[Film Review] The Executioner (1963)

The Executioner poster

English Title: The Executioner
Original Title: El verdugo
Year: 1963
Country: Spain, Italy
Language: Spanish
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Director: Luis García Berlanga
Luis García Berlanga
Rafael Azcona
Ennio Flaiano
Music: Miguel Asins Arbó
Cinematography: Tonino Delli Colli
Nino Manfredi
Emma Penella
José Isbert
José Luis López Vázquez
María Luisa Ponte
Ángel Álvarez
Santiago Ontañón
José Orjas
Erasmo Pascual
Rating: 7.6/10

The Executioner 1963

Spanish writer-director Luis García Berlanga’s eighth feature film is a Spain-Italy co-production, stars Italian matinee idol Nino Manfredi as an unassuming undertaker, José Luis Rodríguez, whose marriage prospect is not so encouraging due to his profession. Through chance meeting with a senior prison executioner Amadeo (Isbert), he gets acquainted with his daughter Carmen (Penella), who is also pestered by the same pickle, no one is willing to marry her simply because of Amadeo’s job, so the two chime in instantly and apparently it is a perfect match, but soon life put José through the wringer of a series of exigencies (Carmen’s pregnancy, marriage and a thorny apartment issue), his ideal future where he can get rid of this disreputable trade becomes more and more unattainable, once he has been pushed to register as a successor of his father-in-law, aka. a new executioner is born.

On the horns of a dilemma, José’s predicament is wittily delineated through Berlanga’s delightful verve, exerts a realistic spin on the irony of life, how one’s ideal having been gradually crushed by the twist of fate. Manfredi’s interpretation of José affects in earnest, he is spontaneously sympathetic to establish José as a nobody, stuck in the line of work which he doesn’t like, exhibits his own foibles through his marriage, and lives by his blind faith that he could still opt out against the worst-case scenario, until his melt-down when the bubble is burst.

Veteran Spanish actor José Isbert plays Amadeo enthusiastically, who is decidedly persevering in tricking José to take over his mantle, so as to secure the marriage and an apartment assigned from the government, he is manipulative on top of his goody-goody persona, but we cannot blame him for his simple-mined selfishness, plainly because that’s the widespread mindset among most people in the world. As for Emma Fenella, her Carmen is an uncomplicated sort, maternal, down-to-earth and forges strong protection to the men in her life.

The satirical connotation of morbidness seeps through the debate over the variations of death penalty (garrotte seems to be the most civilised choice), and a unanimous bias towards a now obsolete vocation. A vignette of José and Carmen’s frugal wedding right after a fancier one, and the tour in Palma de Mallorca, where the lovey-dovey luxuriates in a string concert on the creek inside a large cave, exactly in that moment, José’s duty call arrives, these are brilliant instances where realism meets cinematic creation, whether they are bittersweet, heartfelt or intriguing, together they bring about vigour and pleasure to the audience and it is a telling testimony of a director’s faculty.

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