jueves, 9 de octubre de 2014

The Shadow of Magical Realism in José Luis Cuerda's 1980s films

Ignacio López-Calvo
University of California, Merced

 Published in Critical InsightsMagical Realism. Ipswich, Massachusetts: Salem Press, 2014. 193-210.
For the printed version, click here

My style, this is my firm belief, is not surrealism, as has                                       

been said, but throwing logic on the floor, fighting it one

on one, and twisting its neck until it vomits its last arguments.1

José Luis Cuerda


In three of his works, Neguijón (2005), Mi poncho es un kimono flamenco (My Poncho Is a Flamenco Kimono, 2005), and España, aparta de mí estos premios (Spain, Take These Awards from Me, 2009), the Peruvian author Fernando Iwasaki (1961-) argues that there is a sui generis magical realist tradition in Spain that pre-dates the Latin American one all the way to the Middle Ages. Thus, in "Die kartoffelblüte o la flor de papa," an essay from Mi poncho es un kimono flamenco, he explains:       

            Not even magical realism has a Latin American copyright, since we find it in Spanish             
            authors such as Valle Inclán, Álvaro Cunqueiro and Juan Perucho. Why does the ghost in             Manuel Rivas novel El lápiz del carpintero (The Carpenter's Pencil, 1998) have to come 
            from the specter of Prudencio Aguilar in Cien años de soledad (1967), when the ghosts were
            already alive in Wenceslao Fernández Flórez El bosque animado (The Living Forest, 1943)?
            Why can't the apocryphal adventure in the Cave of Montesions be the first "real marvelous"
           episode in the history of literature in Spanish? Anyone who knows minimally this delirious
           culture that engendered lives of saints, chronicles of the Indies, and Golden Century novels,
           would agree with me that in the Latin American butterfly of magical realism there was once a
           Spanish Baroque worm."2

Iwasaki goes on to remind the reader that there is a bigger presence of necromancers, foretellers, and charlatans in Spanish public television than of scientists or researchers. I would add that as early as in 1928, Wenceslao Fernández Flórez included a scene with the apparition of a lost soul to the protagonist of the novel Relato inmoral (Immoral Account), Anselmo Varona:

            "'A ghost?'

            "It would be more appropriate to say a lost soul. That's what I am, to my dismay."3

The former washerwoman, who is followed by her five children, also lost souls, eventually explains to Anselmo that she became a lost soul after the local priest refused to bury her in the cemetery as punishment for not marrying the father of her children. In the end, the bored protagonist politely tells the lost soul that her story is interesting and then asks her to help him find his hotel room. In this case, Fernández Flórez resorts to magical realism to mock the prudish moral of Spain at the time and to denounce the resulting sexual repression.

            Iwasaki, in these paragraphs, does not present Spanish magical realism as a sort of corrective to the mystification of Latin American magical realism. Instead, he demonstrates that, much like in Latin America, in Spain writers also drew from pre-Christian and pre-Cartesian (mostly Celtic) worldviews. Instead of acknowledging the Afro-Caribbean or Amerindian knowledges that inform Latin American writers like Miguel Ángel Asturias, Alejo Carpetier or Gabriel García Márquez, they looked at the Celtic societies of Galicia, Asturias and Cantabria, where people had traditionally believed in the cult of nature and the existence of lost souls, witches, and the Galician Santa Compaña (also known as Huéspeda or Estantigua in other Spanish regions). The oeuvre of Galician poet and novelist Rosalía de Castro (1837-1885), with her "black shadows" (ghosts) of existential saudade, is a good example of this worldview, as seen in the poem written in Galician "Negra sombra" (Black Shadow), included in the collection Follas novas (New Leaves, 1880).4

