TIFF 2013 Review: WITCHING & BITCHING Is Vulgar Auteurism At Its Most Manic

They are in every city along the main tourist drags, those living statues of celebrities, comic book characters and horror icons just standing there, silently hoping for your loose change. 
In Álex De La Iglesia's latest bit of mayhem, they're not standing still for long; nothing here is ever silent for long. In broad daylight on the crowded streets of Madrid, Jesus Christ, a Toy Soldier, Spongebob Squarepants, the Invisible Man and possibly Mickey & Minnie Mouse knock off a "We Buy Your Gold" shop. In a haze of sweat and bullets, they make off with the booty of a couple thousand gold rings in a hijacked Taxi. 

Painted head to in silver body spray, Jesus, with a shotgun to match his chrome skin and thorny crown, is actually Jose, a single Dad who perhaps unwisely, chooses to not only bring his 10 year kid Sergio along for the heist, but gives him a fairly active role in the job. While at gunpoint, one of the hostage gives Jose grief for involving a child in the crime for which violence will be inevitable. Jose defends himself, stating that he only gets custody a couple days a week. The hostage sympathizes with the unfair court system that favours the mother.  At one point during the escape, Sergio is firing two pistols, Chow Yun Fat style, at the police, over the shoulders of his dad who carries him. Do not look for cinéma vérité or neo-realism, or any kind of common sense here, as this is pure 'id' filmmaking from a director who particularly excels at this sort of middle-finger to propriety and society. Witching & Bitching may be less operatic than de la Iglesia's The Last Circus, but is more gonzo than anything he has done. And considering the man's lengthy C.V. of genre genius, that is indeed saying something. In his sights here is the impotent machismo of men, and the vindictive revenge of women.  And children being shat out the other side. Literally.

The women-bashing continues in the car as both the cabbie and an unwilling passenger (a hostage taken when the cab was hijacked) also have significant lady problems that they are more than happy to moan about. The cabbie goes so far as to throw his own wedding ring on to the heap of gold bands acquired during the heist and offers to join up. Jose's phone sounds off with a red klaxon ringtone, where the caller ID indicates his ex as "Armageddon." She calls to check in on the incompetence of her ex-husband and chew him out for the sheer practice of the act. The ex is played by the diminutive but feisty Macarena Gomez, an actress who is no stranger to black comedy spectacle - her performances in horror comedy Sexykiller and the over-the-top misogynous gangster picture Neon Flesh could be described as broad, but here that is just a very bad pun. After taking out her frustrations on her patients (she's a nurse) when she finds out about the heist, she is soon hot on the trail of her ex-husband and child with two police inspectors tailing her to get to them.  

As the gang rushes towards the French border, they ends up stuck in the small town of Zugarramurdi, world famous as one of the central European hubs of Witchcraft, and judging by the local bar in the film, the townsfolk are none too shy about hiding things. Enrique Villén, the Spanish Marty Feldman shows up for goofy henchmen colour.  The key witches are played by three generations of established actresses who, besides being semi-regulars for this director, often appear in Pedro Almodovar films. My favourite actor currently working in Spain, Carlos Areces (Ghost Graduation, Extraterrestrial, I'm So Excited) is admittedly wasted as an inexplicable cross-dressing witch who makes comic relief in a film that is already wall to wall comedy.  Maybe he is here as only a favour after the director gave him the crazy-sad-clown part in The Last Circus

The real Basque-region locals are all extras in the big action-set piece climax which might be a tad heavy on CGI (at times resembling the Matrix sequels with all its complex wire-work) but makes wonderful use of Zugarramurdi's spectacular witch caves ("The Devil has no tail, but his pussy is like a cave") and features enough practical location work to evoke everything from Peter Jackson's Braindead to Buster Keaton's Seven Chances. Like those films, there is a manic energy on display co-existing with a reverence for the tiniest details in any given scene. The sense of escalation achieved here is a marvelous thing.

Álex De La Iglesia is not exactly making The Brood here, but he is farcically channeling some personal pain and suffering - even his lawyer is brought into the fray.  Any guy who has ever misunderstood women (that's pretty much all of them) and felt resentful or emasculated for the experience later (that's most of them) will see none-too-subtle evocations here. But then, like a good 21st century man, turns the sexism on its ear, and shows just how much baggage and idiocy the fellas bring into the equation. Like the film, the ending is ludicrous, vulgar, and infinitely cyclical. And if the ladies, watching the film on date-night, might side with the witches of Zugarramurdi over the plight of the fellas, well then the director has done his job well.  If you keep scratching at the gender satire film, you'll only dig yourself deeper. 
Around the Internet:
  • Shelagh M. Rowan-Legg

    Also, didn't George Carlin once say something to the effect of "All you need to know, is that women are crazy, and men are stupid. And the reason that women are crazy, is that men are stupid." Maybe that was Alex's mantra for the film.

  • Kurt

    As someone who often opens reviews with George Carlin quotes (See: http://www.rowthree.com/2013/0... ) I feel remiss in not doing so with the above! ABSOLUTELY TRUE and --FACT--, Shelagh!

    I am reminded of the Q&A of Rare Exports when someone asked why there were no women in that movie. The directors dry, Norwegian response was that if there were women around the men wouldn't have made such silly choices, and therefore, no film. Brilliant.

  • Shelagh M. Rowan-Legg

    Oh, I can't wait for this one!

  • TheGhostOfGriffinMill

    Agreed!

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