Sunday, October 28, 2007

My New Thing: Mario Cantinflas

A scene from "El Bolero de Raquel," during which the bootblack played by Mexican comedy legend Mario Cantinflas accidentally wanders on-stage during a nightclub routine, having mistaken a call for "a Bolsero" (a sexy dance) with a call for a "Bolero" (someone who shines shoes).

I was recently read an interview with Charlie Chaplin in which he referred to a Mexican film actor named Cantinflas as “the funniest comic actor who ever lived.” Considering the source of that compliment, I immediately became interested and added “El Bolero de Raquel” to my Netflix queue. I watched it this morning and I believe I am officially hooked on this fellow’s work, and now I need to see it all. I read comparisons to Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, but really these films are short on physical comedy and long on somewhat racy, self-deprecating humor occasionally highlighted by an intense physical gag. In “El Bolero de Raquel,” for example, there is amazing sequence where Cantinflas and the child he is baby-sitting are watching some cliff-divers in Acapulco as they entertain a crowd. The child sneaks away and climbs to the top of a cliff where the divers have been leaping from. Simultaneously, both Cantinflas and his charge decide to join the other one on the opposite side. They cross paths but don’t notice one another. While crossing the cliff, cantinflas slips and falls, diving about 100 feet to the water below. A local hotel owner, who has seen Cantinflas fall, mistakes his fall for a courageous leap and hires him to be a lifeguard. He starts work as a lifeguard the next day, but he can’t swim, and he has to rescued by some swimmers the first time he gets in the water. This all happens in about a minute and a half, and it typifies what I loved so much about this film. The pace is almost unbearable. You can’t go make a sandwich while this movie is playing without missing about three big gags.

Also, I liked the lonely optimism of the main character. Cantinflas lives in extreme poverty, but he’s always on the make, always looking, sad-eyed, at the pretty ladies on the street. He doesn’t pursue women in a semi-creepy, obsessed way like Roberto Benigni does in all of his films. He just doesn’t give up trying.

That being said, he’s obviously also an immense fuck-up incapable of handling even the smallest responsibility, much less the child he is charged with caring for in “El Bolero de Raquel.” He’s neither adept at life or some kind of lovable, pure-hearted scamp. When a teacher asks him what he thinks about parenting, he responds “There’s more work and less to eat.” So he’s neither the warmfuzzy, doe-eyed do-gooder or a bitter maladroit, but something of a big grey area, morally. Maybe that’s why I loved this so much.


Blogger Sammy said...

He sounds like Wile E. Coyote.

9:00 AM  

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