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
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.