a page of madness

film writing by nicholas vroman

Luis García Berlanga 1921 – 2010

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Luis García Berlanga passed away last Saturday, November 13. Along with Juan Antonio Bardem – oh, and Bunuel – he defined post-war Spanish cinema under the iron fist of Francoism. His filmmaking was of a classic mold but suffused with wicked and biting satire that often got him into trouble with censors and the government. He is perhaps best remembered for his hilarious 1952 film, Bienvenido, Mr. Marshall (Welcome, Mr. Marshall), in which the residents of an Andalusian village get wind that a delegation of Americans will visit. In hopes of getting some loose Yankee dollars, the village prepares by becoming a stereotypical Spanish town, building fake theatrical building sets and dressing up everybody in 18th century Majo and Maja costumes – all bought on credit. The day arrives and the Americans zip through town in big American cars without stopping. His 1963 film, El Verdugo (The Executioner) was a succès de scandale when Spanish authorities tried to stop its screening at the Venice Film Festival. El Verdugo is a morbidly black comedy about a man who inherits the job of state executioner from the father of his new bride. By the late 60s, between genuine problems getting financing and permission to shoot films and the rise of a new generation of filmmakers – the likes of Carlos Saura, Victor Erice, Jose Luis Borau and Manuel Gutierrez Aragon – his star was eclipsed. However, after the death of Franco in 1975, Berlanga hit his stride again with 1978’s La Escopeta Nacional (The National Rifle) where his acerbic humor and take-no-holds skewering of Francoist Spain gave him another lease on his long film career. He continued making films films until 1999, when he officially retired.

Originally published in Hot Splice, November 17, 2010

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Written by Nicholas Vroman

November 17, 2010 at 11:35 pm

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