El Verdugo (The Executioner)

This masterpiece of black humor, beloved in Spain but too little seen elsewhere, threads a scathing critique of Franco-era values through a macabre farce about an undertaker who marries an executioner's daughter and reluctantly takes over her father's job so the family can keep their government-allotted apartment. Winner of the International Critics' Prize at Venice, this storied Italian / Spanish co-production underscores the comedic kinship between both countries as Italy's great Nino Manfredi (the undertaker) blends in seamlessly with Spain's laugh kings Jose "Pepe" Isbert (his father-in-law) and Jose Luis López Vázquez (his older brother). As caustic today as it was in 1963, the second collaboration (after Plácido) between director Luis García Berlanga and his longtime screenwriter Rafael Azcona is an unerring depiction of what Berlanga called "the invisible traps that society sets up for us." A furiously funny personal attack on capital punishment, The Executioner evaded the state censors who sought to suppress it, prompting Franco to grumble: "I know Berlanga is not a communist; he's something worse, a bad Spaniard." Today, it is regarded as one of the greatest Spanish films of all time.

Coral Gables: Dec. 20 at Coral Gables Art Cinema.

December 21
Julieta