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José María Forqué
José Luis López Vázquez,
In a small spanish town, a group of old ladies decide to celebrate Christmas Eve with a "Sit a poor man at your table" dinner: each wealthy household of the town will have a homeless person dining with them that night. The celebrations also include a parade, and in it we find Plácido, the humble owner of a three-wheeler, whose family is forced to live in a public lavatory because of the lack of money to pay the rent, and who has to pay the second bill of his vehicle before midnight or else he will lose it. Written by
This was the fifth Berlanga outing I have checked out after CALABUCH (1956), the compendium THREE FABLES OF LOVE (1962), his masterpiece NOT ON YOUR LIFE (1963) and LIFE SIZE (1974; which I only watched in a trimmed version) however, I also own WELCOME, MR. MARSHALL! in my collection.
The film under review is a satire about a small-town's attempt to increase its business by inviting movie stars over for their Christmas parade, as well as displaying its social conscience by having elderly locals foisted as dinner guests upon its leading citizens. Both moves are disastrous as, in the first, only second-rate actors turn up.while the aged unsurprisingly prove a burden on the hosts too busy with their own varied agendas! The title figure, then, is an ordinary fellow trying to make ends meet in order to sustain a large (and invariably bickering) family.
As can be gleaned from the above premise, the movie features such an extensive cast of characters as to resolve itself in an endless sea of chatter - tiring the viewer out trying to keep up with the large but unevenly placed English subtitles! This is not to say that the end result is not enjoyable throughout: indeed, there are a number of laugh-out-loud moments along the way - notably, a disgruntled veteran thespian complaining that he was overlooked in the luncheon assignations and being told by the organizer that he might be better off joining the ranks of the aged instead!; one of the latter suffers a heart attack and, discovered to be "living in sin" by the pious owners with a woman being feasted in another household, it is decided that they marry before the man expires (which he does soon after the ceremony, held despite his sudden reluctance to take the woman for his wife!).
The eventual winner of the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, for which this was nominated, was Sweden's THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY; the other candidates were three obscure entries from Denmark, Japan and Mexico (albeit featuring Japanese star Toshiro Mifune!); for the record, among those unsuccessfully submitted for this category were SUMMER SKIN (Argentina - which I own but is unwatched so far), LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD (France) and LA NOTTE (Italy). While, as I said, PLACIDO has undeniable merit, it does come across as rather lightweight in this company (for what it is worth, the film is included - indeed, ranked quite highly - in the "Wonders In The Dark" all-time top 3,000 movies list) and was voted fourth best Spanish film by industry insiders and critics in a 1996 Spanish cinema centenary poll(!)...which makes one wonder what the outcome would have been had Luis Bunuel's scandalous homecoming effort i.e. VIRIDIANA (bestowed with the Palme D'Or at Cannes) been entered in the Oscars race in its place! Interestingly enough, PLACIDO did eventually come up against Bunuel's subsequent film THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL (1962) at the Cannes Film Festival, but they were both defeated by Brazil's THE GIVEN WORD aka KEEPER OF PROMISES (1962).
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