Via Catherine Grant and, here in the Forum, Angel, comes news of the death, after years of suffering from Alzheimer's disease, of Luis García Berlanga at the age of 89. Primarily known for Welcome, Mister Marshall (1952), Plácido (1961, nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar) and The Executioner (1963), Berlanga was an honorary president of the Spanish Film Academy and received the Prince of Asturias Award for Arts in 1986, a Goya for Best Director for Everyone to Jail! in 1993 and several other illustrious awards throughout his long career.
"Luis García Berlanga spearheaded the dramatic transformation that Spanish cinema underwent in the 1950s and early 1960s," wrote Steven Marsh in Senses of Cinema in 2003. "In spite of the harsh censorship that hallmarked Francisco Franco's military and Catholic-inspired regime, Berlanga succeeded in directing a series of films that undermined the mores of the Dictatorship and established him as the most important Spanish film director of his generation. From his first film in 1951 to his final movie París-Timbuctú (1999), which heralded his retirement, Berlanga has proved a consistent thorn in the side of authority, both during the Dictatorship and throughout the democratic period that followed the death of Franco in 1975. While his particular version of 'the popular' is undeniably subversive, such subversion has proved politically problematic. Claimed, at times, by both the Left and the Right, he has never easily fitted in to either generic or ideological categories."
"Born in Valencia, Berlanga wrote and directed his first short in 1948 and in 1951 made his first feature film, Esa Pareja Feliz (That Happy Couple), in collaboration with Juan Antonio Bardem, father of Hollywood actor Javier Bardem," reports the AP. "Berlanga's 1953 film Bienvenido, Mister Marshall famously explored Spain's hopes that the United States would help restore democracy and prosperity as it had in much of Europe after World War II."
Almost exactly a year ago, Kevin Lee gathered several critical takes on Welcome, Mister Marshall and asked, "What is it about Spanish cinema that just nails how people are possessed by dreams and stories?... Within this hypothetical national subgenre, Bienvenido, Mister Marshall stands tall" and "amounts to its own fantasy construct of Spain as an eternally tragic, but laughably charming dystopia. It does as masterful a job of selling its vision as the fascist and capitalist ideologues it eviscerates."
Update, 11/14: For Nick Caistor, writing in the Guardian, Berlanga's "caustic brand of comedy probably reached its apogee in 1963's El Verdugo (The Executioner) about a young man desperate to get a job who finds himself employed as a public executioner. Here, as in all his films, Berlanga was on the side of the individual, looking at his travails from a libertarian, non-ideological viewpoint.... 'My films are about failure,' Berlanga once said. 'They're about individuals who see a chance to get out of the mess they're in and set out to grab that chance, but they always fail, because it was an illusion anyway.' In the process however, the anti-heroes of Berlanga's films get into endless entertaining scrapes, and by the end leave the viewer with a grudging sense of respect and compassion for such hapless adventurers."