Dir: Fernando Fernan Gomez | Cast: Carlos Larranaga, Tota Alba, Lina Canalejas, Rafaela Aparicio | Spain, Drama 92’
It’s a wonder this very black comedy got past Franco’s censors in the first place. After the premiere it received only a very limited release, but has since enjoyed considerable acclaim. Based on the notorious unsolved death of two brothers found dead on a beach in Mazarrón in 1956, in the film they have become brother and sister; a pair of moon-faced simpletons completely under the thumb of their terrifying big sister Ignacia. The setting is a small coastal town in which old women in black shawls cluck with disapproval at swinging young sixties chicks in leopardskin slacks; while Ignacia presides over a Gothic old house deliberately reminiscent of the Bates mansion in Psycho.
Described by Pedro Almodóvar as an “accursed masterpiece”, the film’s director Fernando Fernán Gómez (1921-2007) was best known in Spain as an actor, and fleetingly appeared as Penelope Cruz’s senile father in Almodóvar’s All About My Mother (1999).
After Tota Alba’s Ignacia discovers passion she undergoes a startling visual transformation from the housekeeper in The Cat and the Canary into a dead ringer for one of Almodóvar’s short-skirted, big-haired cougars of the eighties and nineties. And as if the film wasn’t already weird enough, her downtrodden brother Venancio is played by international sleazemeister Jesús Franco, who although he often played small parts in his own films, here makes an extremely rare appearance in a substantial acting role in a ‘respectable’ film. ©Richard Chatten