FIESTA (Pierre Boutron, 1995)

“Killing has no rank.”

Rafael: “Only my father may judge what’s right for me.”

Masagual, showing contempt for a Jesuit: “You sold out. I know. I’m the buyer.”

Masagual, to Rafael: “We worship war! We play at it like sport!”

Masagual, to orderly: “This war, which we’re going to win, will lead to a sordid world. . . . Once peace breaks out, the Sancho Panzas will slaughter Don Quixote and take power.”

Masagual: “Do you like your job, shooting people?” Rafael: “I suppose it has to be done.”

From José Luis de Villalonga’s autobiographical novel, published the same year that the film was released, writer-director Pierre Boutron’s Fiesta centers on two characters: 17-year-old Rafael de Los Cobos, whose father has him whisked out of his French military school when the Spanish Civil War breaks out; Colonel Masagual, his superior officer who trains this “idealistic little aristocrat” for duty at the front by adding him to Franco’s execution squad. There are a few potent images—for instance: the blood-stained wall; the angled overhead shot of blood red-capped soldiers mopping up the blood after two consecutive rows of executions, ironically suggesting that no amount of such effort can ever fully do the job. What principally commends the film, however, are the pungent dialogues (see above) and the brilliant lead performances by Grégoire Colin and Jean-Louis Trintignant.
     Masagual is one of the most fascinating roles of Trintignant’s career—an unexpectedly homosexual one where this orientation isn’t the most pressing matter. (Compare Richard Burton’s and Rex Harrison’s stunt-acting as gays in Stanley Donen’s dreadful Staircase, 1969). What a sight he is! Bantering with his orderly while wearing a hair net in his private quarters, Masagual looks alarmingly like Malcolm McDowell. Alcoholic and drug-addicted, Masagual is sufficiently embittered to mentor Rafael sadistically, bullying him into becoming a cold-blooded killer (and, incidentally, rapist). Perhaps the lowest blow he strikes in this regard comes when he tells the boy that he himself has never killed anyone. Indeed, the sparring between these two is continually irrigated by rivulets of sharp irony.
     Also an actor, José Luis de Villalonga played Holly’s Brazilian millionaire in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Blake Edwards, 1961).

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