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The Spanish Mirth: The Comedic Films of Luis García Berlanga

March 29, 2013 - April 17, 2013


Laughter has been called the best medicine. In the case of Spanish director Luis García Berlanga (1921–2010), it may be the best defense. Beginning his directorial career in the midst of Franco’s regime, Berlanga evaded much outright censorship by disguising his subversive views in stinging satire. But he was never an ideologue. He spared no one his wicked humor, which flailed both high and low but mostly targeted authority and its corrupting force. To this he added a certain irrepressible and zestful anarchy. His greatest films, like ¡Bienvenido, Mr. Marshall!, Plácido, El verdugo, and La escopeta nacional, are carnivalesque—whirl is king, sight gags abound, and some hapless male is swept along by desire and dejection. Berlanga could also be bawdy. If it wasn’t the timid bank clerk in ¡Vivan los novios! ogling bathing beauties on the beach, it was Michel, the docile dentist of Tamaño natural, under the thrall of his anatomically correct love doll. Often credited with helping to reshape midcentury Spanish cinema, Berlanga evaded the trap of the popular by subverting the conventions of the comedic. Funny he was, irreverent he remained, but his unruliness was aimed at the rulers. In that way, Luis García Berlanga became the mirthful conscience of his country.

Steve Seid, Video Curator

Friday, March 29, 2013
7:00 p.m. ¡Bienvenido, Mr. Marshall!
Luis García Berlanga (Spain, 1953). Archival print! A tiny Spanish backwater pulls out all the stops to reinvent itself as a postcard-perfect Andalusian village—complete with flamenco dancing, bullfights, and more—in order to impress delegates doling out financial rewards in Berlanga’s satirical jab at Spanish national values. (86 mins)

Sunday, March 31, 2013
3:00 p.m. The Rocket from Calabuch
Luis García Berlanga (Spain, 1956). Archival print! An A-bomb-building physicist hides out from the nuclear age in a seaside town. Mistaken for a tramp, he’s soon accepted as one of the townsfolk’s own in this quirky, Pagnol-by-way-of-Spain comedy. (93 mins)

Thursday, April 4, 2013
7:00 p.m. Plácido
Luis García Berlanga (Spain, 1961). Archival print! A charity campaign suggests “Sit a Poor Person at Your Table” in Berlanga’s frantic, gag-riddled romp. Filled with hilarious barbs, impious prattle, and high society comeuppance, you’ll revel in a surplus of black humor. (85 mins)

Saturday, April 6, 2013
6:30 p.m. El verdugo
Luis García Berlanga (Spain, 1964). Archival print! An official executioner must appoint a successor who, if luck has it, will also marry his desirable daughter. Berlanga’s masterpiece is a dark comedy backlit by the knowledge that in Franco’s regime execution was the penalty of choice. (88 mins)

Friday, April 12, 2013
7:00 p.m. ¡Vivan los novios!
Luis García Berlanga (Spain, 1970). Archival print! Hoping to seduce some Swedish sirens before getting married, a timid bank clerk leaves his ailing mother behind and heads to the beach; when his mother dies, however, things get comically complicated. (83 mins)

Sunday, April 14, 2013
5:30 p.m. Tamaño natural
Luis García Berlanga (Spain/France, 1973). Archival print! Michel Piccoli is a Parisian oral surgeon with a new lover: a life-size sex doll from Japan. By turns rapturously absurd and innocently obscene, Tamaño natural is really about the demure dentist’s estrangement from things human and fleshy. (101 mins)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013
7:00 p.m. La escopeta nacional
Luis García Berlanga (Spain, 1978). Archival print! An oily manufacturer sponsors a hunt on the estate of a nobleman who has fallen on hard times. Berlanga’s madcap Escopeta (Shotgun) stays on target with a load of high-impact and hilarious shot. (95 mins)

With special thanks to: D. José María Prado, Cristina Bernáldez, and Alicia Potes at Filmoteca Española; Ana Maria Morán Del Aguila at the Consulate General of Spain, San Francisco; Daniela Michel and Mara Fortes, the Morelia International Film Festival; Impala Films; and Natalia Brizuela, UC Berkeley. All 35mm prints from the Filmoteca Española in Madrid.