The Garden of Delights (Carlos Saura / Spain, 1970):
(El Jardín de las Delicias)

Bourgeois members flutters around a stage production, a glamour-puss parts her eyelashes with pins, malevolent oinks are heard off-screen. A huge pig is sent in and the whole, tacky mélo is dropped into the lap of the audience, namely José Luis López Vázquez, puzzled and catatonic in his wheelchair. A ruthless tycoon paralyzed in a car wreck, he vegetates as his family, Chabrolian in its venality, stages bizarre farces in hopes of rousing his memories, especially memories of the money account. "Suiza, dinero... Suiza, dinero," his old father (Francisco Pierrá) chants, tapping a geography book. Luchy Soto, his wife, complains of their children and guides his hand to the safe on the wall, to no avail. Carlos Saura uses the sardonic gags for dark elegance, in-jokes, even ("La Caza! La Caza!" Vázquez stammers among shotguns and pals), but first of all the decay of a culture growing deformed beneath the straitjacket of fascism. The late-Buñuel surrealism (a maid flashes a breast to get the boss to drink milk) is founded on dreams, digressions, illusions inside illusions -- within his mind, the wheelchair careens out of control across the lawn and into the dirty pool; later, Vázquez leans back to enjoy the sounds of the garden, until three medieval knights, armor and all, push him into a maze of doors. Cinema for Saura is about the elusiveness of recreation, of reality and the past, with the family's tableaux contrived out of greed but integral shock-therapy nevertheless, bent on forcing memories to the fore: the character can only impotently watch the stunting at the root as his First Communion becomes the Second Republic, sneakily staged in a warehouse, Geraldine Chaplin located amid the watchers to ensure the personal within the historical. His own voice brings Vázquez back "into character," but only briefly, for Franco is still wheezing in power, an entire clan, or a nation, in stalled wheelchairs. "What's important are the symbols." With Charo Soriano, Alberto Alonso, Julia Peña, and Esperanza Roy.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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