Bienvenido, Míster Marshall (Luis García Berlanga, 1952)

Reseña de Darla MacDonald:

            Since the beginning of cinema, movies have always been used as means of projecting images to connect to the whole world and reflect the current political, economic, or emotional situations through means of entertainment and pleasure. By covering up the true message of the movies, directors will replace it, often times, with comedy, beautiful landscapes, and stereotypes. This is very prevalent in the work of Spanish director Luis García Berlanga during the Franco dictatorship. Cinema during the fifties in Spain had to be very specific and appropriate in order for it to be accepted by the Franco censure, for Franco wanted to put out a “positive” and powerful reflection of Spain to the world; even though the dictatorship brought dark years to the Spanish people. After several tries, Berlanga was successful in creating a movie that would shock the world and criticize the dictatorship right under their watch. The movie, ¡Bienvenido Mister Marshall! comes off as a critic to the American government and the current status of the Marshall Plan. With the “distraction” of critique on America, Berlanga was able to outwit and criticize the Spanish government through the use of satire, comedy and irony to portray his political and personal view of Spain’s hopelessness and dictatorship right before their eyes.

            Starting in 1938 going into the 1950’s, the Spanish National Department of Cinematography created regulations to control the images and overall messages of movies to be approved by the censorship in order to project the ideal image of Spain, and restrict the movies that would criticize and give any negative images about the dictatorship.[1] Berlanga’s film ¡Bienvenido Mister Marshall! works around the desires of the censorship, but directly criticizes what seemed to be the hopeless future of Spain. In the movie, Villar del Río is a small, rural city full of farm workers and town folk with no aspirations for the future. In return, Berlanga creates the scenario of the town disguising itself as the most typical “Spanish” town, as being from Andalucía.  “El pueblo español, inculto e ingenuo, reducido por la desaparición de intelectuales en la guerra y por la dictadura militar a la pasividad y el infantilismo, quedaba reflejado en ese pequeño pueblecito que quiere dar una imagen de España basada en los tópicos folklóricos […] Lo más terrible es que esa España es real y que no tiene ni tan siquiera la fuerza para ser esperpéntica, es cómica y es patética.” [2] Franco insisted in always portraying the most stereotypical, floklore, joyful images of Spain for the world, being flamenco, bull fights, and paradise landscapes.2  Berlanga cleverly incorporates these elements when dressing up the simple town of Villar del Río. Instantly, this plays into the “Francosit mythmaking” [3] of creating and keeping up with the global stereotypes of Spain. When the regime appointed Berlanga to incorporate the up and coming folklore singer Lolita Sevilla into his film, he instantly accepted. Only working to his advantage, he used Lolita as a focus point in the dissimulation of Villar del Río, and further expansion on the Francoist mythmaking. [4]

In the scene where the mayor of the town is speaking to his fellow citizens who have been upgraded with typical Castilian dresses, hats, and vests in order to play the part of a quaint, true Spanish town, the viewer watches the faces of these hopeful and deceived citizens, believing the words of the mayor for a future with a better quality life. This directly reflects the effect and control Franco had over Spain; putting out false façade to the world of what Spanish life is like. Among the crowd of the dumbfound and convinced, Don Luis is the voice of reason accusing his own town of being fake: “que os disfracéis para halagara  unos extranjeros mendigando por un regalo […] nadie tiene un poco de orgullo, un poco de dignidad.” Through this line, the viewer can feel the true meaning of what Berlanga is trying to say to the Franco dictatorship.

Don Luis’s character foreshadows the disappointing ending of the movie: deception and disappointment, which reflects the signature pattern of Berlanga’s movies. Berlanga states: “[siempre hay] un arranque en donde se expone una situación y un problema; un momento de euforia a lo largo de la película, donde parece que el problema va a ser resuelto de manera favorable; y una caída final hacia una situación igual o inferior a la del arranque.” [5] Regardless of the reality that Don Luis is trying to express, the mayor is still getting the citizens excited to become an Andalucía village for when the Americans arrive. The people of Villar del Río don’t seem to have real sense of what to look forward to in life. They are just following sheep under this illusion and fantasy that the United States will save their poor, little town. Much like Spain’s hope for receiving aid from the Marshall Plan, and in fact were left empty handed. In the dream sequence scene, we see the aspirations of the mayor, a priest and a farmer influenced by the stereotypes of United States life and how they believe their lives will change and thus improve once the Americans come into the village. This reflects the notion of the American dream that has been so influenced through film.

