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García Berlanga, Luis

GARCÍA BERLANGA, Luis



Nationality: Spanish. Born: Luis García-Berlanga Marti in Valencia, 12 July 1921. Education: Studied at Jesuit school, Switzerland; Valencia University; IIEC (School of Cinema), Madrid, 1947–50. Military Service: Served in División Azul (Blue Division) of Spanish volunteers with German forces on Russian front, early 1940s. Career: Painter and poet, 1942–47; with Antonio Bardem, directed first film, 1951; several projects banned by censor, 1950s; began collaboration with writer Rafael Azcona on Plácido, 1961; professor at IIEC, 1970s; president of Filmoteca Nacional, 1980s.


Films as Director:

1948/49

Paseo sobre una guerra antigua (as IIEC student); Tres cantos (IIEC student); El circo (+ sc, ed) (IIEC student)

1951

Esa pareja feliz (That Happy Couple) (co-d, ph, co-sc)

1952

¡Bienvenido, Mr. Marshall! (Welcome, Mr. Marshall) (+ co-sc)

1953

Novio a la vista (Fiancé in sight) (+ co-sc)

1956

Calabuch (+ co-sc)

1957

Los jueves, milagro (Thursdays, Miracle) (+ co-sc)

1961

Plácido (+ co-sc)

1962

"La muerte y el leñador" ("Death and the Woodcutter") episode of Las cuatro verdades (+ co-sc)

1963

El verdugo (The Executioner; Not on Your Life) (+ co-sc)

1967

Las pirañas (+ co-sc)

1969

Vivan los novios (Long Live the Bride and Groom) (+ co-sc)

1973

Tamaño natural (Life Size) (+ co-sc)

1978

La escopeta nacional (The National Rifle; The Spanish Shot-gun) (+ co-sc)

1979

Cuentos eróticos (Erotic Tales) (collectively directed)

1980

Patrimonio nacional (+ co-sc)

1982

Nacional III (+ co-sc)

1985

La Vaquilla (+ co-sc)

1987

Moros y cristianos (+ co-sc)

1993

Todos a la cárcel (Everyone off to Jail) (+ co-sc)

1997

Blasco Ibáñez (mini for TV)

1999

París Tombuctú (+ co-sc)

Other Films:

1953

Sangre y luces (Muñoz) (sc) (Spanish–language version of Georges Rouquier's Sang et lumières)

1955

Familia provisional (Rovira Beleta) (co-sc)

1967

No somos de piedra (We Are Not Made out of Stone) (Summers) (role)

1968

Sharon vestida de rojo (Lorente) (role)

1971

Apunte sobre Ana (Memorandum on Ana) (Galán) (role)



Publications


By GARCÍA BERLANGA: book—


Cuentos Eroticos De Navidad, Berkeley, 1999.


By GARCÍA BERLANGA: articles—

"The Day I Refused to Work," in Films and Filming (London), December 1961.

"Cara a cara . . . Bardem—Berlanga," in Cinema 2002 (Madrid), July/August 1980.

"Berlanga Life Size," interview with Katherine Kovacs, in TheQuarterly Review of Film Studies (Pleasantville, New York), Spring 1983.

Bagh, P. von, "Sensuuri, symbolit, sota," an interview with P. von Bagh in Filmihullu (Helsinki), no.8, 1989.


On GARCÍA BERLANGA: books—

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

Perucha, Julio Pérez, Sobre Luis G. Berlanga, Valencia, 1981.

Higginbotham, Virginia, Spanish Film under Franco, Austin, Texas, 1988.

Deveny, Thomas G., Cain on Screen: Contemporary Spanish Cinema, Lanham, 1999.


On GARCÍA BERLANGA: articles—

Cobos, Juan, "Spanish Fighter," in Films and Filming (London), February 1958.

"Grandeur nature," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), November 1974.

Les, J. Hernandez, "Luis Berlanga aujourd'hui et hier," in JeuneCinéma (Paris), April/May 1979.

Acosta, J.L., "Berlanga—B. Wilder: Buscando un punto común," in Cinema 2002 (Madrid), April 1980.

Marías, Miguel, "El Patrimonio de Berlanga," in Casablanca (Madrid), April 1981.