            The influence of magical realism can be found in three films directed by José Luis Cuerda (1947-) in the 1980s: Total (1983), and El bosque animado (1987), and Amanece que no es poco (Dawn is Breaking and That Is Something, 1988). In this essay, I shall consider the influence of Spanish and Latin American literary magical realism in the absurdist humor with touches of sarcastic "surruralism" (a neologism that blends the words "surreal" and "rural" and was created by the Italian Gianni Toti specifically for this film) that makes Cuerda's Total and Amanece que no es poco so unique. In many ways it is precisely this trait that separates Cuerda's witty, grotesque, and delirious humor from the typically easy, and often clumsy, humor of the so-called españoladas of the 1970s and 1980s. I shall also compare these two films with the more conventional magical realism that appears in his comedy El bosque animado. Perhaps influenced by Latin American literary magical realism, in the fifty-two minute comedy Total, the first in the trilogy completed by Amanece and Así en el cielo como en la tierra (On Earth As It Is in Heaven, 1995),
Cuerda creates a less conventional version of this narrative mode, which leans toward the creation of an absurdist, incoherent humor. Although it flirts in some scenes with social criticism, in Total magical realism serves mostly as a tool to create a new type of humor. As the filmmaker has explained in interviews, he was
disappointed in Spanish National Television (TVE), which kept asking him to write comedies when in fact he had several dramas already written and ready to be filmed. Cuerda recalls having to stop his car in order to cry, unable to repress his rage, because his true genre of choice was drama. Therefore, the absurdist humor in Total  and Amanece emerged from a desire to protest what he deemed as an unfair identification of his filmmaking career with only comedy. Another driving force behind his creation of an absurdist filmic version of magical realism was his "anxiety of influence" (to use Harold Bloom's term)

: "Then, I decided that, if they wanted laughter, they were going to have my kind of laughter. It would be a comedy, but a weird one. In Spain, it was absurd to film comedies in Berlanga's style, because he was already filming them and no one could do it better."5 The end result was the medium-length film Total, Cuerda's first film after the filmic adaptation of Ernesto Sábato's novel El túnel in 1975. As seen, Cuerda's absurd humor in his trilogy, his own version of Spanish comedic magical realism, was also the outcome of his desire to avoid repeating the films of Spanish director and scriptwriter Luis García Berlanga (1921-2010) and the scripts of Rafael Azcona (1926-2008), even though he recruited many of the same actors that appear in their films. Despite these precautions, some of Cuerda's scenes still display intertextualities with Berlanga's choral films, such as the rural comedy Bienvenido, Mister Marshall (1953). For example, there is a portrait of former U.S. president Dwight David "Ike" Eisenhower by the major, played by Rafael Alonso, when he announces the results of the local elections in Amanece, and the reception to the major who returns from the capital city is reminiscent of the reception to Eisenhower in Berlanga's film (as well as of Christ's arrival to Jerusalem on a donkey, received by the masses with palm leaves). But there is no doubt that the humor in Total and Amanece is Cuerda's own unique brand, as he had planned before filming.

            Made for television and based on a script written by Cuerda himself, Total was very poorly received by Spanish film critics, but it won the International Critics' Award and a special mention of the Jury's Award, both at the 1983 Montercarlo Film Festival. Its first-person narrator, a shepherd named Lorenzo (played by Agustín González), opens the film by looking straight at the camera and pointing at a small hamlet while stating: "Londres." What we see in the screen, a Castilian hamlet in the province of Soria, is supposed to be London in the middle of the twenty-sixth century. Toward the end of the film, we learn that three days earlier, the narrator had escaped the apocalypse that destroyed London and most of its citizens by outrunning it (we also find out that Álvarez, a local woman [played by Chus Lampreave; her character reappears in Amanece], had survived thanks to psychoanalysis). Then, stating the obvious and playing with the boundaries between fiction and reality, Lorenzo, the narrator and apocalypse survivor, points at a sheep while uttering the word "oveja" (sheep). Later in the film, he clarifies that the little town we see on the screen is actually not London, but Paris, which may explain why from time to time two of the characters speak in French. Speaking from the future, the narrator explains the situation to the audience, who is still back in the 1980s.

            As in Amanece, in Total the filmmaker's childhood memories of being educated by priests and spending three years in a seminary pervade the film, hence the prominence of the Biblical theme of the apocalypse, which links all of the film's gags. And as can be noticed in the book Amanece que no es poco, the memories of these Piarist (escolapios) fathers' demeanor are full of justified resentment:

            The only thing I can say about the Piarists with whom I had to live is that their             
            unjustifiable acts are barely redeemed by the fact that, as I learned later, the Pious Schools of 
            Albacete were for the Piarist order the penitentiary of the Valencian region, the origin of most
            of those poor devils, whose destiny ended up in a nest of maggots--like everybody else's--
            instead of--according their apparent beliefs--in the hell they so deserved. Whoever wants to 
            learn more about this matter may ask those of us who were students in that center in the 1950
            and 1960s, and went through the hands of such preceptors. No one who was not there knows
            how literal what I have just written is.6

Incidentally, the mockery of religious vocabulary and theological concepts, such as free will, charity, the mystic body of Christ and the Holy Trinity, is reminiscent of the light-hearted representation of priestly worldviews and formalities present in García Márquez's 1955 short story "Un señor muy viejo con unas alas enormes" (A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings).

