Spanish director de la Iglesia returns with his spiritual follow-up to Balada Triste de Trompeta. Las Brujas de Zugarramurdi (Witching and Bitching) is clearly from the same man who brought us the Spanish clown genre masher. While de la Iglesia does his best to explore some different themes this time around, fans of Balada Triste de Trompeta would do good to seek out his latest film, as it's every bit as spectacular.
Looking at Balada Triste and Las Brujas de Zugarramurdi,I think it would be fair to call de la Iglesia the Spanish Guillermo del Toro. Both directors have a very colorful style, a knack for cooking up solid amusement and a pretty unique way of bringing elements from different genres together. But where del Toro is often held back by budgetary restraints (as in large budgets limit the input of a director), de la Iglesia has more freedom to go wild.
Las Brujas de Zugarramurdi is a pretty outrageous and fast-paced film. It starts off with a violent robbery on a gold shop, it goes on to become a crime comedy and ends up as a demented occult horror. All the while de la Iglesia juggles different genres cliché around as if it's the most normal thing in the world. It's as if you're watching a completely different film every 20 minutes, only the cast and setting remain constant.
The film follows a duo of first-time robbers (José and Antonio) who got hold of a bag full of abandoned wedding rings at a Madrilenian gold shop. They hijack a taxi and flee the scene. Besides the driver and a passenger, there's also a fifth person in the taxi: José's kid, who gladly participated in the robbery. On their way to Disneyland Paris, they pass by Zugarramurdi, a small village known for its history with witches. Needless to say, leaving the village will be a lot harder than expected.
Kiko de la Rica, one of Spain's most talented cinematographers, is back to handle the visuals, and it shows. From start to finish Las Brujas de Zugarramurdi is a pleasure to behold. Bold and strong colors, slick camera work, superb settings and sublime play of light make for a luscious visual spectacle. The CG isn't always top notch (even though de la Iglesia had more money to spend this time around), but it's functional and whenever used it adds a lot of extra fun to the film.
The soundtrack is a little less attractive, though there are a few scenes where it is used to good effect. By itself it's a little too generic, but the music succeeds at supporting the fast-paced atmosphere and all in all it keeps the blood pumping. It's not memorable in any way and there's clearly potential to improve things the next time around, but for a film like this it suffices.
The acting too is a bit hit and miss. While the cast is clearly in on the joke, the comedy bits aren't always as funny as they could've been. Some actors are a little too hyperactive and overdone to be truly amusing, even for a film of this calibre. Then again, these moments pass as quickly as they are introduced and they are just as easily forgotten. The cast as a whole does a pretty good job and makes sure the film never becomes too heavy-handed, even during its darker moments.
Las Brujas de Zugarramurdi isn't necessarily suited for die-hard genre aficionados, as the film hardly manages to be consistent for longer than 10 minutes at at time. If you're a fan of witches and the occult, the comedy and action bits might put you off, if you're watching for a good laugh you might be caught off-guard by the action and fantasy bits. Instead de la Iglesia aims to make a film that is simply fun, freed from genre boundaries and people's expectations. And boy does he succeed.
The film knows a few lesser moments and compared to Balada Triste de Trompeta it doesn't quite match the genius of the former, but whatever complaints I had, they always passed quickly and they were easy enough to forgive when de la Iglesia surprised me with another one of his mad ideas. On top of that, Las Brujas de Zugarramurdi is a true visual orgasm, a film that looks amazing from the very first to the very last frame. I'm still a bit hesitant to look up de la Iglesia's earlier films, but I wouldn't miss his next one for all the money in the world. If only more directors had the balls to go beyond genre limitations to make a film that is fun from the ground up.