Guarner, José Luis, "Luis G. Berlanga," in International Film Guide1981, London, 1982.

"Spanish Cinema Section" of Cinéma (Paris), June 1984.

Screen International (London), 25 June 1988.

Guarner, J.L., "Bunuel ja perilliset," in Filmihullu (Helsinki), no. 8, 1989.

Filmihullu (Helsinki), vol. 6, no. 17, 1995.


* * *

For many years in Spain strict censorship guidelines inhibited the development of a vital and creative film industry. The first original auteur of the post-Civil War period was Luis García Berlanga. When he began to make movies in the early 1950s, Berlanga and fellow filmmaker Juan Antonio Bardem were referred to as the two palm trees in the desert of Spanish film. Since then, and in spite of the fact that he could make relatively few films under Franco, Berlanga has remained one of Spain's foremost talents.

In the early years, the most important influence on Berlanga's filmmaking was Italian neo-realism. At the Conversations of Salamanca (1955) Berlanga and other young directors enthusiastically supported it as an antidote to Francoist cinema, a way of making authentic films that dealt with the everyday problems of ordinary people. From his first movie, Esa pareja feliz, which he co-directed with Bardem in 1951, to his "trilogy" on the Spanish aristocracy, Berlanga has remained true to the spirit of Salamanca.

In many movies he has exposed the pitfalls of Spanish society and satirized those institutions or individuals who take themselves too seriously, often using black humor to deflate their pretentions. Berlanga's sympathies are with the underdogs of whatever social class, those who are victims of fate, institutions, or other forces they cannot control. In a number of his films we follow the efforts of an individual who wants to achieve something or attain some goal, struggles to do so, and in the end is defeated, ending up in the same or in a worse situation than before. This unfortunate outcome reflects Berlanga's pessimism about a society in which the individual is powerless and in danger of being devoured. There are no winners in Berlanga's movies; all of the victories are Pyrrhic. But never one to deliver messages or lessons, Berlanga expresses his pessimistic viewpoint with such verve, vitality and humor that audiences leave the theatre elated with the spontaneity and inventiveness of his films.

Berlanga prefers working with groups of characters rather than concentrating on the fate of a single protagonist. Rarely does one individual dominate the action. Usually we move from one person to the next so that our point of view on the action is constantly shifting. This approach is supported by Berlanga's distinctive camera style. He tends to use very long takes in which the camera surreptitiously follows the movement of the characters, the shot lasting as long as the sequence. (In Patrimonio nacional there are some takes that last six or seven minutes.) These sequences are not, however, the carefully arranged and choreographed efforts of a Jancsó. As Berlanga explains it, until he begins shooting he has no specific setup in mind: "What I do is organize the actors' movements and then tell the cameraman how to follow them. When we bump into some obstacle, we stop shooting." In shooting the often feverish activities of his characters in this way, Berlanga gives a fluid, spontaneous feeling to his films. His predilection for these shots expresses what Berlanga calls his "god complex"—his desire to be everywhere at once and to express the totality of any scene.

In his scrutiny of contemporary Spanish life, Berlanga is also attached to much older Spanish literary and cultural traditions, most notably to that of the picaresque novel, in which a pícaro or rogue is thrust out into the world and forced to fend for himself. At the bottom of the social heap, the pícaro is afforded "a worm's eye view" of society and learns to be tricky in order to survive. The pícaro keeps hoping and waiting for a miracle, a sudden change in fate that will change his or her fortune in one stroke. Berlanga's pícaros, whether they be naive like Plácido (Plácido) or noble like the Marquis of Leguineche (Patrimonio nacional), share the same hopes and tenacious desire to survive. These characters, like Berlanga himself, are deeply attached to Spanish cultural traditions. In fact, one might even consider Berlanga to be a sort of picaresque hero who managed to survive the vagaries of the Franco regime and its system of censorship. A popular director since &iexclam;Welcome Mr. Marshall!, Berlanga has gone on to even greater success since Franco's death with La escopeta nacional, a satiric look at a hunting party of Spain's notables during the Franco regime. In this irreverent and amusing comedy and in its two sequels, Berlanga introduced himself and his vision of his country to a new generation of Spaniards.

—Katherine Singer Kovács

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