Filmmakers: Alex de la Iglesia (Berlinale Special)
Many years ago, when I was in my teenage years, we hosted a movie night on a decent big screen. We had a few beers, sat on rancid couches and popped in a DVD from the video store. The movie was Perdita Durango, and I had never seen a movie like that before in my life. From Dusk Till Dawn might be the closest I ever got to seeing a movie that was just bat (literally in that case) shit crazy and original and entertaining. Back then I had no idea who Alex de la Iglesia was, but Perdita Durango, way before Javier Bardem got really famous, was one hell of a ride. Today, I still have not seen all of de la Iglesia’s movies, but I have seen most of them, and I am a great admirer of his work. His movies have an untamed energy to them, they are furious, they are cinematic, and they are unconventional. They have most of the things I love to see in movies: I hate watching romantic comedies that are just romantic comedies, or splatter movies that are just splatter movies, or road movies that are just road movies. I like the genre benders, and I like movies that are like a homemade dish with fresh ingredients. Full of flavors, extending the usual range of shit food you consume every day. His movies are like roller coasters, and he throws things at you from all angles, screw the conventions.
If you’re new to Alex de la Iglesia (imdb), let me give you a brief run through the movies out of his filmography that I have seen, and why I think they should be on your list. This is in order of how I watched them, the last two being the latest, and Chispa de la Vida is a short review directly from the Berlin International Film Festival, where I witnessed it at a great gala premiere, with Alex, Salma Hayek, Jose Mota and Carolina Bang in attendance. Buckle up.
Perdita Durango aka Dance with the Devil (1997), imdb
This was one of the movies I had in mind when I started Furious Cinema. A movie that pulls out all the stops and takes you on a wild, furious ride, throws all kinds of hilarious shit at you – all the while sounding great and looking cool. Perdita Durango is the story of one crazy-ass couple, satanists, rapists, gangsters. They kidnap and abuse teenagers, perform weird occult rites on people, and enjoy their outlaw lives. Throw in some smuggling of fetuses, a cop (played by the always great James Gandolfini), drugs, lots of sex, crazy violence, black humor, more sex, wild music and the wild southwest as a location. A movie as good as they come. Clearly nineties and not safe to watch around family, I wholeheartedly recommend you give this flick a chance, hopefully in a somewhat uncensored version. This is a flick years before Javier Bardem got famous, and when Rosie Perez still looked acceptably hot and kinky. Critics might add that it tries very hard to “be Tarantino”, but in the end it is just incredibly exploitative and just wild fun. In terms of road movies, it is also refreshingly different and it is quite funny at times, too.
La Communidad, 2000, (imdb)
Black comedies are something rare these days. La Communidad tells the story of a bunch of really weird inhabitants of a Spanish apartment house, and the dubious things going on after the real estate agent tries to sell one of the apartments after its inhabitant dies. The money she unearths there triggers a chain of crazy events, where sudden death is probably the easiest way out for those involved. De la Iglesia manages to pull off a hilarious romp that is chock full of weirdness that is enormously funny but also always a tad creepy. The movie paces along just fine and toward the end tops Four Rooms in terms of a staccato of shit hitting the fan. A really hilarious comedy that few people have heard of, but it is an absolute must see.
Unfortunately it is a bit hard to get outside Spanish-speaking countries mostly because it seems it never got that widely released. I myself caught it on TV at some point.
El Dia de la Bestia aka The Day of the Beast, 1995 (imdb)
If there is a crazy way to watch Alex de la Iglesia’s movies, then it is without subtitles if you don’t speak Spanish. That is how I watched this weird-ass movie. I can’t say I fully understood what was going on at all times, but it was enough to enjoy the insanity. A catholic priest must fend off Satan using really insane methods, and then there is a truly unholy bunch of people with a stake in this adventure, making it hard for him stop the world from ending, while all sorts of helpless people just get butchered. There is so much sin in this movie it’s almost not funny anymore. But it is hilarious nonetheless. It is a surreal move with almost comical precision and maddening inevitability, which I thought made it so interesting. Despite the goth atmosphere and the spooky subject, it remains a dead-on black comedy.
Here is an external review of this movie. It has been a while and some of the details I cannot remember.
