The Film Society Announces The Last Laugh: An Alternate History of Spanish Comedy


Amanece, que no es poco

Spanish cinema, new and old, will be brought together to show off the recurring "grotesque humor" found in the nation’s film history. The Film Society’s The Last Laugh: An Alternate History of Spanish Comedy series will be held December 12-18, and will feature a wide array of films that show a new, wilder, side of the nation’s cinema. The series is not only a historical journey, it’s also a provocative investigation into the essence of Spanish national identity. Politically charged, with healthy doses of black humor, the films portray how drastically Spanish culture and society have changed over the last 60 years at the same time that they show how many aspects of Spain have hardly changed at all.

Opening the series will be José Luis Cuerda’s Amanece, que no es poco, a satire of the nation told through vignettes, absurdity, and the darkest of black humor. Cuerda, whose career began in television, has been creating films since the mid-70s. Amanece, que no es poco, released in 1989, was one of the first big-screen films for the director, and remains as one of his wildest. In addition to his writing and directing, Cuerda has been more recently involved as producer and executive producer for the films of acclaimed Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Amenábar, including Tesis, Open Your Eyes, and English-language thriller The Others.

In addition to Amanece, que no es poco, highlights include titles such as Luis García Berlanga’s 1963 Not on Your Life (El verdugo), a no-holds-barred film about an executioner on the verge of retirement who tricks a funeral parlor employee into becoming his heir, and Marco Ferreri’s 1960 The Little Coach (El cochecito), about a retiree willing to do anything, even do away with his family, in order to get himself a mobility scooter like those owned by his elderly cronies at the park.

Other must-sees include filmmaking duo La Cuadrilla’s 1994 Justino: A Senior Citizen Killer (Justino, un asesino de la tercera edad), about a retired “puntillero” (the man who finishes off the dying bull in the bullfighting ring with a stab in the neck), who begins a new career as a serial murderer; Álex de la Iglesia’s 2010 The Last Circus (Balada triste de trompeta), in which a young trapeze artist who finds herself the object of desire of two deeply disturbed clowns; and Isaki Lacuesta’s 2014 Dying Beyond Their Means (Murieron por encima de sus posibilidades), in which five desperate, common citizens concoct a crazy plan to save their country’s economy by kidnapping the chairman of the Central Bank and demanding that he somehow restore everything to the way it used to be.

The Last Laugh Films, Descriptions, and Schedule

20 Centimeters / 20 centímetros
Ramón Salazar, Spain, 2005, 35mm, 112m
Spanish with English subtitles

Adolfo (Mónica Cervera) goes by the name Marieta, works as a prostitute, and suffers from narcolepsy, habitually nodding off and slipping into Ginger Rogers–esque dreams in which everything is colorful, musical, and happy. In these dreams she is her fully realized female self, not Adolfo as the official registries would have it. Somewhere in between queer comedy, musical, and a grotesque portrait of the darker side of Spanish society, 20 Centimeters is a distorted and unfettered depiction of a still-chauvinistic country where fears, beliefs, and prejudices endure and where one’s sexual orientation seems to be everybody’s business.
Thursday, December 18, 4:15pm

20 Centimeters / 20 centímetros

Amanece, que no es poco
José Luis Cuerda, Spain, 1989, 35mm, 106m
Spanish with English subtitles

People bursting forth from the ground, black children born of white parents, and Spanish civil guards shooting at the breaking dawn while shouting “damn the whole sacredness bit to hell!”: Amanece, que no es poco might seem to be an incoherent jumble of sequences, but in fact it is one of the high points of Spanish comedy. Valle Inclán’s distortedly grotesque “esperpento,” Francisco de Goya’s darkest, most biting humor, and Luis Buñuel’s surrealist derisiveness all go hand in hand here under the unifying mantle of satirizing a country that is capable, in the words of critic Álvaro Arroba, “of murdering and divesting of their sacrosanctity its most sacred of gods.”
Friday, December 12, 6:15pm (Q&A with José Luis Cuerda)

Astronauts / Astronautas
Santi Amodeo, Spain, 2003, 35mm, 88m
Spanish with subtitles in English

A 40-year-old junkie decides to follow a psychiatrist’s somewhat absurd list of dos and don’ts to the tee in order to kick his habit and become a “normal person”: be clean, be neat, eat right, clean your house, go shopping, socialize. But in doing so, he finds he has become a nobody, just another face in the crowd. When a 16-year-old girl comes into his life, like an astronaut who has fallen to Earth from out of nowhere, he suddenly gains the love, attention, and care that will rescue him from deadening conformity. Directly engaging taboos without prejudice or moralizing, Santi Amodeo constructs a story on and about the blurred lines of normalcy: in a society where we must adapt ourselves to a host of mores and norms, who is truly the Other, the oddball, the astronaut?

