Divinas Palabras (1987) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

I have about as much chance of understanding this film as I do of understanding Krapp's Last Tape or Finnegan's Wake or Dr Hawking's History of Time. I admit that part of my confusion stems from the fact that it is in Spanish without English subtitles, but I really don't think I could have made any sense of it in English either.

I do know that it possesses all the required ingredients of pretentious European cinema:

  1. Villagers carrying torches. At one point, one of the villagers was admonished by his leader because he forgot his torch when they were storming the home of a sinner. This is an egregious violation of the European Peasant Code of Conduct. Never mind that it was broad daylight at the time. Rules are rules. If I had lived in Europe before electricity, I would have chosen "torch making and repair" as my apprenticeship, hoping to become Scoopy the Torch-Maker, richest tradesman in town.
  2. Old cross-eyed toothless hags wearing babushkas and pointing crooked fingers. My torch-making shop would also feature promotional gimmicks - buy a torch today and get a free babushka.
  3. Loose livestock wandering through the streets and buildings. I'd also stock the shelves of my torch shop with a new-fangled invention called "rope".
  4. Spooky religious services with off-key singing. Europe's religious musical scene really suffered from an excess of white people. Well, that and the cows mooing in the church, which somewhat affected the purity of the tone.
  5. Evil dwarfs and village idiots.
  6. The plague
  7. Fog
  8. Blind fortune tellers and clairvoyant birds.
  9. Large hats. The more important the official, the larger the hat. Cardinals and kings and generals wear hats so big that they need an assistant to hold their head in place. The Russians had to abandon the inherited monarchy, simply choosing as Czar the guy with the strongest neck. As Scoopy the Rich and Powerful Torch-Maker, I would be required to wear a hat larger than the largest oxen in town.
  10. Superstition
  11. Beggars. There were people begging for food, begging for torches, begging for babushkas. It was horrifying.
  12. Dream sequences. Mostly they dreamt about Satan, and sex, and getting punished by Satan for having sex, and owning their own torch.

 

The plot goes something like this. Believe it or not, this is supposed to take place in 1920, not 1320.

Pedro Gailo lives in a village so small they don't even have a priest. Pedro acts as the sexton, handling all the religious duties in between visits from the priest. It's also a poor town. How poor? They can't even afford their own cheesy musical score, so they have to use hand-me-down Irish folk music instead.

The only entertainment in town is death. Even though it is a small town, they seem to have enough people so that there is a funeral every day. On days when there is no death, they pick an old person and hold his funeral on spec.

NUDITY REPORT

see the main commentary. The wife is played by Ana BelÚn, and her body is seen stark naked in good light, front and rear.

One day, somebody in Pedro's family dies, and Pedro's pretty wife is consoled by a swarthy good-looking guy with an eyepatch and a well-oiled moustache. The gypsy guy also seems to be one of the villagers, except now wearing a disguise devised by Bobby Valentine, and he also may be Satan. Who knows? What matters is that he turns the demure wife into the village slut. One day she's singing Ave Maria in the church loft, without make-up, every inch of her skin covered, the next thing you know she's bathing in bathtub gin, wearing garish make-up, and dancing "Darktown Strutter's Ball" at a gypsy carnival, wearing a costume that would embarrass Bob Fosse.

Meanwhile, Pedro decides that he, too, should be unfaithful like his no-good wife, so he tries to seduce his daughter. The daughter is really not impressed by the idea at all.

Meanwhile, the superstitious villagers have decided to grab their torches and form a mob for the purpose of punishing Pedro's wife. They bring her to the courtyard of the church, and start to stone her. At first, they are reluctant to pick up stones because they would have to set their torches down, and they are afraid that the other, poorer villagers would try for a surreptitious torch-swap.  But they finally screw their courage to the sticking place, and toss in a few tentative change-ups. Then they make the wife get naked. Apparently this is an important element in ritual stoning. At this point, Pedro comes out of the church, wearing the best religious vestments he could find, and saves his wife by reading from the Bible, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone". A couple of guys, who are apparently really holy, toss in a couple of rocks, but the other villagers stop them. Obviously her husband has forgiven her, so they must too. This is also in the Peasant Code of Conduct.

no DVD info currently available

The sexton and his wife walk away together. They walk past the corpse of an evil dwarf or a village idiot, or maybe it's a very short village idiot, she still stark naked, he in religious vestments.

The end.

The Critics Vote

  • The film was nominated for 6 Goyas, including Best Picture, winning 4.

 

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 6.5/10, based on an insignificant six votes.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, it is a C, I guess. The multiple Goyas indicate that it is probably better, but I can't imagine that more than one person in 100 Spanish speakers would enjoy this. Steer very clear unless you are really a fan of the dour school of European cinema, like the films of Bergman and Tarkovsky, in which case you will feel home here. I really didn't enjoy it at all. If you don't speak Spanish, there is no subtitled version available.

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