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El Verdugo

EL VERDUGO



(Not on Your Life)


Italy-Spain, 1964


Director: Luis García Berlanga

Production: Naga Films (Italy) and Zebra Films (Spain); black and white, 35mm; running time: 110 minutes, English version is 90 minutes. Released February 1964, Madrid.


Screenplay: Luis García Berlanga, Rafael Azcona, and Ennio Flaiano; photography: Tonino Delli Conti; editor: Alfonso Santacana; art director: José Antonio de la Guerra; music: Miguel Asins-Arbo.

Cast: Nino Manfredi (José Luis); Emma Penella (Carmen); José Luis López Vásquez (Antonio); Angel Alvarez (Alvarez); José Isbert (Amedeo); María Luisa Ponte (Stefania); Guido Alberti (Governor of Prison); Maruja Isbert (Ignazia); Félix Fernández (1st Sacristan); Alfredo Landa (2nd Sacristan); José Luis Coll (Organist).


Publications


Books:

Galan, Diego, Carta abierta a Berlanga, Huelva, 1978.

Santolaya, Ernesto, Luis G. Berlanga, Victoria, 1979.

Pérez Perucha, Julio, Sobre Luis G. Berlanga, Valencia 1980.

Hopewell, John, Out of the Past: Spanish Cinema after Franco, London, 1987.


Articles:

Cobos, J., "The Face of '63—Spain," in Films and Filming (London), October 1963.

Durgnat, Raymond, in Films and Filming (London), November 1965.

Deneroff, Harvey, in Film Society Review (New York), April 1966.

Hernandez, J., "Luis Berlanga aujourd'hui et hier," in Jeune Cinéma (Paris), April-May 1979.

Guarnier, José Luis, "Luis G. Berlanga," in International FilmGuide 1981, London, 1982.

Kovacs, K. S., "Berlanga Life Size," in Quarterly Review of FilmStudies (New York), Spring 1983.

Riambau, Esteve, "Une Chronique noir sur le franquisme: El Verdugo," in Cahiers de la Cinémathèque (Perpignan), Winter 1984.

Bagh, P. von, "Pyoveli," in Filmihullu (Helsinki), no. 6, 1995.

"Le bourreau (El verdugo)," in a special issue of Avant-Scène duCinéma (Paris), no. 465, October 1997.


* * *

El verdugo was the eighth feature film written and directed by Luis García Berlanga in collaboration with his longtime associate, Rafael Azcona. The story pivots upon the fate of a pleasant, if somewhat timid, young undertaker whose dream is to go to Germany and become a mechanic. This dream is thwarted when he happens to meet the executioner in a prison where both of them are plying their trade. In spite of the aversion that the young man (and everyone else) feels for the executioner, he not only ends up marrying the executioner's daughter, but even takes over his father-in-law's business.

El verdugo is a farce or domestic comedy filled with macabre touches and scenes of black humor in which the taboos associated with death are transgressed. Even the actual mode of execution is the subject of morbid jokes as the executioner, who garrots his victims, measures the neck size of his future son-in-law. The film is punctuated with these bits of gallows humor as well as with comic reversals that take the audience by surprise. A particularly fine example occurs at the end of the movie when the young executioner is carried kicking and screaming like the victim into the prison where he will perform his first execution. El verdugo shows that the biting black humor that we have come to associate with Buñuel is, in more general terms, a Spanish characteristic.

Berlanga's irreverent treatment of death is symptomatic of a tendency found in all of his movies—to poke fun at pomposity and pretensions, and to deflate generally accepted values and beliefs. At the same time that El verdugo is highly entertaining, it also has a message that was vaguely subversive in Franco's Spain in the early 1960s. In one sense, the movie is about two outcasts, the undertaker and the executioner's daughter, both of whom are avoided by everyone. When they join together, it is with the hope of having a better life. But as Berlanga demonstrates, these hopes cannot be realized. Like other Berlanga protagonists, the undertaker becomes caught up in a destiny which he did not choose. He is a victim of innocent concessions made along the way that ultimately lead him to be sentenced to his fate of becoming the executioner. He is the true victim, the one who is strangled in a web of circumstances beyond his control, caught up in the system of justice and retribution that is all encompassing. In the context of Franco's Spain, the ideological dimensions of this message are clear. As the executioner tells his son-in-law, where there's a law, someone has to enforce it; someone has to do the dirty work. Perhaps that was Berlanga's way of saying that in a dictatorial regime, whether they are willing or not, men are coerced into aiding and abetting the status quo.

—Katherine Singer Kóvacs

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