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La muerte de un burócrata (The Death of a Bureaucrat)

Posted by martinteller on January 12, 2014

Paco was an “exemplary worker”, an inventor who created a machine that could rapidly spit out patriotic busts.  At his funeral, one of his co-workers gives an impassioned speech about his contributions to the proletariat, and in a gesture of honoring his dedication to the workers, buries Paco’s work card with him.  But Paco’s widow (Silvia Planas) discovers she can’t collect the pension without presenting the card.  Nephew Juanchin (Salvador Wood) tries to get around the red tape by digging up the corpse himself.  Now he’s got the work card… but he’s also stuck with the body.  And it’ll be a bureaucratic headache of nightmare proportions to get it buried again.

The film begins with the opening credits in the form of a wordy contract.  The first person in the “thanks” section is Luis Buñuel.  And I think Buñuel would have appreciated not only the pointed satire, but also the surreal dream sequences, casual blasphemy and sense of humor.  Also among the thank yous are Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, and Laurel and Hardy.  The movie involves a lot of slapstick… sometimes a little too much slapstick, such as the sped-up footage.  But there’s something beautifully subversive about a pie fight in a cemetery.  And Alea pulls no punches when it comes to skewering pointless, impersonal bureaucracy.  Juanchin rightfully goes insane trying to navigate the system, full of misdirection and dispassionate clerks.

I could criticize the film for not being laugh-out-loud funny, but honestly few films are.  It was certainly amusing and clever (except a few occasions when it’s not, e.g., the aforementioned sped-up footage).  Wood has an appropriately downtrodden screen presence, a sad sack type with some Keaton-esque qualities.  The photography is quite good, and the images of confusing government buildings brought to mind The Trial by Orson Welles (who also gets a shout-out in the credits, as do Kurosawa, Vigo and Bergman).  Maybe the perils of bureaucratic red tape aren’t the most original subject matter for satire, but it’s a generally enjoyable treatment of it, with a gleeful yet macabre strain of absurdity.  In my opinion a more successful picture than Alea’s more famous Memories of Underdevelopment.  Rating: Good (78)


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