BERLANGA FILM MUSEUM: Welcome to the Internet, Mister Berlanga

By Cristina Álvarez Cañas. November 20, 2012

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Nothing as Spanish as its sense of humour. If Spain was, for example, a grateful North American home, every year on Christmas the family would sit together in front of the TV to watch Plácido, by Luis García Berlanga, instead of It’s a Wonderful Life, as they do in there. But Spain, being so attached to its traditions and customs, still struggles to overcome its past and its complexes with that something so typical: its sense of humour. An art mastered by the film-maker Luis García Berlanga –who died in 2010– since 1952 when he premiered that (made-up) reception for the Americans called Welcome, Mister Marshall, co-written with Juan Antonio Bardem and Miguel Mihura.

In the European context, the freshness and signature of Spanish cinema has always been somewhat diluted among the renowned and recognizable British social realism, French auteur film and Nouvelle Vague or Italian neorealism and comedy. Faced with this diatribe, Spain calls Berlanga to the blackboard.

The Valencian Government has set up a ground-breaking project, a virtual museum. The Berlanga Film Museum is the first online museum in Europe devoted entirely to a film-maker; it aims to show the whole world and new generations the heritage of one of the most important comedy directors, whose impact, for many, does not match the extent of his work. As Pedro Almodóvar says: 'Berlanga’s characters talked a lot and they did so in a very Spanish way, all at the same time, so it was very difficult to subtitle his films abroad. It was the obstacle that stopped him from being valued outside Spain'.

The aim of this more than a cybernetic film library is to correct that historical injustice thanks to the potential provided by the Internet 60 years after Berlanga’s debut, The Happy Couple (1951), with Fernando Fernán Gómez. In an alliance with the Spanish platform Filmotech and for a €9 flat rate –soon it will also offer the possibility to pay €2 for each film–, we will be able to watch the entire filmography of the Valencian film-maker. From the already mentioned Plácido (1961) and Welcome, Mister Marshall (1952) to The Executioner (1963) and those released within democracy like The National Shotgun (197), The Heifer (1984) or Everybody to Jail (1993).

In addition to this visual memory for film lovers and novices, we can access numerous photographs, a detailed biography, diverse bibliography, texts written by actors and critics together with scripts and original posters of each film; they intend to add new documents in the future.

“I only work with ugly and weird people”, Berlanga used to say. He was a master of the nonsensical dialogue, tamer of supporting actors, defender of the long take, of the uncontrolled verbosity he himself suffered, of meticulously controlled chaos… Nuances that explored the deep Spanish spirit as others did before, like Lope de Vega and his entremeses, Jardiel Poncela and his satirical and far-fetched comedies or the graphic humour of the magazine La Codorniz. His life was a creative contradiction, like that of other great Spaniards and the History of the country itself. But in his films we notice a clairvoyant speech, universal and very human.

Thanks to the Berlanga Film Museum, Berlanga’s characters will have a new window from which to act their miseries and their greatness, the Berlanguian (berlanguiano) universe –an adjective that was even proposed to be included in the dictionary of the Spanish Language Academy–. Although as the writer Manuel Vicent explains in the documentary Por la gracia de Luis (2009): 'We are still not sure if Berlanga was an anarchist or a police officer, an absentminded or an astute man understanding everything, a bohemian or a gentleman… We don’t know what Berlanga was exactly'.

No one better than the Mediterranean film-maker himself to detail his own nature. In 2002, for the 50th anniversary of Welcome, Mister Marshall, Berlanga confessed the following to the screenwriter and novelist Agustín Tena: 'All my films are the account of a failure, of someone who thinks is going to achieve something, who can see a promotion for him and his family coming. There is always a barrier between society and us that stop us from reaching our small urban and daily heaven, the land where we will feel at last rewarded'. Berlanga’s is an inferred pessimism, yet, after watching his films, it allows us, the rest of humanity, to carry on living in hope.

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