            In a long flashback in Total, Lorenzo recalls the extraordinary events that, in his view, undeniably announced the end of the world: cows were trying to enter the local school building, walls and houses kept collapsing, the narrator's son became forty years older overnight (this idea reappears in Amanece), and a woman named Doña Paquita kept appearing and disappearing. In line with the tenets of magical realism, neither of these events is seen with particular surprise by the locals, who walk by collapsing walls as if nothing were happening. Along these lines, when after realizing the
failure of her beatification process, Doña Paquita decides to make a living out of her apparitions and puts on a show crossing walls, an unimpressed member of the audience asks her if she also cures the blind. Total is, therefore, full of delirious and impossibly absurd scenes that, ironically, were inspired by what a young Cuerda saw everyday in Calle Albaderos in an Albacete neighborhood. Inspired by one of his former neighbors, a character named Sabina keeps asking her husband Pascual (played by Luis Ciges) to jump in order to avoid stepping on inexistent puddles (a scene reminiscent of the picaresque text Lazarillo de Tormes) or to bend down in order to avoid hitting the branch of a tree when, in fact, there were none. Later, she serves inexistent fried eggs to him for lunch and blames him for not seeing them. In another scene, the teacher's wife strikes him, insults the students, and makes daily public scenes, just like the wife of one of Cuerda's teachers did when the filmmaker was a child. Likewise, all the scenes in Amanece and Así en el cielo where children sing in school to learn about the apocalypse, European rivers, the human heart, or multiplication are inspired by the way Cuerda was taught as a child. Overall, there is no attempt in the film at making viewers suspend their disbelief. That verisimilitude is not one of the director's goal is made apparent in the monologue where Lorenzo, belying Álvarez's previous comments in praise of cows, claims that sheep are better than them "and provide more milk. This, in spite of their smaller size, and against all logic and reality."7 Later, he points out that a local boy became a famous meteorologist and then a fictional being. It is precisely this irrationality and denial of logical arguments that elicits the viewers' laughter.

            The recurring theme of the apocalypse resurfaces in the third comedy in Cuerda's trilogy, Así en el cielo, which José María Caparrós Lera, in his negative review of the film, has defined as "the most unusual film in the history of Spanish film."8
This time, it is a very human Christ (played by Jesús Bonilla) who suggests the apocalypse as a solution to his father (God is played by Fernando
Fernán Gómez), while eating breakfast in a Heaven that looks very much like a post-Civil War Castilian little town. Having failed as his father's messenger to humans, a Christ with very low self-esteem (he has to confess his psychological traumas to a psychoanalyst) convinces God to not send a second son to Earth, suggesting instead the apocalypse and final judgment as the only possible ways to correct humans' wrong ways since Biblical times. Although he fears that his current budget is too small to stage an apocalypse, in the end God father agrees. Saint Peter, dressed as a Spanish civil guard and played by Francisco Rabal, has to raise funds by asking local ladies to donate their jewelry for the construction of the New Jerusalem.

