La escopeta nacional (Luis G. Berlanga, 1978)

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La escopeta nacional, directed by Luis García Berlanga (1978).

Score: Such a spot-on satire that it still applies today.

I like to think of Berlanga as a Spanish, more bitter Billy Wilder. Berlanga had an ability to mock Francoist society during the dictatorship and at the same time avoiding the censor’s scissors. La escopeta nacional was made at the beginning of our present democracy but still manages to attack and maim the pillars of our corrupted status quo, which the dictatorship allowed to flourish. In fact, this film could be remade today with a few changes and still work. That’s how far we’ve come.

Jaume Canivell (José Sazatornil “Saza”) is a Catalan industrialist who attends a hunt with the nobility with his secretary and lover, Mercè (Mónica Randall). His goal is to have the Minister (Antonio Ferrandis) make his newly patented intercoms compulsory in as many homes as possible so he can profit from the sales. The Marquis of Leguineche (Luis Escobar) is so broke that the invitees have to actually pay for the hunt themselves but pretend that the Marquis is paying and his son (José Luis López Vázquez) decides to elope with a beautiful and ambitious actress… To a nearby cottage still within his family’s property. Canivell has to suck up to nearly everyone and get himself in ridiculous situations to try to (illegitimately) get his business up and running.

Berlanga doesn’t spell it out for you. He throws the audience into chaotic and long shots with many characters in them and fast-paced conversations, and lets each one make up their mind about what is going on. The satire is such that it can really fly over some people’s heads, left wondering what is so funny about a bunch of nobles, priests and businessmen hunting partridges while their wives follow them around in fur coats and high heels; while for other people the slight off-ness of everything is just hilarious. Though it does get blunter later on.

I think this is the first film I’ve ever watched where two Catalan characters speak to each other in Catalan for the duration of the movie and, naturally, subtitles in Spanish are provided. I find it unthinkable today to expose the sensitive ears of monolingual Spaniards to that “goatherd’s dialect” that is the Catalan language in a Spanish movie. That’s how far we’ve come.

So if you want to watch some satire from one of the masters or learn a bit of recent Spanish history, this will be worth your while.

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