El Cochecito


El Cochecito
The Motorized Wheelchair (1960).
   After their success together with El pisito (The Little Flat, 1959), scriptwriter Rafael Azcona and director Marco Ferreri teamed up once more for a project inspired by an unpublished novel by Azcona, about an old man who dreams of a motorized wheelchair so that he can go on outings with his disabled friends, who seemed to be having all the fun as their vehicles allowed them to get away from their families. Funds for the project were provided by Pere Portabella's company Films 59, and the script went through a series of transformations to focus on the central character. In terms of influences, critics have underlined a clear neorealist element, with specific reference to Umberto D, but the writer and director move away from humanism or sermonizing, in order to put in front of audiences a bleak portrait of the human condition. Where neorealist precedents were hopeful and sentimental, the world envisioned by Azcona and Ferreri is grimly funny.
   Anselmo (José Isbert) lives in a small crowded flat with his son's family (all played by great comic actors, including Maria Luisa Ponte as his daughter-in-law, Chus Lampreave as the grand-daughter, and José Luis López Vázquez as her fiancé). His only moments of happiness are outings to the countryside with friends, but all of his acquaintances are disabled and have adapted their wheelchairs with motorized contraptions, leaving him to follow or take the bus. He starts demanding one of his own from his son, but the latter refuses, claiming Anselmo is not ill. Getting a motorized wheelchair will become an obsession for the old man, and he attempts a lie to make everybody believe his legs are failing. In the meantime, he comes to an agreement with an orthopedist to pay the first installment of a new model, but he will have to steal and sell the family jewelry to keep up with the payments. When his son forces him to get the money back, Anselmo makes a big decision: he will steal the money and kill his whole family by poisoning the stew. Now he is free to join his friends, but as he tries to run away he is stopped by the police.
   The censors objected to a number of elements, most significantly the fact that, in the original, Anselmo actually killed his family and was taken to jail. Ferreri and Portabella changed the ending, and in the released version, he made a telephone call to warn them (this scene was shot just before the release). The film went on to win the Fipresci award at the Venice Film Festival and did well at the box office. However, even if they could not pin down the reason, the authorities were suspicious of Ferreri's dark fable. When it came time for him to renew his work permit, it was refused, and he returned to Italy.
   The main force at the core of the film is José Isbert in one of his few starring parts, whose acting and movements determine mise en scene. There are few other instances in Spanish cinema of identification between an actor and a character: it is not so much a question of Isbert becoming Anselmo as Anselmo being absorbed into Isbert's persona. A number of supporting players would reappear two years later in Berlanga's El verdugo (The Executioner, 1963).
   To date, El cochecito is still considered one of the undoubted masterpieces of Spanish cinema, with a strong satiric streak, but never facile in the criticism of the social situation. Indeed, even today, the target of the satire is unclear. Azcona and Ferreri choose an oblique view of a man with an absurd dream in a society riddled with contradictions, and, as in many scripts by Azcona, the film becomes a reflection on the aspirations of small men being crushed by reality.

Historical dictionary of Spanish cinema. . 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

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