Reviewed by: Rebecca Naughten

"Berlanga excels at the chaos of everyday life - the messiness of human interactions and the way in which lives randomly interconnect."

The first of Luis García Berlanga's collaborations with Rafael Azcona, Plácido fiercely skewers the false charity of the well-to-do who are wilfully ignorant to the genuine need around them. Set over the course of Christmas Eve, the film follows the 'sit a poor man at your table' charity initiative - the townsfolk can bid in a charity auction to have a second-rank starlet attend their Christmas meal, but are expected to also take a homeless or infirm person as well. In parallel, the eponymous Plácido (Casto Sendra, better known as Cassen) - working as a gopher for the organising body - tries to find the opportunity to pay the overdue instalment on his new three-wheeled truck, the money required being the exact amount that he is owed by the charity for his work.

Not making the payment could lead to the truck being repossessed, effectively curtailing Plácido's ability to earn a living - his family are living in straightened circumstances, spending most of the day in the public toilets where his wife (Elvira Quintillá) works as a custodian. Plácido tries leaving his invalid brother Julián (Manuel Alexandre) at the bank as surety but to no avail, and the matter becomes more complicated as the day progresses (he's informed that he has to pay costs on top of the bill, and then offices start closing early) - he spends most of the film trying to get the charity organiser, Quintanilla (José Luis López Vázquez - on cracking form), to intercede on his behalf with the notary (José Orjas) with whom the debt now rests.

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Quintanilla has other things on his mind, namely making sure that the charity campaign goes smoothly - while the well-to-do strive to keep up appearances, Plácido's needs are ignored. However it becomes apparent - in the course of numerous marital squabbles overheard by the camera - that true charity is far from people's minds. They have agreed to sit a poor man at their table because it is what is expected of them or to save face in front of their neighbours, or because they've been pressured by their boss - couples argue over which homeless or infirm person to take ("That one looks nicer"), and then fall out when the poor people prove to be less pliant than imagined.

The hysteria builds when one of the poor men (Antonio Gandía) suffers a heart attack during the meal, and the family hosting him (Julia Delgado Caro, José Franco, Agustín González) want him out of their home before he dies (while also fretting about lying him down on decent linen for the sake of appearances). Quintanilla and the rest of the organising committee (headed by Amelia de la Torre) turn up en masse - some 14 people crowding the apartment even before Plácido and his entire family are added to the mix (he is still trying to get Quintanilla to phone the notary and will be inveigled to move the man) - to discuss the best way of proceeding. When they discover than the man is currently 'living in sin' with another beneficiary of the charity (Julia Caba Alba), they resolve to marry them immediately so that he doesn't die in a sinful state - the comedy mixes the satirical and the ridiculous.

Berlanga excels at the chaos of everyday life - the messiness of human interactions and the way in which lives randomly interconnect - overlapping conversations as the camera leads us through crowded sets to dip in and out of different narrative strands. The script is scathing in its depiction of petty hypocrisies but also exceptionally funny. The ensemble is key - maybe a dozen characters have significant scenes in this film - and many of the actors here not only worked with Berlanga multiple times but also became stars and stalwarts of Spanish film comedy (most notably López Vázquez).

Reviewed on: 14 Nov 2014
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A town's charity initiative to 'sit a poor man at your table' for Christmas dinner continually thwarts one man's efforts to protect his livelihood.

Director: Luis García Berlanga

Writer: Rafael Azcona, Rafael Azcona, José Luis Colina, José Luis Font, Luis García Berlanga, Luis García Berlanga

Starring: Cassen, José Luis López Vázquez, Elvira Quintillá, Manuel Alexandre, Mario Bustos, María Francés, Mari Carmen Yepes, Jesús Puche, Roberto Llamas, Amelia de la Torre, Juan G. Medina, José María Caffarel, Xan das Bolas, Fernando Delgado, Laura Granados

Year: 1961

Runtime: 87 minutes

Country: Spain


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