Darkly humorous social satire patterned after Italian neo-realism but more in line with comedia all'italiana, this is an ecxellent indictment on capital punishment. At the same time it charts -via the noisy proceedings- a sociologically sharp transition of Spain to mature modernity and to the wonders of a rising bourgeoisie. Franco's ghost hovers over this astute tale of 'execution' that is both funny and bitter.
****1/2 Possibly *****, even (to be determined on future viewings to which I look forward). Two compositions stand out and exemplify: In each, our protagonist recedes into a well-composed frame, the first time to brilliantly funny effect, the second with an impact as harrowing as it is graphically/symmetrically pleasing.
I am new to Berlanga, and that is a shame. In Spain he is apparently as highly-esteemed as Buñuel. The Executioner is an example of populist audacity at a humbling level. The production of such a movie under the auspices of a notoriously self-conscious dictatorship bespeaks a level of sophistication in the packaging of this "light comedy" that in itself deserves no end of commendation. Bruising but weirdly sweet.
The well-organized organic state recruits its subjects to participate in the dispensation of its punishments and rewards, the lie of the abstraction's efficiency as inescapable as the mess of its reality here inside the machinery. Plenty of material for farce, then, and I suspect if I were Spanish (and, perhaps, of a certain age) El Verdugo would have twisted me into even tighter knots of death-masked hilarity.