            Beyond Cuerda's trilogy of absurdist comedies,
a type of avant-la-lettre Spanish magical realism that is more akin to Latin American literary magical realism can be found in his film El bosque animado, based on Wenceslao Fernández Flórez's 1943 novel of the same title and adapted to the screen by Rafael Azcona. In it, we find Cuerda's unique blend of humor and harsh social criticism in the contrasts between the presumptuous world of local oligarchy and that of the poor and exploited, between the snobbishness of the summer visitors from Madrid who do not know how a dog "works" and the simplicity of the town's people. Among the latter is a former impoverished peasant who becomes a thief known as Fendetestas (played by Alfredo Landa). When he tries to rob a man in the forest, unaware that he is facing the lost soul of Fiz de Cotovelo, the latter avers:9 "I am Fiz de Cotovelo's soul who walks along these paths in torment, looking for a Christian."10 Subsequently, a scared Fendetestas runs away, to the lost soul's dismay. We learn that Fiz the Cotovelo became a lost soul after being unable to fulfill his promise of visiting San Andrés de Teixido. According to one of the characters, Señor D'Abondo (played by Fernando Rey), the only thing that can stop this lost soul is holy water. Besides the lost soul, other characters see the Santa Compaña, a nocturnal procession of dead people from the purgatory or lost souls, always dressed in white, who visit homes where someone will soon die. The ghosts, after midnight, carry candles through the forest, smelling like wax. According to popular Galician mythology, whenever a person sees the procession, he or she automatically joins them, sometimes liberating the first soul that was seen, as a young girl in the film explains. Adding to the otherworldly cast, the film boasts witches and soothsayers who read one's future with decks of cards, and characters who know remedies against the evil eye. In the last scene, we learn that the lost soul of Fiz the Cotovelo never left the forest and that a local young girl who had recently passed away has also become another lost soul. As is typical in magical realism, characters
see these bizarre events emerging from a mundane reality as just another aspect of everyday life. Thus, the well digger who walks by her in the forest, simply greets her, showing no surprise at all. One can also find the absurdist humor that is present (albeit  more exaggerated) in Total and Amanece: the kind-hearted Fendetestas bargains with the people he robs, since they are his former neighbors and friends, and during a robbery of the local priest's house, he ends up helping his domestic servants with a cow that is delivering a calf.

            In Cuerda's most celebrated comedy Amanece, which has become a cult film and is often considered a classic in Spanish filmography, he returns to the sui generis, absurdist version of magical realism that was present in Total. Amanece's outstanding collection of Spanish comedians, witty social criticism, off-color political incorrectness,11 and peculiar "surruralist," humor turned it into an unexpected landmark in Spanish film. After its debut, Spanish critics reviewed it in very negative terms, often pointing out the lack of an organically unified and coherent script. They did not understand, unlike Spanish viewers decades later, the collage of eccentric scenes that make up the storyline of this choral film. Perhaps, after the great success of Cuerda's previous film, El bosque animado, they expected a sequel or a similar one. Yet today Amanece is as popular as it has ever been. Its numerous fans--often referred to as amanecistas--still know entire dialogues by heart and some sentences from the film have been incorporated into the Spanish vernacular. In several interviews, Cuerda has proudly associated Amanece with the Spanish picaresque tradition, along with costumbrismo and expressionism. Several critics have associated the film with surrealism and consider the intertextuality with Luis Buñuel's surrealist films. In contrast, as seen in the epigraph, Cuerda (while admitting the influence of Buñuel, as well as those of Berlanga and Azcona, Fernando Fernán Gómez, and Marco Ferreri), insists that there is nothing surrealist in the film, since every scene was very well reasoned and consciously prepared, leaving nothing to the mechanical and free association of ideas.

            The case can be made, however, that some viewers will associate the levitation scenes, the rain of Calasparra rice dropped by angels, and other related scenes with the Latin American literary tradition universally popularized by Gabriel García Márquez's Cien años de soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude, 1967). Even if the comedic outlook of the film may distance it from the everyday-occurrence atmosphere of the magical realist scenes in García Márquez's novel, the common denominator is still there. Tellingly, in the third scene of the original script written by Cuerda in 1984 for a television series and titled "Ab urbe condita," we read:12 "A flood of people rushes toward the church. The ones who run faster are a couple of men who levitate. Their legs cross the air at large strides. This levitation does not surprise anyone" (my italics).13 Therefore, as is typical of Latin American literary magical realism, in this scene (as in many others in the film) we have something extraordinary, unreal, and magical that takes place in an otherwise realistic, everyday setting, blending organically with it and to no one's surprise. Throughout the film, characters strike up the most outrageous dialogues, which they deliver with complete seriousness and in realist settings in a remote mountainous, small town (Lampreave and Ciges are particularly successful in their scenes). They unproblematically continue with their routines after witnessing marvelous, extravagant, and bizarre occurrences, which include, among others, a sunrise that takes place in the wrong place; a mayor who hangs himself to protest the fact that local men want his girlfriend to be "communal," but never dies14 (and the local priest senses the scene from far away through the "mystic body of Christ"); a drunkard with a sober doppelgänger; a woman who reaches puberty at age sixty and is older than her own mother;15 and an adulterous woman who delivers twins with no need for nine-month pregnancies, only ten minutes after having sex with Morencos, a local farmer and "intellectual" who produces fiery flatulence upon seeing a women he finds desirable. According to Lois Parkinson Zamora, contemporary magical realists "undermine the credibility of narrative realism by flaunting the relative incredibility of their own texts" (501). This is obviously the case in Total and Amanece, where we even have a character, Cascales (played by Quique San Franscisco), who tries throughout the film to exchange his role with others.

