Imagine a Pedro Almodovar horror comedy.
There’d be violence and cross-dressing, graphic discussion of exotic sexual practices and homoeroticism. Gender politics would take center stage.
It would have witches, naturally. And Carmen Maura would play their queen.
Witching and Bitching is a madcap Spanish farce by Alex de la Iglesia. It’s the best Almodovar movie Almodovar never made, a riotous, gory farce that might be the funniest movie of the summer, and surely the coolest.
It begins with a sell-your-gold-shop robbery on Madrid’s popular square, the Puerto del Sol, with robbers dressed as street mimes staging a heist that goes comically, bloodily wrong.
Jose (Hugo Silva) is the leader, painted up as silver-coated Jesus, pulling a shotgun out of the cross he totes on his back. Tony (Mario Casas) is painted like a green plastic toy soldier. Only his machine gun is real.
A little boy (Gabriel Delgado) is their lookout.
“You brought the boy?” Tony fumes.
“I get him Tuesdays and alternate weekends,” Jose explains.
That leads to a rant about alimony and custody and judges prejudiced against fathers and next thing you know, security guards and customers are bickering, taking sides and generally wigging out.
That happens a lot in Witching and Bitching, that second half of the title.
There are heated debates in the taxi they hijack as a getaway car, with the cabbie, Manuel (Jaime Ordonez), throwing in his lot with the surviving members of the gang. Their haul? A sack full of pawned wedding bands.
And then they stumble into Zugarramurdi, an infamous village on the French border. Manuel has heard of it, but the rest soon catch on to what it is. The freaks that surround them, the cauldron, the bizarre dishes on the menu at the diner and the troll that seems to live in the toilet — this is home to Spain’s witches. These guys want to gripe about how awful their womenfolk are, what witches they can be? They’re confronted with the real thing, a matriarchal culture that might have use for what those wedding bands represent.
De la Iglesia ( The Oxford Murders) keeps the patter manic and testy and adds just enough lulls in the action to make his big special effects/action set pieces stand out. Carolina Bang plays a ravenous and sexy daughter witch with an eye for Jose. Maura, a veteran of many an Almodovar comedy, is her mother, the queen.
Silva, star of Almodovar’s I’m So Excited!, is an agreeably scruffy, nonchalant leading man. He gives Jose a sexy, irresponsible, making-it-up-as-he-goes edge, traits that rear their head whenever Jose’s incompetent parenting skills are questioned.
Witching is a trifle on the long side, but de la Iglesias builds the action to a fine climax, and then tops it with his epic finale, which seems to employ every extra in Spain and every special-effects artist, too.
But whatever the film’s horror chops, cinematic battles of the sexes are rarely this much fun.
In Spanish with English subtitles
Exclusive: The Texas Theatre, Dallas