything right? 
Luckily, the gorgeous Aline Mess was always nearby to provide the titillation I so desperately crave. Playing Noba, the fierce female warrior woman who loves to show off that tight little body of hers, Aline, an actress who you might remember from Jess Franco's Devil Hunter, brings some much needed sex appeal to the proceedings. Whether shaking delicious booty with a hypnotic gusto, laughing maniacally after informing a white man that the arrow he was just shot with was poisonous ("soon you die! poison arrow! ha! ha! ha!") or railing against the scourge that is imperialistic greed, Miss Mess is a revelation as a tempestuous woman determined to protect her people from unscrupulous outsiders hellbent on exploiting her land.
Even though you're not supposed to (or maybe you are, what do I know?), you can't help but root for Noba, as everything she does in this movie, whether it involved killing white people or, well, yeah, killing white people, was the correct course of action. The fact that Diana is one who repeatedly stands in her way, caused me to look at her with a shitload of suspicion. To be fair, her naive brain has yet to develop the ability to spot duplicity in the hearts of men, and I can't really blame her for falling under the spell of Fred Pereira, as Antonio Mayans is at his most ruggedly handsome in this film (even more so than he was in Golden Temple Amazons).
Speaking of Golden Temple Amazons, I would put Diamonds of Kilimanjaro a couple of notches below it in terms of Jess Franco-directed jungle movies, as it features real animals, a villain with an eye-patch, and much more compelling lead actress.

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  1. Dude, any more Jess Franco jungle movies and you might snap.

    You'll be running around the streets of Toronto in a grass tube-top, black fishnets, and black velvet pumps with shinny silver buckles, brandishing a spear made of the finest obsidian, screaming "Ia, iak Sakkakh, iak Sakkakth! Ia Shaxul!" while looking for a airbrushed white pop star to sacrifice to the spirit of Lina Romay.

  2. Now, I am become Jess Franco, the destroyer of worlds.

    Despite the disturbing imagery, I like the way you think. I mean, black velvet pumps with shiny silver buckles? Yeah, baby!

    Oh, and there no more J.F. jungle movies on the horizon.

  3. But,wait......where's Lina Romay in this movie??? UH??