Screening with:

Holy Thriller
María Cañas, Spain, 2011, digital projection, 2m

Two nearly opposite cultural milestones, Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Seville’s Holy Week processions, are rolled together by tried-and-true iconoclast director María Cañas, a devourer of images, who simply yet relentlessly picks apart some of the myths and symbols on which Spain’s national identity is based.
Wednesday, December 17, 6:30pm

Caution to the Wind / Con el culo al aire
Carles Mira, Spain, 1980, 35mm, 94m
Spanish with English subtitles

When Carles Mira premiered his first film, The Prodigious Life of Father Vincent, in Spain, someone attempted to prevent it from screening by detonating a bomb in the theater. Spain was emerging from a dictatorship and working its way, for better or for worse, toward becoming a democracy. Far from flinching, Mira upped the ante and filmed Caution to the Wind, taking his iconoclastic passion for festivity to the extreme. Focusing on an insane asylum through which all types of characters parade, Mira constructs an irreverent flashback view of Spain’s past—or as he himself puts it: “I’m convinced that a number of people have taken an interest in concealing our real past and that they invented, at the time, a make-believe empire peopled by heroes and leaders comprising a gallery of ghosts.”

Screening with:

Meeting with Sarah Jessica
Vicente Villanueva, Spain, 2013, DCP, 20m
Spanish with English subtitles

Tonight, Dori’s dream is coming true: she is having dinner with her favorite actress. She has made the trip from Spain, and the two of them are dining, one-on-one, face-to-face. But an enjoyable meal becomes a gateway to the dark world lurking behind fame…
Sunday, December 14, 1:00pm

The Certificate / El certificado
Vicente Lluch, Spain, 1969, DCP, 100m
Spanish with English subtitles

Though Vicente Lluch has somehow faded from Spanish cinema history, his eventual rediscovery is inevitable. He directed only three features over the course of a 40-year career, but his films reveal a campy take on uniquely Spanish subjects astonishingly achieved amid the Franco regime. In The Certificate, he draws on the Mediterranean farce (as Carles Mira would later do) in order to hurl scathing criticism at the ethically reproachable and socially ridiculous Barcelona bourgeoisie. As in his other work, the story hinges on a strong, determined female character who grows increasingly empowered as it goes on.
Wednesday, December 17, 8:30pm

Dying Beyond Their Means / Murieron por encima de sus posibilidades
Isaki Lacuesta, Spain, 2014, DCP, 104m
Spanish with English subtitles

Five desperate, common citizens from a fictitious country pretty much identical to Spain see their lives ripped apart by a global financial crisis. With nothing left to lose, they concoct a crazy plan to save their country’s—not to mention the world’s—economy: kidnap the chairman of the Central Bank and demand that he somehow restore everything to the way it used to be. Is their plan so naïve that it just might work? A dark and rowdy comedy about a country pushed to the economic brink and the everyday radicals who endeavor to save the day by any means necessary. But will their revolution be televised or will it be Googled?
Sunday, December 14, 8:40pm (Q&A with Isaki Lacuesta)

Dying Beyond Their Means / Murieron por encima de sus posibilidades

Justino: A Senior Citizen Killer / Justino, un asesino de la tercera edad
La Cuadrilla (Santiago Aguilar and Luis Guridi), Spain, 1994, 35mm, 93m
Spanish with English subtitles

Justino engages with Spain’s vast tradition of black comedy, brimming with backwards glances and allusions to its rich heritage. If the film at first seems like a simple rehashing of Marco Ferreri’s The Little Coach, it soon becomes clear that its references extend in many different directions, engaging such distinct works as Edgar Neville’s 1946 detective thriller The Crime of Bordadores Street and Fernando Fernán-Gómez’s 1986 Goya Award winner Voyage to Nowhere. Justino takes full advantage of its having been made after the end of the censorship restrictions of the Franco regime, and the creative duo La Cuadrilla (directors Santiago Aguilar and Luis Guridi) revive the figure of the retired man that appears in The Little Coach and Luis García Berlanga’s Not on Your Life.
Saturday, December 13, 6:45pm (Q&A with Santiago Aguilar)

The Last Circus / Balada triste de trompeta
Álex de la Iglesia, Spain, 2010, 35mm, 107m
Spanish with English subtitles

Francisco de Goya’s Fight with Cudgels depicts two men submerged, knee-high, in the ground, beating each other with wooden clubs. It’s neither here not there that Goya didn’t originally paint the figures this way, but rather on grassy ground; this image, the result of the oil painting’s negligent conservation, has nevertheless become a metaphor for Spain’s eternal cycle of fruitless conflict. Álex de la Iglesia’s film, which earned Best Screenplay and Best Director at the 2010 Venice International Film Festival, returns to this idea of a violent and self-destructive Spain in the guise of circus clowns dueling for the love of a gorgeous trapeze artist.
Thursday, December 18, 6:45pm

The Last Horse / El último caballo
Edgar Neville, Spain, 1950, 35mm, 85m
Spanish with English subtitles

Edgar Neville’s The Last Horse is considered the most neorealist of all his works. But while it’s true that some of the more obvious aspects of that movement show through, this film is no mere throwback. Its humorous, thought-provoking thrust directly engages with the way things really are in Spain, specifically in Madrid, which, swept along by the changes wrought by modernization, sheds its traditions rapidly and thoughtlessly. The Last Horse is a stroll through Madrid on the brink of a makeover that changed both the city’s outer appearance as well as the lifestyles of those who live there—in particular Fernando, recently discharged from the army, which has decided to put down his faithful horse Bucéfalo.

