Witching & Bitching is as over-the-top as horror-comedies come, but it is also a smart amalgam of statement and cynicism.
The age-old battle of the sexes gets brutal and supernatural in Witching & Bitching (Las brujas de Zugarramurdi); the women are witches intent on reclaiming the upper hand, the men can help but bitch about how their romantic endeavours never go to plan, and both combine in a farcical quest for supremacy and survival. Writer/director Álex de la Iglesia relishes the clichéd and the off-kilter in a horror-comedy hybrid in tune with the anarchic sensibilities of his 2010 effort, The Last Circus. It’s a bit manic, a little mad, and always a melange of styles, sources and subplots – and it’s all there in the title.
A jewellery heist starts as the solution to José’s (Hugo Silva, I’m So Excited) problems, the divorced dad desperate for cash to finance a move to France with his eight-year-old son Sergio (debutant Gabriel Delgado). Enlisting bumbling stranger Antonio (Mario Casas, The Mule) into his not-so-cunning plan is his first mis-step; hijacking Manuel’s (Jaime Ordonez, Spanish TV’s La hora de José Mota) taxi as a getaway vehicle is his second less than stellar choice. Soon, the quartet is hurtling towards the border with José’s ex-wife Silvia (Macarena Gomez, Blink) and two Madrid cops (Impávido’s Pepon Nieto and The Summer Side’s Secun de la Rosa) in swift pursuit.
The three and a half men drive and trade dramas about wives, girlfriends and mothers, but the content of their complaints pale in comparison to the femme-fuelled antics still to come. Just shy of escaping the country, they fall into the clutches of multiple generations of feisty, witchy women – coven matriarch Marichu (Terele Pavez, The End of the World), her scheming daughter Graciana (Carmen Maura, The Mother), and her neo-gothic granddaughter Eva (Carolina Bang, As Luck Would Have It). World domination, female empowerment, ritual sacrifice and relationships are all on the enchantresses’ minds.
Couched as a tale of cops, robbers and the occult, there’s no room for subtlety in Witching & Bitching – nor is nuance or naturalism de la Iglesia’s forte. Mayhem evolves from the filmmaker’s frenetic, furious satire of the eternal conflict between men and women in the broadest and most blunt of terms: on one side, there’s the nagging and scolding, the lamenting and amorous game play, taken straight from stereotypes; on the other, think literal chases around a cavernous castle, meals made of males, and chanting hordes hungry for their own place in the spotlight. As co-written with frequent collaborator Jorge Guerricaechevarría (The Oxford Murders), the divide is drawn out to cartoonish extremes, skewering all-too-standard on-screen depictions as well the silly off-screen reality such simplifications are drawn from.
Only with a cast as committed to the cheeky undercurrent could the film have succeeded in its parody, courtesy of playful turns on both sides of gender lines. Though the feature sets up the men as the ostensible objects of sympathy and the women as the obvious aggressors, the true skill in the performances is in ensuring that neither designation sticks beyond the surface. The assumed protagonists are as inept as they are earnest, and their supposedly sinister counterparts are enlivened with relatable motivations despite their magical prowess. Silva perfects the former and Bang the latter, as surrounded by supporting portrayals that similarly and gleefully blur the boundaries between heroes and villains.
Painted in darkness and fleshed out with ample CGI, de la Iglesia matches his aesthetic to his careening atmosphere, with the imagery as outlandish as the mood and the humour. Not every visual flourish convinces, nor does every gag hit the spot, but both demonstrate the fun of a movie that revels in its ridiculousness. Yet again, one of Spain’s most interesting filmmakers gifts audiences with an effort that simultaneously embraces and challenges its overall message and many influences. Yes, Witching & Bitching is as over-the-top as horror-comedies come, but it is also a smart amalgam of statement and cynicism channelled into a joyously imaginative and eccentric offering.
Rating: 3 ½ out of 5 stars
Witching & Bitching (Las brujas de Zugarramurdi)
Director: Álex de la Iglesia
Spain, 2013, 112 mins
Spanish Film Festival
Sydney: Tues 29 April – Sun 18 May, Palace Verona and Palace Norton Street
Melbourne: Wed 30 April – Sun 18 May, Palace Cinema Como, Palace Westgarth & Kino Cinema
Brisbane: Thu 01 May – Wed 14 May, Palace Barracks and Palace Centro
Canberra: Thu 01 May – Wed 14 May, Palace Electric Cinema
Perth: Tue 06 May – Wed 21 May, Cinema Paradiso
Adelaide: Tue 06 May – Wed 21 May, Palace Nova Eastend Cinema
Byron Bay: Thu 08 May – Wed 14 May, Palace Byron Bay