            As stated, the humor in Amanece is blended with subtle social criticism of Spanish idiosyncrasies, institutional perpetuation of power, and backward sociocultural customs. Thus, the elections are always won by the same people: the mayor continues to be the mayor and the secret police beats the civil guards… but they are the same people. The Church is also mocked and criticized: Paquito (played by Manuel Alexandre) asks his son, the priest, if instead of fasting, it would not be better to give that food to the poor, and the only black man in town, Ngé Ndomo, is not allowed to go to mass, because he is a catechumen. Mocking empty political correctness, several
characters remind Ngé that he is not "black," but an "ethnic minority." Yet racism persists and, after decades living under the same roof, his uncle continues to be scared of Ngé every time they run into each other at home. American imperialism is also parodied when the mayor expels students of the Inexistent University of Eaton from town and they latter threaten him with retaliation once they attain absolute power. And the civil guard does not arrest Jimmy for killing his wife (since in the capital city, civil guards did not think he deserved to be arrested), but they do imprison a Latin American writer for plagiarizing William Faulkner. Civil guards also exert control on how alcoholics get inebriated and even on local sexual habits.

            Moving back to the topic of magical realism, in the three films, Total, Amanece and El bosque animado, we have levitation scenes, doppelgängers, apparitions, and other fantastical events that are associated with magical realism whenever they emerge naturally from everyday social interactions and characters conceive of them as just another aspect of their mundane life. As in García Márquez's magical realist texts, these scenes are, for the most part, an exaggeration or parody of real events witnessed by the author (or in this case, the scriptwriter and director) during his childhood. In the case of Amanece, even the atemporal nature of the plot and its indefinite location, together with the fact that the setting is associated with a seemingly pre-modern, rural Spain, full of donkeys and lacking any sort of technology, is reminiscent of magical realism's tendency to include non-western cultural traditions that challenge hegemonic, western modernity. In Parkinson Zamora's words, magical realist texts "seem to pulsate with proliferations and conflations of worlds, with appearances and disappearances and multiplications of selves and societies" (501).

            While peripheral, the settings in Total and Amanece still belong to a western society. Yet they share the subversive nature of many magical realist texts written in the so-called Third Word in that there is also a subtle undercurrent of satirical political messages. Thus, as mentioned, during local elections (which include the election of the local prostitute, the adulterous women, the butch, and the town fool) in Amanece, institutions and their leaders barely change. We also find the sad social reality of Latin American exiles who try to make a living as novelists but, as expected, it is tempered with humor: one of them, Bruno, ends up plagiarizing William Faulkner, who happens to be everyone's favorite writer in town. On the other hand, one of the sources of absurdist humor and perhaps the biggest risk in the film is the contrast between the costumbrista, rural, pre-modern setting and the locals' fascination with William Faulkner, Fyodor Dostoyevski, renaissance Castilian madrigals and George Frederick Handel's arias, or the sophisticated vocabulary used in certain scenes. As Juan A. Ríos Carratalá points out, "The dialogues and situations in Amanece que no es poco do not try to mock highbrow, and therefore extraordinary, culture inserted in a rural ambience that is supposedly ignorant and even provincial . . . Our smile is more joyous than satirical upon realizing how naturally an apparently logical order is subverted."16 In this way, the filmmaker contributes to break down new barriers. In the words of Steven Marsh et al., "Cuerda's work of the 1980s and early 1990s, in its exploitation of the comic possibilities of the conjunction of surrealism and the everyday, helps to break down the traditional critical dichotomy between arthouse cinema and popular film" (198). Cuerda's preference for these pre-modern settings, seemingly in a post-civil war deep (and rancid) Spain, also goes against the grain of the 1980s Spanish cinema that was beginning to be celebrated abroad: the cosmopolitan, urban, and modern Spain of Pedro Almodóvar's and Fernando Trueba's films.

