La muerte de un burócrata (1966)

DEATH OF A BUREAUCRAT (Muerte de un burócrata, La)

(director: Tomás Gutiérrez Alea; screenwriters: story by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea/Ramon F. Suarez/Alfredo del Cuelo; cinematographer: Ramon F. Suarez; editor: Mario Gonzalez; music: Leo Brouwer; cast: Salvador Wood (Nephew), Silvia Planas (Aunt), Manuel Estanillo (Bureaucrat), Gaspar de Santelices (Nephew’s Boss), Carlos Ruiz de la Tejera (Psychiatrist), Omar Alfonso (Cojimar), Ricardo Suarez (Tarafa), Luis Romay (El Zorro), Elsa Montero (Sabor); Runtime: 87; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Margarita Alexandre; Tricontinental Film Center; 1966-Cuba/Spain-in Spanish with English subtitles)

mucho funny.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This early comedy work by one of Cuba’s best filmmakers, that is before he got carried away by doing social allegory films, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea (“Strawberry and Chocolate”/”Memories of Underdevelopment”), is a mucho funny black comedy about the horrors of institutionalized red tape. It plays as an homage to silent screen comics such as Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, the more recent ones such as Laurel and Hardy, and all those who, in one way or another, have taken part in the film industry since the days of Lumiére.

A beloved stone mason and model worker, Francisco ‘Paco’ Perez, who invented a machine to mass-produce statuettes of Cuban hero Jose Martin, dies in a factory accident. Paco is lauded by his union comrades at the funeral as the perfect worker and is buried with his work card as a symbolic eternal gesture to him as a proletariat. But, unfortunately, his widow (Silvia Planas) soon learns from a bureaucrat that she can’t collect a pension for him without the work card. Helped by her dim-witted nephew (Salvador Wood), the frustrated widow learns from another bureaucrat they cannot obtain an exhumation permit for the first two years of a burial. Her hands tied by such absurd red tape, the widow’s helpers are forced to rob her husband’s grave. After stealing the body from the cemetery, they are stymied again because they can’t get a permit to rebury the corpse until they have an exhumation permit. The widow thereby becomes reconciled to keeping the corpse at home, but runs into difficulties with the health inspectors.

Though the pacing is erratic there’s great comedy derived from this Buñuelian touch of the ridiculous (much more so than it is to giving the business to Fidel), a bunch of well-conceived slapstick sketches that include a custard pie in your face routine at the cemetery and a clever Harold Lloyd routine rip-off as the nephew trapped in a government office after closing time escapes by climbing out a window onto a ledge in front of a large clock high above the street.