The Runaway Nuclear Physicist

Often considered alongside Luis Bunuel as one of the most important and influential Spanish film directors of the 20th century, Luis Garcia Berlanga (1921-2010) and his work is still being discovered in the U.S. Bienvenido, Mister Marshall! (Welcome, Mr. Marshall, 1953), Berlanga’s post-WW2 satire of the European Recovery Plan aka the Marshall Plan, was the first of his films to receive wide distribution at art houses in America and went on to win the International Prize for Best Comedy Film at Cannes. Placido (1961), a black farce in which a homeless man is invited to a Christmas Eve dinner sponsored by a cookware corporation, was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. And El Verdugo (The Executioner, 1963) might be his most famous triumph with Nino Manfredi as an undertaker who is pressured into taking over his father-in-law’s profession as an executioner. The Criterion Collection released a special edition of it on Blu-ray and DVD in 2016, which helped introduce Berlanga’s satiric masterwork to new audiences. Less well known today but praised by critics during its original release in 1956 is Calabuch aka The Rocket from Calabuch, a seemingly gentle but subversive satire about life in a rustic seaside village which is disrupted by the arrival of an amiable but mysterious stranger.

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Destination: Ferness, Scotland

First of all, there is no Ferness, Scotland. It is a fictitious seaside town created by writer/director Bill Forsyth for his 1983 film, Local Hero. It is also a place that lives on in the hearts and minds of moviegoers who were bewitched by its picturesque beauty, eccentric but appealing residents and its tranquil setting far removed from urban blight and the madding crowd. To outsiders, it might look like a slice of heaven, an ideal place to live or revisit. But Forsyth’s film slyly juxtaposes this romanticized environment against the inevitability of progress and creates a gentle culture clash comedy that has far more resonance than you’d expect. It’s not sentimental or cynical but an intoxicating mixture of the wry and whimsical with a bittersweet finish.

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