            Cuerda's comments in several of his interviews reveal that his childhood in post-civil war Albacete, Castile-La Mancha, and his education at a Catholic school and then in a seminary provided him with a rich source of inspiration for the odd stories that he would later satirize in his films. After all, there is a reason why in Amanece, American students of the Inexistent University of Eaton, Belgian meteorologists, and dissidents of the Soviet Army Choirs travel all the way to this town just to see Don Andrés, the world-renowned local priest and devout admirer of free will (played by Cassen), deliver the liturgy and dramatically elevate the holy host during the Eucharist. A standing
 ovation of the locals, who attend mass everyday of the year and conceive of it as a sort of theatrical performance, together with the American students' singing of the traditional folk song "The Yellow Rose of Texas," follow the sacrament. Therefore, rather than pure imagination, as the viewer might think, the humorous scenes in Cuerda's 1980s films build on his own perplexity, as a child, when trying to rationalize the odd things (including cultural, religious, and sociopolitical conventions) that he saw every day. He recalls, for example, how one day the second floor of an apartment gave in, leaving his mother hanging from the neck, with only her head visible. This strange episode ended up being the source for the scenes in Amanece where men grow in an agricultural terrace (one of them, Garcinuño, sprouted back in the sixteenth century but failed to ripen adequately because he led a lustful life). Regarding these same scenes, the director has also pointed out in interviews that since he enjoys playing with the literal meaning of words, for him, the best way to represent how deeply a man is rooted to his homeland is to plant him. In his book Amanece que no es poco, Cuerda also considers the possibility that the inspiration may have come from the often used metaphor of the seedbed in the seminary where he studied for three years.

            To make clear that the outrageous fiction of Amanece is not so distant either from the sources that inspired him or from the daily life in the towns of the Sierra del Segura (Molinicos, Aýna, and Liétor, all of them in Albacete province) where he filmed it, Cuerda is quick to point out some locals' reaction to the presence of the filming crew. For example, he recalls that an elderly man who was stopped by civil guards while carrying a rifle in town confessed that he was looking for the actors because "he had had enough of them." Even more surrealistically, the Spanish Civil Guard gave Cuerda the Silver Cross of the Order of Merit, and explained to him the high-ranked officers loved his film (characters playing civil guards have a major role and their headquarters boast the sign "Headquarters and Public Library").17 Likewise, a baker, the filmmaker recalls, assured very seriously to everyone that he had known those agricultural terraces all his life and that it was impossible that a man would ever grow in them. Even the opening scene in Amanece is, according to Cuerda, a literal transcription of the comments of a local man, who explained solemnly to the filming crew why there was no inn in town: although the place was very cultured and boasted a variegated folklore, visitors had to stay in private homes "to avoid something bad from happening to local women."18

            Overall, Cuerda's three 1980s films fluctuate between the more conventional magical realism of El bosque animado (although inspired by a Spanish novel published before the emergence of Latin American literary magical realism) and a unique version of magical realism in Total and Amanece, which resorts to absurdist contrasts between the marvelous and the real to elicit laughter. Particularly interesting is the fact that while Amanece was not very successful at the box office when it was first released and received a very negative critical reception, a quarter of a century later it is more popular than ever: one of the Facebook pages dedicated to it has over 100,000 followers, many of them participate in amanecista meetings, and there is a touristic route to visit the locations where it was filmed, along with a museum devoted to the filming of Amanece and a short film contest named Amanece que no es corto with the condition to use the same locations in the Sierra de Segura. Furthermore, contemporary Spanish comedians, such as the protagonists of the television show Muchachada Nui, openly admit the influence of the film Amanece. This shows that the initially misunderstood film has struck a chord in the collective subconscious of contemporary Spanish
viewers. But why did it become a cult film decades after it was produced? Was Cuerda a visionary who was ahead of his time? Perhaps its current success stems from the uniqueness of its grotesque humor, which is reminiscent of Valle-Inclán's esperpento (a literary style invented by Spanish author

Ramón María del Valle-Inclán that uses distorted and grotesque descriptions of reality to criticize society sarcastically), but still an original, unique blend of magical realism, absurdism, and social commentary that ignored mainstream cinematic standards. Ultimately, however, Cuerda's hilarious humor hides a sort of repressed rage (also present in his numerous Tweets) that exposes the essential absurdity of some traditional religious values and sociopolitical idiosyncrasies in Spain, which continued to be alive in the 1980s, despite the advent and celebration of democracy. Veiled behind the caricature and the laughter, therefore, there is a subtle invitation to reflect on the absurdity and incoherence of our own Spanish reality.