800 Balas aka 800 Bullets, 2002 (imdb)
Having been to Almeria, Spain and having visited these old west towns and original shooting locations for many hundred spaghetti westerns, I was quite excited to see this one. Dubbed as a love letter to the Almeria/Tabernas spaghetti western aficionados, it turned out to be somewhat disappointing. Even though it is a hilarious romp with lots of love toward detail, it does not go all the way in indulging fully into the spaghetti western love, and while it works perfectly fine for those not knowing anything about spaghetti westerns, those who do feel a bit let down, because the expectations were far higher. The life of the stunt men in Tabernas is quite something to make a movie out of, and I thought the story was really really well written, but the movie didn’t go that extra mile to make me really happy. That doesn’t mean the movie is chock full of goodness until the very end, but I am just saying it let me down just a bit.
Balada Triste de Trompeta aka The Last Circus, 2010
The advertising with a mad clown with uzis is sort of a misleading picture, but I was entirely unprepared for what hit me. This is a movie that pulls out all stops and takes you on a wild ride through Spain’s 70s/80s (the time when dictator Franco was still ruling), with a sad clown and a circus crew, complicated love interests, ghosts of the past and a blend of violence, passion and pain. The director mixes period piece visuals (the gritty civil war scenes are especially impressive) with artsy and surreal environments (the circus among the rubble), and puts the most plastic characters together you could imagine. Carolina Bang’s hot but tragic character meets the “payaso triste”, and even more tragic figure that evolves into something of a statement on Spain’s historic character during the course of the movie. The audience is being hit by bursts of violence, uncontrolled passion, thundering soundtrack, the dark side of human emotions and fates, and all that in a most cinematic, audio-visually beautiful, superbly written and directed roller coaster ride of a movie, that reaches a climax that leaves you breathless out of sheer awe. “Mad Circus” as the movie is called in Germany, is one of the best movies I have seen in years and such a refreshing piece of cinema, I can wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone seeking a dose of really really furious cinema.
La Chispa de la Vida aka As Luck Would Have it, 2012 (imdb)
Berlin Film Festival special short review
So this is literally just about two weeks or so after I saw The Last Circus in a tiny little theater with 3 other people. This time it’s Berlin’s snazy Friedrichstadtpalast, and it’s the gala evening screening during the Berlinale with a hefty 13,50 euros ticket price. Oh well I thought, it’s gonna be a blast. I had read NOTHING about the movie so I went in there purely out of love for Alex’ cinema. The auditorium is a huge classic theater auditorium with a gigantic screen, and the place was almost packed. It got off to a bad start however because the director and his stars were late. The atmosphere was hostile, but after a few gestures by the director towards a guy in the audience who outright yelled they should apologize, the place calmed down, and the magic of the movie spirited away the bad feelings and in the end, the magic of cinema had made everyone happy. At the end, they all came on stage again, Alex de la Iglesia, his “most talented actress in the world” Salma Hayek, his leading man Jose Mota, and knock-out Carolina Herrera Bang, who plays a minor role but most people probably remembered from Balada Triste de Trompeta.
The movie is about the Spanish recession, and a former advertising executive (Mota) and his loving wife (Hayek). That guy has been unemployed for about two years and he is fed up. Trying to get his mind off a recent job interview gone bad, he wants to visit a romantic old hotel where they spent their honeymoon. The hotel is gone because an ancient amphitheater was discovered underneath it. Because he is a klutz, he gets in extreme trouble and basically falls off a crane and onto a construction site, with an iron rod stuck in his brain. All hell breaks lose around the guy, who cannot move or be moved, while his wife tries to save him, the media try to cover his story, the politicians try to use the situation to their advantage – and he himself sees a chance to turn life around and use the live TV fame to get rich quick. So he hires an agent to sell an exclusive interview to a TV station. The situation gets out of hand, but in the end integrity is a big winner in this family drama….
It was a blast watching this. As with most of his movies, we laughed, we cried, we got excited, we were shocked and overwhelmed. The acting in this move is superb and the characters are absolutely marvelous. I can’t help but think this is not even close to the mad genius of the movie he made before (Balada Triste), but this is still a tremendous movie. It just isn’t as crazy and extremely out of control. This one is more main stream for sure, but the societal criticism and media satire nature makes it still a very effective movie. A lot of comic relief and drama tie this one together. I left the screening knowing that it was worth every cent.
There’s more: I uploaded a video on YouTube from my BlackBerry which is Alex de la Iglesia’s prologue statement after the show, with him and his leading actors on the stage. Click here to watch it.
I sure hope I got you all interested in the furious and wonderful cinematic world of Alex de la Iglesia. Balada Trista de Trompeta is surely his most creative and bizarre cinematic trip he’s probably been on, and once I see some of the other movies he’s made I will probably have a more balance view but he is definitely one of the most creative filmmakers out there and if you dig really great movies, look no further.