“Decidimos realizar el film cuya intención encajaba de lleno en la postura política y diplomática española frente a la psicosis mundial de ‘Reyes Magos’ creada por la mal aprovechada ayuda americana y que a nuestras autoridades no podía sino complacerles la doctrina que pretendíamos sentar: Soñar…Reyes Magos…Plan Marshall…muy bien, pero no basta” [6]

This ties into the typical Berlanga characters, hopeful for an improved and “happy ending” that is so aspired and fulfilled in American cinema, but Berlanga portrays the raw honesty of deception. When the American troops drive right though Villar del Río without notice or attention made to the beautifully disguised town, the viewer feels pity for the towns people, much like the pity felt for the Spaniards during the time of Franco. A feeling of no future and no freedom from repression. The censorship could have understood this scene as deception played by the United States from the illusion of American stereotypes and American future; when in reality it’s a metaphor for the feeling of the Franco regime.

In 1953, the year the movie was released, ¡Bienvenido Mister Marshall! was nominated at the CANNES film festival. At the festival as a form of advertisement they handed out fake American dollars with the faces of protagonists Carmen Vargas, the hired singer, and Don Pablo,

 

the mayor. The movie was instantly disliked by the American crowd, feeling offended and shocked. [7] Despite the obvious attack on the Americans, Berlanga’s interest as a director was to have universal interest, not just national interest like some of his other director colleagues. For example, Juan de Orduña’s Alba de América, released in 1951, perfectly emblems the control of the dictatorship, exaggeratingly presenting Spain as a glorious and powerful country, purely going for national interest. [8] The over the top, false, heroic image of the conquistadors was easily approved by the censorship, and it can be paralleled in the “glorification” of Villar del Río. The images of the card board paintings of beautiful white Seville houses covering the real aged, humble houses of the town, reflects the mask of covering up the destruction and control of Spain during the dictatorship with the images of Spain that the world recognizes and adores. Thus, making it easy for Berlanga to make the most critical and satirical movie under the Franco dictatorship.

Bibibliography

BILBAO, Javier. “Bienvenido, Mister Marshall.” Jot Down Cultural Magazine. < http://www.jot

down.es/2012/06/bienvenido-mister-marshall/>. 2012.

ENRIQUE MONTERDE, José y RIAMBAU, Esteve; coordinadores. Historia general del cine: volumen IX, Europa y Asia 1945 – 1959. Cátedra/ Signo e imagen. Universidad Complutense de Madrid. 1996. pp 184 – 221.

GOMEZ RUFO, Antonio. El cine de Berlanga y la censura de la década de los 50. Texto extraido de la conferencia datada en octubre de 2008 en la Universidad de Cádiz a cargo del autor. 2008. pp 1- 25.

MARSH, Steven. “Luis García Berlanga”. Senses of Cinema. <http://sensesofcinema.com/ 2003/great-directors/berlanga/>. 2003.

PERALES, Francisco. Luis García Berlanga. Cátedra/ Signo e Imagen/ Cineastas. 1997.

PÉREZ PERUCHA, Julio. ed. Luciano Berriatúa.  Antología Crítica del Cine Español 1906 – 1995. Cátedra/ Filmoteca Española. 1997. pp 324 – 326

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1. ENRIQUE MONTERDE, José y RIAMBAU, Esteve; coordinadores. Historia general del cine: volumen IX, Europa y Asia 1945 – 1959. Catedra/ Signo e imagen. Universidad Complutense de Madrid. 1996. pp 184.

2.PÉREZ PERUCHA, Julio. ed. Luciano Berriatúa.  Antología Crítica del Cine Español 1906 – 1995. Cátedra/ Filmoteca Española. 1997. pp 326

3.MARSH, Steven. “Luis García Berlanga”. Senses of Cinema. < http://sensesofcinema.com/2003/great-directors/berlanga/>. 2003.

4.BILBAO, Javier. “Bienvenido, Mister Marshall.” Jot Down Cultural Magazine. < http://www.jot

down.es/2012/06/bienvenido-mister-marshall/>. 2012.

5.GÓMEZ RUFO, Antonio. El cine de Berlanga y la censura de la década de los 50. Texto extraído de la conferencia datada en octubre de 2008 en la Universidad de Cádiz a cargo del autor. 2008. pp 10 – 11.

6.PÉREZ PERUCHA, Julio. ed. Luciano Berriatúa.  Antología Crítica del Cine Español 1906 – 1995. Cátedra/ Filmoteca Española. 1997. pp 325.

7.GÓMEZ RUFO, Antonio. El cine de Berlanga y la censura de la década de los 50.. Texto extraido de la conferencia datada en octubre de 2008 en la Universidad de Cádiz a cargo del autor. 2008. pp 15.

8.ENRIQUE MONTERDE, José y RIAMBAU, Esteve; coordinadores. Historia general del cine: volumen IX, Europa y Asia 1945 – 1959. Catedra/ Signo e imagen. Universidad Complutense de Madrid. 1996. pp 203 -204.

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