1. "Lo mío, esa es mi firme creencia, no es surrealismo, como se ha dicho, sino pegarle un revolcón a la lógica, fajarse con ella cuerpo a cuerpo y retorcerle el pescuezo hasta que vomite sus últimos argumentos" (n.p.).

2. "Ni siquiera el realismo mágico tiene copy-right latinoamericano, ya que lo encontramos en autores españoles como Valle Inclán, Álvaro Cunqueiro y Juan Perucho. ¿Por qué el fantasma de la novela El lápiz del carpintero (1998) de Manuel Rivas tiene que provenir del espectro de Prudencio Aguilar de Cien años de soledad (1967), si los fantasmas ya hablaban con los vivos en El bosque animado (1943) de Wenceslao Fernández-Flórez? ¿Por qué la apócrifa aventura de la Cueva de Montesinos no puede ser el primer episodio 'real maravilloso' de la historia de la literatura en español? Cualquiera que conozca mínimamente esa delirante cultura que engendró la multitud de Vidas de Santos, Crónicas de Indias y novelas del Siglo de Oro, estaría de acuerdo conmigo en que la mariposa latinoamericana del realismo mágico alguna vez fue un gusano barroco español.

            Comprendo que para un lector alemán lo latinoamericano pueda ser 'mágico', 'exótico' y 'sobrenatural', pero cuando escucho semejantes adjetivos dentro de España se me alborota el cóndor que se supone que todos los peruanos escondemos en la jaula del canario. En España los nigromantes, adivinadores y charlatanes tienen más presencia que los científicos e investigadores en la televisión pública, pero eso no es realismo mágico. En numerosas plazas de toros españolas y en diversos aviones de la flota de Iberia no existe la fila de asientos número 13, pero eso no es realismo mágico. Y en Bélmez--un pueblo de la provincia andaluza de Jaén—el ayuntamiento ha declarado monumento local una casa donde aparecen y desaparecen una serie de rostros fantasmagóricos, pero eso tampoco es realismo mágico aunque ese pueblo sea gobernado por Izquierda Unida" (49).

3. "--¿Un fantasma?...

-- Estaría más indicado decir un alma en pena. Eso soy, por mi desventura" (182).

4. "Cando penso que te fuches, / negra sombra que me asombras, / ó pé dos meus cabezales / tornas facéndome mofa. // Cando maxino que es ida, / no mesmo sol te me amostras, / i eres a estrela que brila, / i eres o vento que zoa. // Si cantan, es ti que cantas, / si choran, es ti que choras, / i es o marmurio do río / i es a noite i es a aurora. // En todo estás e ti es todo, / pra min i en min mesma moras, / nin me abandonarás nunca, / sombra que sempre me asombras."

5. "Entonces decidí que, si querían risa, iban a tener risa de la mía. Sería una comedia, pero 'raruna'. En España era absurdo hacer comedias al estilo Berlanga, porque ya las hacía él y nadie las iba a hacer mejor" (Tagarro n.p.).

6. "De los escolapios con los que me tocó convivir solo puedo decir que apenas redime sus actos injustificables el hecho de que, como supe después, las Escuelas Pías de Albacete eran para la orden escolapia el penal de la región valenciana, procedencia mayoritaria de aquellos pobres diablos, cuyo destino acabó en la gusanera—como el de todos—en vez de—de seguir sus aparentes creencias—en el infierno, que tanto merecían. Quien desee ampliar estudios sobre este asunto, que pregunte a cuantos cursamos en los años cincuenta y primeros sesenta en ese centro y pasamos por las manos de semejantes preceptores. No sabe nadie que no estuviera allí lo literal que es lo que acabo de escribir" (12).

7. "y dan más leche. Esto último a pesar de su tamaño más reducido y en contra de la lógica y de la realidad" (n.p).

