Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5.
Original Title: El verdugo
Spain/Italy, 1963. Naga Films, Zebra Films. Story and Screenplay by Luis García Berlanga, Rafael Azcona, collaboration with Ennio Flaiano. Cinematography by Tonino Delli Colli. Produced by Nazario Belmar. Music by Miguel Asins Arbó. Production Design by Luis Arguello. Costume Design by Maruja Hernáiz. Film Editing by Alfonso Santacana.
One of Luis Garcia Berlanga’s sharpest and most complex films, imagine if Elio Petri had made Divorce Italian Style, up there with Berlanga’s masterful Placido. Nino Manfredi is terrific as an undertaker who falls in love with the daughter of an executioner (José Isbert), a job that inspires him with pure dread. When his father-in-law’s application for an apartment in a new complex finally comes through, a bureaucratic error and the older man’s impending retirement threatens to prevent their keeping it until he comes up with the perfect solution: why not have Manfredi give up undertaking and become an executioner in his place? Our hero agrees very reluctantly, hoping to be assigned to cases that are pardoned and don’t require his having to actually put someone to death, but a work trip to a gorgeous seaside town doesn’t work out so well when it turns out that he might actually have to do the dirty deed. The complications that this pathetic hero gets himself into simply because he wants a wife and child speaks volumes about Berlanga’s opinion of his society, but as usual he puts across his excoriating social criticism with so much generous humour that it always feel like a lesson you receive with gratitude.