Sunday, December 4, 2011

SCN: Luis García Berlanga Retro opens with EL VERDUGO -- plus nine more treasures

TrustMovies will cover the ten-film retrospective of the work of one of the late and great Spanish filmmakers, Luis García Berlanga, shown above), trying to view as many of the movies as possible. Only one of the ten -- The Executioner -- was shown to the press prior to the start of this year's series, so his viewing will be catch-as-catch-can, and he will add to this post, with coverage of each new Berlanga film that he is able to see.

As the FSLC's press release so aptly puts it, "Together with Juan Bardem in the early Fifties, Berlanga shook up what had been a fairly dormant Spanish cinema with a series of works that revealed uncomfortable truths about the rigidly controlled Francoist society. Even as the regime began to ease up a bit in the early Sixties, Berlanga, often working with screenwriter Rafael Azcona, became if anything even more barbed in his criticisms. Yet beyond being important documents of the growing social resistance to Franco, Berlanga’s films are treasures because their extraordinary humor always seems to propel his often madcap tales into more general, timeless observations on the human condition. There are rarely villains in his works—only characters with greater or lesser levels of self-delusion."

Luis García Berlanga (that's he, above, in his earlier days) whose work has been previously featured in Spanish Cinema Now, died in November 2010 at the age of 89. The FSLC is proud to present this special tribute in memoriam.

THE EXECUTIONER (El Verdugo, 1963)
There are two executioners in this little gem, which is one of Berlanga's juiciest films. The first is the old man (the wonderful José Isbert, above left) who's been doing the job for decades; the second is the young fellow -- noted Italian actor Nino Manfredi (above, right) of Bread and Chocolate -- working as a guard, who comes into contact with the older man and slowly gets inextricably involved with him and his attractive daughter (Emma Penella, below, left). The hypocrisy of Spain at the time, and how its populace treats the men who do its dirty work, proves as ugly as it is funny, and Berlanga makes the most of both.

As noted above, no one here is a villain, exactly. Some people are better than others, but all are adrift in a dead society in which everyone in every way finally caves in to the power of the state. And yet, given all this, how amazing that the filmmaker digs so much amusement, dark as it is, out of the mess. The cast is excellent, especially Manfredi as a not-so-nice guy who, when faced with doing something that goes utterly against whatever is left of his better self, becomes heartbreakingly, wretchedly human. The film, 90 minutes, in Spanish with English subtitles, plays at the Walter Reade Theater this coming Friday, December 9 at 3:20pm and again Tuesday, December 13, at 6:15pm.

Stills from The Executioner come courtesy of 
Photo of Berlanga at top is by Alvaro Rodriguez,
courtesy of Getty Images, while the shot of him as a
younger man is from, well, those marvelous web archives....

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