I think I’ll watch a bunch of Luis García Berlanga films this year given how great The Executioner was. La Boutique is his follow-up. It’s entertaining, has some similarities to The Executioner (the wry look at relationships and the passage of time), and, though it doesn’t add up to the same power, is a really strong follow-up.
The opening title sequence reminds me of the one from Peppermint Frappe, which is interesting because they came out the same year:
La Boutique also feels Italian. Like Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow or some other dark-comedy, marriage-based film. Ricardo (Rodolfo Bebán) is a playboy who is not in love with his wife of one year, Carmen (Sonia Bruno). All of that changes – and the dynamic of their relationship eventually does a complete 180 – when her mother, Luisa (Ana María Campoy) lies to Ricardo that her daughter has a terminal illness.
Berlanga utilizes a pretty loose, often handheld camera. He’s got a lot of long takes, but the formal approach from The Executioner that I liked so much, and those daring, dark frames are mostly gone.
Still the blocking is excellent. He often stays pretty wide, like in this sequence, where Ricardo is at work and his mother-in-law pays him a visit:
The camera tracks back and finds an ending frame with a lot of depth. The reverse shot-
Is also quite deep. I feel like the film gets more contained as it progresses. This sequence, much later in the film, has the feel of the second half. It’s one of my favorite scenes in the film. Carmen has opened up a boutique (it’s pretty hilarious how much Berlanga makes fun of the fashion and modern art).
Like in his 1963 film we start on extras. I love the beginning of this shot also because the priest and altar boy feel so out of place. It coincides with a time jump so we’re pretty disoriented, which is good. Love that Belmondo image, too:
We navigate some tight, cramped spaces expertly before finding Piti (Marilina Ross), Carmen’s assistant, who then brings us through the rest of the space, past extras, and to Carmen:
It feels different than the first part, also because we’ve switched the focal point a bit. What started as Ricardo’s film has now either become Carmen’s (or maybe it’s just evenly both of theirs).
Many of Berlanga’s images are either funny-
Or beautifully abstract (while also being funny. That’s a roll of toilet paper from a ridiculously hilarious ad we see being shot earlier in the film. One where the director keeps telling his leading lady, “Stanslavski! Interior Method!”)-
The end of La Boutique is really dark. It’s also pretty funny. And a little ridiculous. Berlanga’s got style, and the film mostly only suffers because an outright masterpiece preceded it. On its own it’s tight, funny, and meaningful.