Friday, October 21, 2005

Death of a Bureaucrat (Alea, 1966)

Though it bears a stylistic resemblance to Eastern European drama produced behind the Iron Curtain, Tomas Gutierrez Alea’s Death of a Bureaucrat is instead set in Cuba in the 1960's. With gentle wit and sharp insight, Alea draws attention to the way that the machine of bureaucracy, designed ostensibly to operate with supreme efficiency, can instead grind unfortunate souls to dust when they dare to present an exception. The film opens with the funeral of a man who is considered such a fine proletarian example that he is buried with his worker’s card as an odd kind of tribute. As well intentioned as this gesture may be, it poses a fairly large problem when his widow discovers that without the card, she cannot access her late husband’s pension. Salvador Wood plays the role of the nephew that strives to set things right and instead finds himself in a circular nightmare worthy of MC Escher. When he is told that the only way to access the coffin is to have the body exhumed ... in 2 years ... he decides to take matters into his own hands and discovers just how stubborn bureaucrats can be.

If it never soars to grand comedic heights, Death of a Bureaucrat remains a consistently entertaining and thoughtful look at social madness. Alea draws from Kafka, Bunuel and Chaplin to create a series of mishaps and frustrations that are appropriately aggravating. I particularly enjoyed the two dream sequences where Alea allowed himself to present the protagonist’s struggle in irrational terms. If you enjoy your farce peppered with a healthy dose of political commentary, Death of a Bureaucrat is worth a look.



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