Antonio Gómez Rufo
Berlanga: Apuntes sobre un personaje
The least Berlanguian character you can imagine is Luis García Berlanga. He spent fifty years miserabilizing the Spanish society and trying to miserabilize himself and finally got the first, but could not beat himself. And the myths, in short, are only venerated pieces of glass from a badly rushed glass.
Over time, we Spaniards have made him a legend because, by combining appearance and genius, Berlanga had the ability to hide his true personality from the spotlight and the backstage of popularity. Thousands of interviews, television appearances and daily presences managed to build a “general idea” of him as a character: a being characterized by an incomparable film support and a personal way of being endearing, accessible, bright and emotional. The author of “Plácido”, “El verdugo”, “La escopeta nacional” and “La vaquilla” was a film genius, no doubt; and the human being who sheltered behind the genius was a courteous man, of good character, always ready to smile and eager to show and claim their hobbies for the hells of fetishism, eroticism and whatever isms were necessary to scandalize society bourgeois of which he was a part. A concept of character that he himself was responsible for solidifying to make it credible.
And yet, Berlanga was much more than what is known about him. If he locked himself in a limiting triangle (loneliness, selfishness and cowardice as supports the twilight of a life in the beauty of sunset), nothing is said in exchange for his skills for manipulation, his skills as a worker , of his cynicism and his capacity for improvisation. He longed for solitude, but resigned himself to being an intellectual fuguist, without horizons; he presumed selfishness in a society he liked too much not to dissect it day by day through the ravenous depredation of all kinds of information; and claimed his cowardice for not daring to conquer loneliness and military in the Egoist Party, founded by Tucker back in the 20s in the United States, in his non-existent Spanish delegation.
Aspiring to solitary, to selfish and cowardly, the reality of this myth (which was considered the greatest Spanish genius of the 20th century in a cultural survey) is that he did not know how to live isolated, that he could not abstract from a teenage curiosity and that his bad humor It was as explosive as it was ephemeral. He came to the category of grumpy old man, but then he did not remember who he was angry with or why; he counted the coins as a ninot fallero of Uncle Scrooge, but then squandered a fortune on books he did not know if he already had, in an amount of unnecessary food or in an article of clothing he did not need; and when he decided to dialectically pursue his particular retirement Eldorado, he found it impossible not to embark on adventures and projects that forced him to continue his journey and a hustle that repelled him. And he knew how to smile, hug and show himself charming even in the situations from which he tried to flee. What a good politician Spain missed if fortune had not awarded us with such an incomparable film director.
Anyway, I am of the opinion that myths exist for us to mythologize, and that no one has the right to penetrate the recesses of legends or to bend the corners of any character to expose how human there is in them. As Unamuno said, in every man there is what he is, what he believes he is and what others think he is. If the others believed that Berlanga was of a certain way of being, and we liked it that way, there is no reason to venture to do cheap psychology of the character and show what Berlanga believed about himself, much less the Berlanga that really was . Let the myth grow; we dazzle in that belief our admiration; and, if necessary, let us feel comfortable in the tinsel of legend, that in Spain glories are scarce and, to know why, we are always tempted to think that there is no such thing.
Berlanga was not a man of hatred; neither of great loves. Life taught him to settle for signing his manifestos in celluloid mirrors. His passions were short and his memory sharpened until very late, and when he no longer remembered the insults they had done to him, if they were remembered, he felt hurt; and if they were rubbed, he killed with the look of his Mediterranean eyes.
Always watching from the bottom of those blue, maritime and laughing pupils that kept, if they were well known, the arms of a frustrated seducer and a man who never dreamed.
Because Luis’ dreams, like his nightmares, remained in the cinema so that time would be witness to a time when the truth of human beings mattered less than the appearance of what others thought they saw in them.
Surely there is one facet of Berlanga that few know: his passion for cycling. “They are true titans. With rain, with cold, with heat … They are amazing, the most admirable athletes. ” These words were repeated as a litany every time we sat in front of the television to follow a stage of the Giro, the Tour de France, the Tour of Spain … And that ritual was daily. That’s why it was so hard for us to finish the script we were writing for his next movie in time. Cycling was a must; each stage, a parenthesis in the work that interrupted us the elaboration of sequences. But, for both, it was a joyful parenthesis.