8. "la película más insólita realizada en toda la Historia del Cine español" (33).

9. With this film, Cuerda won in 1988 six Goya awards: best film, best actor (Alfredo Landa), best script, best costume designs, and best music.

10. "Soy el ánima de Fiz de Cotovelo que anda penando por estos caminos en busca de un cristiano" (n.p.).

11. There are numerous jokes about the character Ngé Ndomo (played by Samuel Claxton) being black, we are told that South American characters some days ride a bicycle while others they "smell well," and Jimmy (played by Luis Ciges) kills his wife because "she was very bad." Ciges's character, incidentally, also kills his wife in Total.

12. The original script can be found in the recently published book Amanece que no es poco, which also includes explanations and anecdotes, scenes that were not filmed or did not appear in the final cut, and photographs of the shooting. As to the title of this manuscript, "Ab urbe condita," it is plausible that Cuerda's three years in a seminary influenced his fondness for Latin terms.

13. "Riadas de gente apresurada se dirigen a la iglesia. Los que más corren son un par de hombres que levitan. Sus piernas cruzan el aire a grandes zancadas. Esta levitación no llama la atención de nadie" (93).

14. A character named Erminio is executed by hanging in Total, but he resurrects.

15. We have a similar situation in Total, where the character played by Manuel Alexandre is older than that of his father, played by Agustín González. Cuerda found the inspiration for this incongruence in the fact that he always considered himself older than his own father, who reportedly died at age eighty with the body of an adolescent.

16. "Los diálogos y las situaciones de Amanece que no es poco no pretenden hacer burla de lo culto, y por eso mismo extraordinario, insertado en un ámbito rural que se supone ignorante y hasta paleto . . . Nuestra sonrisa es más gozosa que satírica al comprobar la naturalidad con la que se subvierte un orden aparentemente lógico" (58).

17. "Casa Cuartel y Biblioteca Pública" (n.p.).

18. "por lo que les pueda ocurrir a las mujeres" (n.p.).




















Works Cited

Amanece que no es poco. Dir. José Luis Cuerda. Perf. Antonio Resines, Luis Ciges, José "Saza"     Sazatornil, Chus Lampreave, Gabino Diego. Compañía de Aventuras Comerciales, TVE, Paraíso, 1988.

Así en el cielo como en la tierra. Dir. José Luis Cuerda. Perf. Fernando Fernán Gómez,             Francisco Rabal, Jesús Bonilla, Luis Ciges. Atrium Productions, 1995.

Bienvenido, Mister Marshall. Dir. Luis García Berlanga. Perf. José Isbert, Manolo Morá, Lolita   Sevilla. Uninci. 1953.

El bosque animado. Dir. José Luis Cuerda. Perf. Alfredo Landa, Tito Valverde, Alejandra Grepi,         Fernando Rey, Manuel Alexandre, Luis Cijes. Classic Films Producción, 1987.

Caparrós Lera, José María. El cine de nuestros días (1994-1998). Madrid: Rialp, 1999. Print.

Fernández Flórez, Wenceslao. Relato inmoral. Barcelona: Planeta, 1958. Print.

García Márquez, Gabriel. One Hundred Years of Solitude. New York: Perennial Classics, 1998.


Marsh, Steven, Chris Perriam, Eva Woods Peiró and Santos Zunzunegui. "Comedy and             Musicals." A Companion to Spanish Cinema. Ed. Jo Labanyi,Tatjana Pavlović. Malden,           Massachusetts: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013. 193-223.

Parkinson Zamora, Lois. "Magical Romance/Magical Realism: Ghosts in U.S. and Latin
American Fiction." Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community. Ed. Lois Parkinson        Zamora and Wendy B. Faris. Durham, North Carolina: Duke UP, 1995. 497-550. Print.

Ríos Carratalá, Juan A. La sonrisa del inútil: imágenes de un pasado cercano. Alicante, Spain:          Publicaciones Universidad de Alicante, 2008. Print.

Tagarro, Ana. "Saza, que no es poco." XL Semanal. 6 oct. 2013. Web.

Total. Dir. José Luis Cuerda. Perf. Miguel Rellán, Manuel Alexandre, Luis Ciges, María Luisa    Ponte. TVE, 1983.

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