Garrell is in his seventies when filmmaker Jordi Morató finds him digging tunnels in a Spanish forest, chipping away in the stone and building his own tomb. But there is more to the story than Morató ever dreamed when he discovers Garrell's long history with the place.
For at least four decades Garrell had been running barefoot, fishing with his hands, creating water cascades, jumping from waterfalls, building treehouses and scrambling through his "jungle" in a homemade loincloth. He had played in the forest as a child and continued to do so as an older man. Eventually his play included Aleix, a teenager who filmed his exploits. First it was formless but the two later came up with film scenarios as Garrell took on the persona of Tarzan. Aleix even recruited a friend to play Tarzan's son as the pair are persecuted by the encroachment of "civilized man." We see this film run for a long time, perhaps its entirety. One reviewer noted that this was his favourite part of the film but I thought it went on for way too long. It is quite uncomfortable to see Garrell run around in his loincloth. Some might find it liberating but it teeters on the edge of the ludicrous.
By this time, Garrell had constructed a series of huts, houses and grand towers made of wood. His work is beautiful. He added a labyrinth of tunnels to keep out unwanted visitors but his work was always being vandalized. He burned it and started again. The road must be widened. He burned it and started again despite the testimony of art experts who claimed it was important outsider art. The city council deemed it unsafe. He burned it.
Is Garrell a lunatic, an overgrown kid, an immensely talented outsider artist? He is probably all three. His obsession with the evils of "civilized man" is certainly warranted but it also conceals much more than is alluded to in this film. Morató collected more footage, including interviews with people outside the forest, but decided to focus only on Garrell in the forest. I understand the decision but I think a bit of context could have made this a much deeper film.
Still there are so many questions. Why did Garrell build where he did, right next to a road? Did he own this land? If not, why not build and play somewhere else? Why not defend himself or prosecute the vandals? Could he enjoy his forest just by playing or did he need to control it and put his own stamp on it, claiming some kind of ownership? If he didn't want to be found why did he build the towers higher and higher so that all passers-by could see them? If Garrell is such an outdoorsman, why is he so pudgy?
This is an inherently fascinating story so there is much to ponder in The Creator of the Jungle. Morató made his decisions for a reason (he says he thought about just burning the whole film at one point so he would not have to choose how to tell it) and some will respond well to the story as he has chosen to tell it.