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Ferpect Crime a side-splitting comedy at Vallalodid

After viewing Costa-Gavras' "Couperet" (Arcadia) screened at the opening ceremony as the festival curtain-raiser, (out of competition), I am still holding my breath trying to decide what to think of it. Yes, it did have certain Hitchcockian echoes of "black humor", and yes, it was a thriller of sorts, and yes, there were certain socio-political overtones, and the performances by Jose García (the harried serial killer) and Karin Viard (the harried wife of the harried serial killer) were good and solid, but ... was this over-stretched study of a nice psychopathic family man at all believable? – and, do we really need another serial-killer film in this age of serial-killer film Overkill?

For me the main problem was that the film is too script driven forcing the anti-hero killer into too many hard to swallow situations, which noticeably detracts from whatever desire the viewer may have to take any of this seriously. Thirty-nine year old French-Spanish actor José García does his level best with the material but is more convincing as a disturbed husband than as a calculating, cold-blooded serial assassin. The best parts of the film are actually not the various killings, carried out, or humorously (?) flubbed, but rather the study of a middle-class marriage in danger and the marriage counselling scenes with a black-African psychologist who is a pinnacle of white urbane normality. Certain pin-pricks at established social morality keep popping up, such as the observation -- made from unsuspecting prospective victim to potential killer, both of them laid off in mid-career for little reason other than cold corporate "restructuring" -- that the work force has to support a growing number of useless old people (whereas Eskimos wisely abandon the elderly on ice floes), while the corporations keep firing their best middle managers in the name of better earnings with younger employees.

The whole thing is based on a Donald E. Westlake novel known as "The Axe", an author who has worked on many thriller type screenplays, notably "The Grifters" (1990). The original French title, "Le Couperet", is the name for the merciless blade of the guillotine, presumably the axe that falls when long term employees are fired, and is, in fact, the final image of the film before the credits start to roll. The Spanish release title, "Arcadia", is the name of the huge papermaking conglomerate for which our hero, Davert, was working before he got axed, and where he hopes to get reinstated by eliminating the competition. Both Costa-Gavras and José Garcia took the stage at the opening ceremony and both addressed the gala gathering in flawless Spanish. Costa-Gavras is an old Valladolid hand who has had a number of his films premiered here and was honoured with the first full retrospective of his works in Valladolid in 2003. “Missing”, Costa-Gavras’ 1982 political thriller about the Pinochet coup-d’état in Chile, is also scheduled in the section entitled “50 Years in Love with Cinema”.

The mistress of ceremonies of the inaugural ritual was statuesque, glamorous, glistening black-haired Spanish beauty, Marina Saura, no relation to director Carlos Saura, but in fact the daughter of a famous Valencian painter and a regular presenter at this festival. The various jury members were also introduced and petite Portuguese actress, Maria de Medeiros, who partnered Uma Thurman in “Pulp Fiction” and “Harry and June”, did the honours for the international jury, speaking in Spanish for the group which also includes veteran French helmer, Andre Techine.

The discovery of the day (if not of the entire festival!) in the New Spanish Cinema section was “The FERPECT (sic) Crime”, a side-splitting comedy with a strong social message which was, in fact, everything that the Costa-Gavras tried so hard, but failed to deliver – Black Comedy, white comedy, killer-chiller-thriller-diller, uproarious social satire -- and then some. The director of this hard-to-classify roller-coaster ride of a film is Alex de la Iglesia, (39), and the comic genius who leads the ride is scraggly bearded lothario, Guillermo Toledo (35). It’s been a long time since I laughed so hard and so often at a press screaming -- hope I didn’t disturb any of my more serious minded-colleagues -- but this film was pure joy from beginning to end – and also left you with something to think about. I must admit that, at first glance, I thought the word “Ferpect” in the festival program was a misprint, until it dawned on me (Flashee-Flash) that this “miss” spelling must be for real, and that this has got to be some kind of crime comedy. Knowing nothing else about any of the names listed -- on title alone I decided not to pass this one up – because, after all, you can always walk out if things get too ridiculous. To make a long story short, I was glued to my seat from minute number one, soon realizing that I was in the presence of something special – a seriously funny comedy that just won’t let you know what’s coming next and knocks you for a loop with unexpected rabbit-punches in every round. But enough of this drooling, and let’s see if it’s possible to summarize the plot.