Screening with:

Mystery / Misterio
Chema García Ibarra, Spain, 2013, DCP, 12m
Spanish with English subtitles

Trini takes care of her family, just like the other women in her depressing, working-class neighborhood, but she believes her situation is temporary. Soon enough, something or somebody will get her out of there.
Friday, December 12, 9:00pm

The Last Horse / El último caballo

The Little Coach / El cochecito
Marco Ferreri, Spain, 1960, 35mm, 83m
Spanish with English subtitles

Marco Ferreri filmed his first three features in Spain before returning home to Italy. For the first (The Little Flat) and third (The Little Coach), he partnered with Rafael Azcona, a screenwriter also making his debut; the collaboration between these two would be crucial for shaping some of the fundamental traits of Spanish black humor. The Little Coach portrays the trials and tribulations of Anselmo Proharán, a retiree willing to do anything, even do away with his family, in order to get himself a mobility scooter like those owned by his elderly cronies at the park. Although censorship under the Franco regime took some of the bite out of this film and imposed upon it a moralistic ending, it could not repress the harshness with which it depicts a distressful country.

Screening with:

El engaño / The Cheating
Germán Scelso, Spain, 2009, digital projection, 15m
Spanish with English subtitles

We don’t know how documentary filmmaker Germán first met Juan, but we join them as they watch a bullfight on television. Out of the blue, Juan asks Germán to help him carry out an act of vengeance…
Saturday, December 13, 9:15pm

Mommy’s a Fool / Mamá es boba
Santiago Lorenzo, Spain, 1997, 35mm, 96m
Spanish with English subtitles

Martín (Jose Luis Lago) is a self-conscious young boy living in a provincial Castilian town where nothing ever happens. He bears the brunt of his classmates’ bullying at school, but his biggest problem is his parents, Gema and Toribio, whose grotesque behavior certainly doesn’t go unnoticed in their sad, gray hometown. But when a new TV station arrives and offers Gema the position of lead anchorwoman, everything changes. Gema and Toribio’s fame skyrockets, but given their status as the town’s laughingstocks, they end up being treated like traveling carnival puppets, and Martín is ostracized ever more severely. Produced on a shoestring budget, with a visual style accentuating the cruelty of its content, Santiago Lorenzo’s satirical feature debut is a comedy that evokes both raucous laughter and smiles of recognition.
Monday, December 15, 6:30pm

Not on Your Life / El verdugo
Luis García Berlanga, Spain, 1963, 35mm, 89m
Spanish with English subtitles

Not on Your Life marked the second time that Luis García Berlanga and Rafael Azcona worked together, following 1961’s Plácido. This film is a no-holds-barred portrayal of three characters fighting to survive brutal situations. Amadeo is an executioner on the verge of retirement who meets José Luis, a funeral parlor employee he tricks into becoming his heir. Step by step, this film reveals the old man’s Machiavellian plan that finds José Luis literally dragged into becoming his successor despite his ethical reservations.

Screening with:

Don Pepe Popi
Carlos Vermut, Spain, 2012, digital projection, 16m
Spanish with English subtitles

Don Pepe Popi is a collaboration between Venga Monjas—two comedians who started out on the Internet in 2006—and Carlos Vermut, a director who put a new twist on interweaving genres with his films Diamond Flash and Magical Girl.
Sunday, December 14, 3:30pm

Don Pepe Popi

People in Places / Gente en sitios
Juan Cavestany, Spain, 2013, DCP, 83m
Spanish with English subtitles

The cliché goes that beautiful flowers bloom in cemeteries… or amid rubbish. People in Places illustrates this bromide with an episodic succession of sketches of daily life in a desolate, crisis-ridden Spain. Shot sans script and with a cast comprised of more than 80 actors, People in Places is a comedy with bitter undertones painted in muted colors, intertwining the grotesqueness of Spanish “esperpento” with the cultural pastiche of David Lynch while taking Franz Kafka on a stroll through the industrial suburbs of any provincial town, all with a refreshing absence of pretension.
Thursday, December 18, 9:00pm

Tell Me About Sanchicorrota / Dime quién era Sanchicorrota
Jorge Tur, Spain, 2013, HDCAM, 62m
Spanish with English subtitles

Jorge Tur’s feature-length documentary delves into the legend of a 16th-century bandit from the north of Spain, who robbed the rich to give to the poor. But the film winds up being a reflexive portrait of documentary’s inability to focus on anything beyond the visible, as well as a tragicomic stroll through a land whose wounds are seemingly always fresh.

Screening with:

Mr. Easter / Salve Melilla
Óscar Pérez, Spain, 2006, digital projection, 52m
Spanish with English subtitles

Symbols of its imperialist past, Spain still has two cities in African territory: Ceuta and Melilla. Filming the host of a local television show that broadcasts the various religious events that comprise Holy Week in Melilla and employing the stylistic tools of cinema verité, Óscar Pérez envisions a portrait of Spain’s essence as manifested by a city forsaken by the mainland.
Sunday, December 14, 5:45pm (Q&A with Óscar Pérez)