September 12, 2011

Film: ¡Bienvenido, Mister Marshall! (1953)

Movie poster by Jano, an important Spanish poster designer
I highly recommend this movie to all Americans coming to Spain, if for no other reason than for its very well-known main song:
"¡Os recibimos, americanos con alegría!"
[Translation: Americans, we receive you with joy! (You can find the full Spanish lyrics here.)]
This 1953 Spanish film masterpiece was directed by Luis García Berlanga, who was an expert at outwitting the Franco dictatorship censors through the adroit use of situational irony and subtle satire.

The basic premise of the story (based loosely on real historical events) is that a small town, Villar del Río, learns of an American diplomatic visit that might possibly pass through it. (The broad backdrop to the movie is the end of the isolationist period of the Franco dictatorship around 1953.) Hoping to impress the Americans so that they will benefit from the lucrative Marshall Plan, the townspeople prepare to mount a spectacle for the Americans which will demonstrate "typical Spanish culture and peoples." Needless to say, the preparations are hilarious for their ambition, things don't turn out quite as planned, and the humorous turn for the worse provides an amazing filmic critique of 1950s Spain (this despite the continued political repressions during this period in Spain's history).

Video clip where the townspeople practice their
welcome parade and sing the main song.

What makes this movie a joy to watch is the way Berlanga captures, almost like a time-capsule, the small-town dynamics of Spain under the dictatorship.
"Bienvenido Mr. Davos" in this 2002 falla is a
reference to the World Economic Forum
annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland
Moreover, Americans will love the scene when the school-teacher, tasked with educating the townspeople about the American visitors, provides a lesson in American geography and history which will leave you howling for its simplicity (imagine efforts to draw comparisons between Spain and the U.S. by people who have never left their own village). This play on the 'culture of the other' makes the film timelessly entertaining.

And if you pay attention, you will continue to see references to the movie in political critiques today, usually in the form of "Bienvenido Mister ____."

Another of Berlanga's films, which I have yet to see but which people here tell me is also excellent, is El Verdugo (1963), about an executioner approaching retirement age. Needless to say, Berlanga's movies make for an excellent introduction into Spain's more recent history and social and political culture, while still being quite good entertainment for its own sake!

Luis García Berlanga (1921–2010), Spanish film director

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