The Executioner (Berlanga, 1963)

Wow, how have I never seen The Executioner before? Easily one of the best films I’ve seen in some time. It’s got elements of Buñuel, reminded me of some Neo-realist films, and is really just masterful in all regards.

As I noted in my last post on Satyajit Ray, I’m more and more interested in how directors transition from scene to scene. Luis García Berlanga’s approach is different than Ray’s. Here’s one of the early ones. Antonio (José Luis López Vázquez), older brother of José Luis (Nino Manfredi) comically measures his child’s head. Berlanga cuts from this shot to a wide of a bunch of characters we’ve never seen before:

This new shot in the new location then continues, until we find the main character. That’s José Luis reclining, frame left, and his bride-to-be Carmen (Emma Penella) in the foreground, frame right:

In the course of this I also looked quickly at recent popular films that I love. I scanned through No Country For Old Men and Zodiac. The Coens use some visual-verbal matching (a character talks about burial, cut to a CU of a coffin being lowered into a grave); a lot of J-cuts (music leaking into the scene as Josh Brolin stumbles down a bridge at night. Cut to him, in MCU, now during the day, with a mariachi band playing above him; that same coffin sound – the creak precedes the image); and classic graphic matching (Javier Bardem looks at the scrape marks in the empty air duct. Cut to a wide POV through a windshield (another J-cut), where the road matches the duct).

In Zodiac Fincher relies really heavily on J-cuts as well. He also uses a lot of general sound cuts (a lighter flicks on on the cut, for example). And he definitely isn’t afraid to cut wide to wide.

Here’s more from The Executioner. José Luis and Carmen hold hands, and then we cut to two brand new characters. Is this José Luis and Carmen again? Nope, it’s an unnamed pilot and stewardess, intentionally designed to look like the leads, who block past José Luis and his friend:

Or this one, where we go from a wide marriage proposal to what one might think is a wedding-

-but is in fact just José Luis’ fellow employees goofing around. Another visual joke. Like this one, where we go from José Luis and Carmen in various forms of intimacy to an actual packed church…

…only to find out that this is not their wedding, but that of some couple that we’ll never meet again.

Berlanga does this time and again in the film. Some of them are clever and funny, others just move as along to some brief sidetrack. José Luis rides away to perform an execution; Berlanga cuts to extras (who, like the pilot and stewardess perhaps remind us of José Luis and Carmen) who then reveal the main characters:

That strategy of cutting to another man and woman is also really intentional, and thematic. The Executioner feels Italian in this way. It’s very much about the tribulations of young love (not to mention about overcrowdedness, something that starts to crop up in Neo-realism and moves beyond that).

There are several other sly commentaries in here. Like the hip young couple who knows Antonioni and Bergman, but not their fellow countryman (and maybe, by extension, not Berlanga):

Screen Shot 2017-07-03 at 11.50.24 AM

There’s a beautiful, eerie scene in a cavern that reminds of Fellini or the recent The Wonders

Screen Shot 2017-07-03 at 11.51.48 AM

-but that is then comically punctuated by an unwanted boat intruding, paging José Luis:

Screen Shot 2017-07-03 at 11.51.38 AM

And there are atmospheric, memorable frames. My favorite is this one, which also happens to be one of my favorite crane shots that I’ve seen in awhile:

This could be from The Trial. The huge space, white walls, tiny door.

I won’t even get into Berlanga’s blocking. Suffice to say, he uses minimal coverage, motivates his camera simply, but often, with character movement, frequently pulls away to wide 2-shots or pushes in for emphasis, and is quite active.

 

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About dcpfilm

Shooting, teaching, writing and watching the Phillies.
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