I do not remember anyone with more passion for cycling, at least in my friends’ environment. He himself practiced it in his youth, in Valencia, and he had to confess that the last one always arrived. But is not the important thing to be pedaling, to suffer, to give of itself everything that is carried inside even if it is not enough to win? Cycling is one of the few sports in which, in the case of an individual effort, success is not possible without a team that empties itself with an excessive generosity so that kisses and flowers are taken by a partner.
At least that’s the way it is in modern cycling, he explained. Another thing was what happened in the time of Bahamontes, when one was enough to crown ports or cross the goal by force of kidneys and legs. But today cycling is a science, a mathematical combination of strategy and logistics, and the team is fundamental: Berlanga would have liked to get the last one as long as one of his teammates was the leader. Or, even if it did not succeed.
It is the least known aspect, surely, of the personality of the great Berlanga. As is his devotion for a cyclist named Gelabert that I never knew, or do not remember, but for one reason or another was always mentioned in those aftermaths in which the work of screenwriter was parked until the arrival of the peloton to the goal. In a low voice he commented: “Gelabert was famous because in an ascent to …”, or “at that stage Gelabert left so fast that …”. If I ever have a spare, I’ll look for a book where Gelabert’s exploits are told, to see what was in it that so fascinated Berlanga.
I remember that when we were planning the script of what was to be his last film, “Paris-Timbuktu”, we decided that the journey of the protagonist (Michel Piccoli) between both cities would have to do it by bicycle, something illogical, if you think, with the means of transportation of today. But it was his homage to cycling. Just as we decided that in the last sequence the bicycle was a metaphor of life, of the work we have to do in our profession: the symbol of the means that allows us to earn a living and with which we have to carry as an instrument as essential as the pencil for the carpenter, the compass for the architect, the tray for the waiter or the ingenuity for the writer.
In that last sequence of “Paris-Timbuktu” the bicycle is abandoned in the middle of a road. And then, from the counter-plane, as if emerging from the stalls, a man appears who sees the abandoned bicycle, looks at it and remirates and finally climbs on it and continues on his way. It was Berlanga’s way of saying, of telling everyone, that he was already abandoning his bicycle (work, movies, movies …) and that from then on it was up to us, those of us who watched the movie from the playground. seats, all of us, get on the bike and keep giving pedals, keep building life, keep working. At eighty, he had done everything he could. He gave us the relief to others, gave us the best of him, his bicycle.
I remember another debate that we held for some days on the occasion of writing the script of what was to be his last film. During the preparation of the script, in what is called “the treatment”, we intended to make a nod to each of his previous films, to “Welcome, Mr. Marshall,” to “The Executioner,” to “Placido,” to “Calabuch”, to “The National Shotgun”, to “The Heifer”, to “Everyone to Prison” …, so to make some reference complicit in his seventeen films. It was a desire that we gradually discarded because we understood that it was an exercise in unnecessary vanity and, in addition, that in no case could we allow ourselves to delay or interrupt the development of the film by including, in a forced way, those “winks”. So, in the end, there were very few references to his previous films, although there were some. But what was impossible to avoid was to introduce a sequence about cycling (it has already been said that, together with eroticism, feminine high-heeled shoes, poetry and Pierre Moliner, it was one of his hobbies, his fascinations) and a sequence in which, as will be remembered, tribute is paid to a cyclist (it is assumed that it was Bahamontes), embodying in it all cyclists who had given us so many hours of pleasure during the preparation of this script and the previous ones , “Blasco Ibáñez”, “Odos a la jail”…
Now, every time I sit down in front of the television to watch cycling, I remember Luis García Berlanga and I feel a sadness that only dissipates when I think that Gelabert is no longer in the peloton. Because, in short, was it called Gelabert ?, is his name written in this way? Or that mythical Antonio Gelabert Armengual was also a metaphor for those titans who ignore the snow, the fog, the scorching sun and the gusts of gusty wind to remain the most admirable athletes of all?
Berlanga has been one of the intellectual reference points of my life. My father, Tierno Galván and he taught me almost everything I know, that is, almost everything I am. That’s why it’s still so hard for me to write about him, because something in me tells me they’re going to read it and they’re not going to like it, it’s not going to be up to par. And although I strive to be objective, I sometimes highlight its less admirable aspects to seek an impossible impartiality. What hides, naturally, that love and recognition that will always accompany me.
As deserved as impossible to limit.
Antonio Gómez Rufo, May 2012