Rafael Gonzalez (Toledo) tells you right off the bat, speaking directly to the camera as he walks through the crowded streets of Madrid, what life is all about as he sees it -- Elegance; good food, snappy clothes, fancy cars and – above all, fancy sex with every good-looking chick in sight. Smooth-talking Raf is the manager of the ladies wear section of the city’s trendiest department store (Yeyos), where he has surrounded himself with nothing but sexy blondes as his sales staff. All these ladies have the hots for him and he spreads his lust around more or less evenly, in dressing rooms, closets – whatever space happens to be available. He is, however, competing for the entire floor manager’s job with the notorious Don Antonio Fraguas, in the men’s wear section, and the job will presumably go to the manager with the best sales. The incredibly glib Rafael sweet talks an older woman into buying a very expensive fur coat which gives him the edge over Fraguas in the sales competition at the very last minute. Convinced he is now king of the floor Raf celebrates with a sex orgy but, the check for the fur coat bounced, so the next day he finds to his deep dismay that Fraguas got the job anyway, through connections. The toupee-topped Don Antonio (probably gay) now Rafael’s boss, loses no time in humiliating the Casanova of the store at every turn and fires him on the spot when he loudly insults the embarrassed older woman returning the unpaid for fur coat. This leads to a bruising, knock-down drag-out battle between Raf and Fraguas, which ends up with the Don literally hooked on a changing- room hangar – and quite dead.

Part II. Getting rid of the body. With the collusion of another dissatisfied upstairs employee now working in the basement incinerator room, Raf tries to stuff the corpse into the store incinerator. Failure. Too big. But now the ugly duckling on the floor, the unusually homely Lourdes who has long had her eye on Raf, enters the picture. She saw the whole thing, the fight, the result -- but will not tell the police if Raf – er – marries her! Moreover, having once worked for a butcher, she knows how to wield a mean meat cleaver, and chops the body up for piecemeal insertion into incinerator – as Rafael looks on in bald-faced disbelief. The rest of the story is about how she completely takes control of Rafael’s life, forcing him to marry her on Reality TV and so forth, as he keeps trying to figure out how to rid himself of this disgusting, mortifying albatross around his neck. One effort to fling her off the top of a Ferris wheel almost succeeds but ends up as a near-miss “cliff-hanger”. The detective investigating the strange disappearance of Don Fraguas is finally on to them, the murderous pair -- as everything – but EVERYthing -- goes up in flames at the department store. Oh yes – Don Fraguas keeps returning from the Great Beyond, with a green face and a meat cleaver wedged into his skull – to give Raf friendly hints on how to rid himself of Lourdes. If this all sounds crazy – well --- it is, and then some, easily the funniest pic of the year, and of many a year. In a 2005 interview, director Alex de la Iglesia said that the name of the movie "Crimen Ferpecto" ("Ferpect Crime") is an homage to Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder (1954), which in Spain it's known as "Crimen Perfecto" ("Perfect Crime").
Jorge Guerricaechevarria collaborated with director de la Iglesia on the screenplay, which just might be some kind of Basque in-joke…

An IMDB comment by Norales of Queens, NY sums the film up perfectly:
"Crimen ferpecto" is one of the funniest movies of the year. While it is full of social satire -- of consumerism and department stores; of male/female stereotypes, including chauvinist Latin lovers; reality TV -- it is poking fun not polemics. Wonderful Guillermo Toledo, segues from suave to frenetic, while Mónica Cervera (Ugly duck, Lourdes) matches him as his nemesis in surprisingly spirited ways.
Since Valladolid is not a Class A Festival (like Cannes, Berlin, etc.) it does not have to adhere to the Class A stricture that all “Official Section” films must not have been screened at other festivals. Consequently, this is a chance to catch up with titles that may have been missed elsewhere. Among such, Ang Lee’s Chinese view of gay American cowboys, “Brokeback Mountain”, “Factotum”, Bent Hamer’s fictionalized bio-pic about Charles Bukowski, starring Matt Dillon, Yamada Yoji’s “The Hidden Sword”, Francois Ozon’s latest, “Le Temps Qui Reste” with Jeanne Moreau and Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, and “L’Enfant”, by the Dardenne brothers of Belgium, which took the Golden Palm this year at Cannes. A very special event will be the introduction of Carlos Saura’s new film “Iberia” which is his filmed adaptation of the “Iberia Suite” by classic Spanish composer Isaac Albeñiz, as performed on the stage by leading Spanish ballet artists. Saura is, of course, no stranger to films with or about serious music, having done a marvellous flamenco version of “Carmen” (1983) and “El Amor Brujo”, 1986, among other musical adaptations.

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