Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB.
Spain, 1961. Jet Films. Story by Luis García Berlanga, Rafael Azcona, Screenplay by Luis García Berlanga, Rafael Azcona, José Luis Colina, José Luis Font. Cinematography by Francisco Sempere. Produced by Alfredo Matas. Music by Miguel Asins Arbó. Production Design by Antonio Cortés. Film Editing by Jose Antonio Rojo. Academy Awards 1961. Cannes Film Festival 1962.
The fluid, non-stop movement of this satire on Franco-era Spain makes for a fascinating, masterful work by Luis Garcia Berlanga. A tiny town is all abuzz in preparation for its Christmas Eve, its more well-to-do residents having decided to take part in a charitable event that has each of them inviting someone less fortunate to dine with them. They’ve planned a whole day of celebrations leading up to the meal, including a parade involving movie stars they have invited from Madrid as well as a beauty contest and a product tie-in giveaway. The pace is relentless as everything keeps threatening to fall apart but manages to be pulled off in the nick of time, a number of characters taking part in the varied activities have their own private dramas (including the coordinator keeping an eye on his beautiful wife being romanced by one of the stars). At the centre of all this madness is Placido, whose family is poor and lives in the public bathroom that they run; he owns a motorbike that he needs to make monthly payments on or his debt will be sent to collections and cause him more problems than he can afford. His asking for advances and to collect on debts between his parade duties is part of the endless rhythm of this painfully funny, and at the same time just painful, look at a society whose international reputation as being unified under a totalitarian force is merely the front for a fractured population of the greedy and the desperate. Gorgeously shot in widescreen monochrome, it’s a feast for all senses.