El Crimen Perfecto is the first film from Spanish director Alex de la Iglesia to get any significant distribution in the U.S. and the first I've seen, but the combination of this sharp, odd black comedy and a little research on de la Iglesia's filmography has the director on my search list.
De la Iglesia's first feature, in 1993, was called Mutant Action, a sci-fi adventure that sounds like some kind of gonzo mix of Freaks and X-Men and the Japanese cult-classic Battle Royale. It concerns a band of "freaks" -- a hunchback, conjoined twins, a deaf-mute -- who carry out terrorist missions against attractive celebrities and other representations of the culture of beauty. In one scene, apparently, the band of misfits storms the set of a TV exercise show, mowing down the aerobicizing hardbodies and hoisting a "MUTANT ACTION" banner for the TV audience. Now that's entertainment!
El Crimen Perfecto isn't quite as crazed as that, but it boasts the same absurdist zeal and is equally bent on satirizing contemporary consumer culture.
The film stars Guillermo Toledo as Rafael, a comically suave and carefree sales clerk at a Madrid department store. The film's credit sequence pans across Rafael's apartment, gazing over a gaggle of opened liquor bottles and a naked beauty sprawled across his bed, en route to the bathroom, where Rafael steps out of the shower to explain, "I'm just an elegant man who wants to live in an elegant world. Is that asking too much?"
On his walk to work, Rafael demonstrates his self-centered joie de vivre by casually shoplifting a newspaper from a corner newsstand and sweeping up a random woman for some deep kissing. And, at work, in the department store that is his "Pagan temple," Rafael indulges his two great passions -- selling things to women, like the middle-aged shopper he flatters into an expensive fur coat, and bedding them, like the series of outrageously gorgeous clerks he coaxes into after-hours sexcapades in the store's dressing rooms and furniture department.
As the movie opens, Rafael is engaged in a bitter sales battle with his toupeed, wallflower nemesis Don Antonio (Luis Varela), with the winner to receive a coveted "floor manager" job, a position which would make Rafael's flings much easier to negotiate. Don Antonio is ahead going into the final day, but Rafael's triumphant, last-minute fur-coat sale puts him over the top and secures him the promotion. Or so he thinks.
The check for the coat bounces, giving the sales-contest victory -- and the floor manager job -- to Don Antonio. And Rafael cruelly berates the customer when she comes in to apologize. It's here that El Crimen Perfecto conspires to give the smug Rafael his comeuppance.
Rafael and Don Antonio scuffle in a dressing room. Don Antonio ends up dead. And Rafael's attempt to cover up the potential crime lands him in the clutches of the store's one homely female clerk, Lourdes (Monica Cervera).
Cervera is a perfectly normal-looking woman, but the contrast between her and the other supermodel-worthy female clerks and her exaggerated performance (bug eyes, Bride of Frankenstein frizz, neurotic, obsessive smile) lend Cervera a cartoonish edge. It's at this point that the film morphs into a black comedy, with echoes of Alfred Hitchcock, Luis Bunuel, and '40s film noir. Cervera's bravely uncomfortable and unflattering performance reminds me of one of the classic noir femme fatales: the oh-so-appropriately named Ann Savage in the brilliant "B" movie Detour.
Rafael's descent into desperation offers more pungent satire than the earlier scenes, but if there's a flaw to this quite compelling film it's that Rafael's smug, womanizing lifestyle is so entertainingly portrayed that we sort of regret seeing that world so thoroughly destroyed.
But even with that caveat, this sex-filled black comedy offers a refreshing alternative to most other movie choices currently in local theaters. Give it a shot and definitely remember the name Alex de la Iglesia.
El Crimen Perfecto
Opening Friday, October 28th