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Posted by martinteller on April 14, 2013

The nuclear scientist Professor Jorge Hamilton (Edmund Gwenn) has disappeared, and everyone’s looking for him, afraid that he might spill military secrets.  But he’s simply getting away from it all.  Sick of making bombs, he’s hiding out in the small island fishing village of Calabuch, population 928.  A town so small, remote and untroubled that their militia wears ancient Roman garb and wields spears.  Jorge gets picked up for loitering, but in this idyllic paradise the jail is as comfy as any other place, and the prisoners are free to wander out… as long as they promise to come back at night.  Jorge makes friends among the town’s inhabitants, doing odd jobs and helping out.  When he learns about the upcoming fireworks contest, he sees an opportunity to make a big splash… maybe too big, as his rocket threatens to draw too much attention to his whereabouts.

This is my fourth film by Luis García Berlanga, and is just as witty and charming as the others.  The town of Calabuch is populated with memorable characters.  Lobster (Franco Fabrizi), the smuggler and Jorge’s cellmate.  They let him out at night because he’s the only one who knows how to run the village’s movie projector.  Eloisa (Valentina Cortese), the school teacher who holds a torch for Lobster.  Matias (Juan Calvo), the ineffectual militia leader.  Teresa (Maria Vico), Matias’s daughter, and her lover Juan (Manuel Alexandre).  Matias won’t allow them to wed because Juan doesn’t own a boat.  Andrés (Nicolás Perichot) the resident fireworks expert; Don Félix (Félix Fernándex) the priest who cheats at chess; Don Ramón (José Isbert) the lighthouse keeper campaigning for an upgrade to his lamp.  And then there’s the painter who takes 3 days to paint one word on a boat, and the bullfighter with the lethargic bull.  The town moves at its own speed.

It’s a delightful cast of fun personalities in enjoyable situations, and lovable Gwenn at the center.  Certainly best known as Santa Claus in Miracle on 34th Street, this would be his final film role.  I don’t know enough about the man to know if he was speaking his own Spanish, but if he wasn’t, it’s a terrific dubbing job.  His delight in getting to know the people of Calabuch and put his wisdom to use is infectious.  It’s a very endearing performance.

The film does some gentle ribbing of authority and militarism, not really sharp enough to be very effective as satire but it scores a few points here and there.  It may be that some of the satire is too culturally specific for me to appreciate.  Either way, it’s a highly entertaining, funny movie with a terrific cast and a lot of warmth.  The editing provides some wonderful transitions, where action or dialogue from one scene carries directly into the next.  The ending is perhaps too abrupt — and a bit disappointing — but otherwise it’s another win for Berlanga.  Rating: Very Good (82)


2 Responses to “Calabuch”

  1. Waldo Gemio said

    Astonishingly, yours appears to be the only serious review posted online. It’s as if this revered director were a complete unknown! I saw this on DVD yesterday and agree with everything you say. The satire had to be light, of course, since the Francoist censorship was heavy and people were being executed on a daily basis for being on the losing side of the Spanish Civil War. Thanks for bringing this delightful film to the attention of more viewers.

    • Berlanga! So good. I really should seek out more of his work. Thank you for your comments! I take a certain pride in being the only review, but I’d love for more people to discover this film and spread the word.

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