Death of a Bureaucrat (Cuba, 1966):
(La Muerte de un Burócrata)

Red tape is what gives Hell its color, angelic statuary and the flush of a toilet open Tomás Gutiérrez Alea's attack on systematized absurdity. One word ("proletariat") is enough at the funeral to sum up the deceased, who in life designed a contraption to churn out busts of José Martí only to be swallowed by it; his widow (Silvia Planas) needs his work card to collect her pension, but the document is in the casket, her nephew (Salvador Wood) is off to retrieve it. The waiter with the fanged smile gives the first hint of the horror seeping into the comedy, moments later the hero is digging in the graveyard under a full moon. The card is pried out of the corpse's hand, but the madness is just beginning: Court orders follow exhumation orders, the search for a ministry stamp leads Wood up an elevator then down the stairs to the end of a serpentine line, the information center is virtually a skating rink of official tables. A second funeral is arranged and summarily foiled, the mortician tears up the clerk's folder and the clerk responds by dismantling the hearse until the ensuing tumult achieves the slapstick violence of Battle of the Century and Two Tars, punctuated by a florist crying "Flores para los muertos" -- Laurel and Hardy are thanked in the credits, along with Buñuel, Lloyd, Keaton, Vigo, Marilyn Monroe, et al. Vampyr figures in a dream sequence or two, Billy Wilder in the atelier of revolutionist poster art (with an octopus pinned to a canvas "to symbolize imperialism" and a model wielding hammer and bikini), animation and undercranking are judiciously added to the picture's satirical structure. A work of speed and vehemence, attentive to the clutter of Cuba's changing times and assembled so caustically that Gutiérrez Alea's ultimate joke comes to rest in the chasm separating the hopes of institutional change in the revolution's slogan ("Death to Bureaucracy") from the biting and human-sized realities of the title. With Manuel Estanillo, Omar Alfonso, Gaspar De Santelices, Elsa Montero, and Luis Romay. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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