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El Verdugo | Luis García Berlanga, 1963
Spain/Italy | 90 minutes
In Berlanga’s masterpiece, the local executioner (beautifully played by Pepe Isbert, a great Spanish comic) is heading towards retirement after years of doing little but collect a state salary. But there are two unfinished bits of business: who will marry his daughter, and who will replace him? The solution to both comes in the form of an undertaker, Jose Luis (Italian actor Nino Manfredi), who weds the excecutioner’s daughter and takes over his father-in-law’s duties and state salary. But suddenly the executioner’s job becomes terrifyingly real, as the authorities call him into service. Few can tread that thin line between dark comedy and tragedy more skillfully than Berlanga and screenwriter Rafael Azcona, and their work together here is superlative. Inspired by a number of brutal executions carried out by the Francoist government, and winner of numerous international awards, The Executioner is a powerful reminder of the high costs of institutionalized violence.