August 19, 2005

A Murder in a Store, Then Blackmail

on the Installment Plan


In this antic and outrageous black comedy, Rafael
Gonzalez (Guillermo Toledo) is a salesman in the ladies'
department of a Madrid department store. The suave,
womanizing Rafael is the king of the sales floor, where he
claims to have been born when his mother went into labor
while buying a handbag. His fondest dream is to be made
floor manager; when his archrival, Don Antonio (Luis
Varela), is named to the position instead, Rafael's world
begins to unravel.

During a scuffle in the women's dressing rooms, Don
Antonio is accidentally killed, and Rafael makes the fatal
decision to dispose of the body in secret. But as it turns
out, the incident has been witnessed by Lourdes (Mónica
Cervera), the homeliest sales assistant on the floor, who is
secretly in love with Rafael. Soon she is blackmailing
Rafael into giving up his freewheeling bachelor's life.
Before he knows it, he's trapped in a cloying,
claustrophobic marriage from which murder may be the only

The director of "El Crimen
Perfecto" ("The Perfect Crime"), 34-year-old
Álex de la Iglesia, has been hailed as the successor to
Pedro Almodóvar, who produced Mr. de la Iglesia's first
film, "Accion Mutante," in 1993. Mr.
Almodóvar's influence is visible in this film's crisp,
almost cartoonish visual style; its bright, pulsating
colors; and its generous use of slapstick.

But Mr. de la Iglesia's bleakly cynical worldview is a
far cry from Mr. Almodóvar's expansive humanism. There are
no heroes in "El Crimen Perfecto": Rafael and Lourdes are a
callous, self-serving pair, locked in a zero-sum death
struggle that recalls the pulp-noir couples of James M.

Mr. de la Iglesia's anti-romantic comedy also functions
as a sly critique of consumerism, as the myriad temptations
of the department store sales floor come to symbolize the
warped values of capitalist culture.

Mr. Toledo's performance as the shallow and cowardly, yet
strangely sympathetic Rafael is a wonder of comic timing,
while Ms. Cervera is unforgettable as Lourdes, the ugly
duckling who becomes not a swan, but a monster. Mr. Varela,
the veteran Spanish actor, has fun as the murder victim Don
Antonio, who returns after death as a greenish, bodiless
head to commiserate with his beleaguered killer.

Like the Ferris wheel that serves as the setting for one
of its climactic scenes, "El Crimen Perfecto" is a bright,
gaudy and tremendously satisfying ride.

El Crimen Perfecto

Opens today in Manhattan.

Directed by Álex de la Iglesia; written (in Spanish, with
English subtitles) by Jorge Guerricaechevarría and Mr. de la
Iglesia; director of photography, Jose L. Moreno; edited by
Alejandro Lázaro; music by Roque Baños; art directors, Jose
Arrizabalaga and Arturo García Otaduy; produced by Gustavo
Ferrada, Mr. de la Iglesia, Juanma Pagazaurtundua and
Roberto di Girolamo; released by Vitagraph. At the
Landmark's Sunshine Cinema, 139-143 East Houston Street, East Village.
time: 104 minutes. This film is not rated.

WITH: Guillermo Toledo (Rafael), Mónica Cervera
(Lourdes), Luis Varela (Don Antonio), Enrique Villen
(Inspector Campoy), Fernando Tejero (Alonso) and Javier
Gutierrez (Jaime).

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