Friday, September 27, 2013

Fantastic Fest 2013: WITCHING AND BITCHING - Javi's Take

Directed by: Alex De La Iglesia,
Written by: Alex De La Iglesia, Jorge Gerricaechechevarria
Starring: Hugo Silva, Mario Casas, Carmen Maura, Carolina Bang, and Carlos Areces
Synopsis: When a robbery goes awry, a man with his son and a group of companions try to make it to France to escape the police but have to pass through Zugarramurdi, the place where witchcraft was born.

Alex De La Iglesia has always had dark sense of humor by mixing violence and religion to make people laugh. His latest movie, WITCHING AND BITCHING (or the better Spanish title, LAS BRUJAS DE ZUGARRAMURDI), is a darkly comedic effort that manages to deal with love, feminism, sexism, masculinity, evil prophecies, friendship, and man-eating witches very seamlessly.

The movie starts off with the robbery of a jewelry store in a busy town square. The robbers dress up as various cartoon characters and famous figures to properly hide themselves and infiltrate the store without their identities being discovered. We follow Jose, who cleverly disguises himself as Jesus and hides a shotgun in his shotgun. He is a strangely likable fella. Sure he's a robber, but he's totally a nice guy who wants to just spend time with his son enough to let his son be part of the robbery. When the robbery goes totally wrong, he's forced to kidnap a taxi driver along with his other accomplice Tony. When they realize that there is manhunt for them, they decide to make a break for it to France. But along the way, they have to pass though ZUGARRAMURDI, the fabled place where witchcraft was invented.

There are not nearly enough films which try to blend horror and comedy, but this has to rank among the best in that genre. As comedians say, "Time + Tragedy = Comedy", but if you erase the "Time" aspect of the equation and amp up the "Tragedy" part, and you have WITCHING AND BITCHING. Some of the biggest gags of the movie from from a man being constantly dismembered, but there's also a lot of dialogue-based humor. On an international level, the majority of the jokes are more physical, and the dialogue-based jokes are understandable thanks to some nicely translated subtitles. Everything in this movie permeates with humor. The action scenes always have a great camera movement, where you can tell what is going on. (It really does seem that any non-American directors know that there is value with having a shot last longer than .0003 seconds).

De La Iglesia very boldly chooses to try to tackle the topic of sexism and feminism in the movie, which has become an increasingly hot topic in popular culture. Considering that movie deals with a coven of witches pushing for a more matriarchal society, it's easy to see the beyond the subtext. On one hand you have the Jose, who is constantly complaining about his wife, women, and relationships and while saying some pretty broad comments. On the other hand, you have the witches that are trying to create a a matriarchal society by capturing Jose's son and having him be the "inside agent" in the world of men which will hopefully bring about their doom.

The movie seems to take a progressive stance in the way that women handle themselves. Eva (Carolina Bang) falls in love with Jose, and when he explains this to the other witches, they ridicule her. They say that she should be out there, trying drugs, having multitude of lovers, and exploring "alternative sex", whatever that means, instead of trying to settle down with a man. This is fascinating because, culturally speaking, it would seem that Spain would be a more conservative place, and this type of thinking wouldn't be the norm. In addition, there is some broad relationship humor with Jose as he is really into Eva but doesn't necessarily want to commit to her, having just met her.

The plot is like a constantly building crescendo where the story builds and doesn't stop until, what can only be called, a ridiculous climax. At this point, the movie is unfortunately dated with some very shoddy special effects, and those can take you out of the action. But they are only a small detractor against the movie.

WITCHING AND BITCHING is full of violent laughs, great characters, and a fun story. Alex De La Iglesia has proven himself to be a formidable director whose work is very much steeped in Spanish culture and history but has enough for international viewers to latch on to.

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