PLÁCIDO (Luis García Berlanga, 1961)

In the best of times, Plácido Alonso is a modest carrier. These are not the best of times. His three-wheel van, which he is currently using to deliver charitable fruit baskets, and which he is slotted to drive in his town’s upcoming cavalcade (a mark of prestige), is about to be repossessed. He hasn’t been able to keep up with his rent payments, either, a result of which is that he and his family must live in a public lavatory. Does anyone care about the poor? Why, of course they do! Certain fortunate ladies will each seat a poor person at her dinner table to share a bit of her household’s bounty this Christmas Eve; and the generosity of the Catholic Church, heaven knows, continues unabated.
      Luis García Berlanga’s Plácido, which García Berlanga co-wrote mostly with Rafael Azcona, is a dark, dazzling, extremely funny satire of the equivocal nature of charity and the hypocrisy of individual and institutional professions of compassion and concern.
     The frenetic pace of the dialogue, coupled with the intricate complexity of the people-crowded black-and-white mise-en-scène, besides suggesting familiarity with the satirical cinema of Preston Sturges, relates to the desperation of the poor as they struggle to survive. The connection is subtle since, after all, much of the activity we witness is ostensibly for the benefit of the poor, who, in reality, remain a fixture in society’s low esteem. The film shares several points of thematic commonality with another Spanish film from the same year, Luis Buñuel’s Viridiana, an even more unmerciful examination of the disparity between rich and poor in Franco’s Spain. But the descent into pitch-darkness of García Berlanga’s Plácido is both gripping and haunting. There’s a chill to the night.
      Casto Sendra—“Cassen”—is marvelous as Plácido.

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