Witching and Bitching
Jorge Guerricaechevarria and Alex de la Iglesia
Alex de la Iglesia
Hugo Silva as Jose
Mario Casas as Antonio
Carolina Bang as Eva
How the American distribution company decided on Witching and Bitching when looking over the original title of Las brujas de Zugarramurdi (The Witches of Zugarramurdi) is beyond anyone’s comprehension. But this horrible title translation/renaming did not hurt the film one iota. It’s a Spanish import (“Like duh,” you’re saying, “I can tell from the original title”) and was a highly honored award winner in its homeland, having won 8 Goya Awards (Spain’s equivalent to our Academy Awards) and it deserves every single one of them. Based on the usual poorly-translated/renamed title, I didn’t have high hopes for this film. But here I am, about to shower high praise on this horror-comedy gem! It’s that good!
Jose (Hugo Silva – looking dreamy in his silver-painted, almost-naked Jesus Christ costume), divorced from his bitter (now ex-) wife, has his son Sergio (scene-stealer Gabriel Delgado) for the weekend. So to make the most oftheir sporadic times together and to up the ante of father/son bonding, Jose uses Sergio as well as several anonymous accomplices, to rob a jewelry store. Thing is, Jose and the criminal co-horts use the many character costumes from the busy square outside the shop to carry out the heist. The ensuing shoot-out (where the dude dressed as “Spongebob Squarepants” gets riddled by bullets and several other accomplices are arrested) is fantastically wacky and gets Jose, Sergio, a dim-witted accomplice we later learn is named Antonio (the adorable Mario Casas), as well as a cabbie named Manuel (Jaime Ordonez) and his male fare (Manuel Tallafe), whom we’ll refer to as Babajoz (an hysterical, on-going gag throughout the film) out of the city. Off into the countryside they go, in the hopes of reaching the French border with their valuable stash. Add into the mix, Jose’s ex-wife (Macarena Gomez) hot on their trail, two bumbling police officers (Secun de la Rosa and Pepon Nieto) and the fact that this caravan must pass through Zugarramurdi (a real life haven of witch and supernatural activity – the film is actually shot there) where a coven of witches await a possible “chosen one” to bring their towering female deity to breathing and screeching above-ground life.
Obviously the heist gets the story underway, and it’s an absurd, action-packed (it’s quickly clear that the filmmakers were working with a very generous budget) and fast-paced set piece. The ensuing car chase/drive to the border, although extremely enjoyable when getting to know the characters, could have been trimmed a bit, thus getting us to the events in Zugarramurdi a little sooner.
The actors in the film are all delightful, illustrating a perfect example of an ensemble cast. To say that they all stand out makes no sense, but in fact, that is the case. Not one weak link in this lengthy chain of acting prowess. However, let me point out the best of the best (I’m starting to sound like I’m about to give out “participant” ribbons at some middle school athletic event. “You’re ALL winners!”) Anyway, Carolina Bang (a cross between Evan Rachel Wood and Amy Adams – just 100 times hotter) is the young witch Eva. Carmen Maura as the head witch, Graciana (channeling some serious Lily Munster) is equally alluring in her state as well-to-do and well dressed front for the coven, as she is in her garb and “earthy” state when lording over the ritual proceedings. And then there’s Terele Pavez as the most senior (and somewhat forgetful) witch in the coven, Maritxu (Graciana’s mother and Eva’s grandmother). Pavez was the only Goya acting award (mentioned above) for Witching & Bitching. The rest of the awards were all technical. And these fine ladies are simply some of the acting highlights. Truthfully, an entire essay could be constructed on the picture’s acting goodness alone.
But one of the absolute hoots of the film, is the “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from a Cave Deep Within the Spanish Countryside Where Witches Plot Their Eventual Female World Domination”, lampooning. When the women (basically all the witches and most other unsuspecting female citizens of the world) have their say in the film, it’s all about female empowerment. I don’t want to give away the dogma of the coven, but it’s fantastic and completely tramples on the “male superiority” so prevalent today. However, when we’re focused on the boys (specifically on the long journey to Zugarramurdi), it’s all about how the women have the men by the balls, the men can never completely read (and in turn, satisfy) the women and how the men need to finally take back the role of being “the man”. Basically, even with those dialogues, the film comes back around to female empowerment.
There’s an exchange between Jose and Eva which had me nodding my head and laughing out loud. Jose is intent on saving his companions and his son, but in the brief time he’s known Eva, he’s fallen in love with her, and the feeling’s mutual. In true-to-life (at least true-to-movie-life), Eva puts Jose on the spot in the middle of a crazy chase scene through the witch’s house (with wind howling and the building crumbling around them) asking why he won’t put her first in his life. What? Yes. And my sad description here will in no way ruin (or properly illustrate) the fun of these inspired moments.
The climax is intense and goofy and absurd and clearly no expense was spared. The action cuts back and forth between the big ritual in the cave (and an impressively huge cast of extras), the conversations of the many male characters about to be burned at the stake, and the already-discussed chase scene through the house. The locations and sets where the ritual commences are mind-blowingly cool.
And the effects are really first-rate. The reveal of the witch’s “earth mother” is quite a gross-out treat, and the very first moments showcasing the coven’s power are actually pretty creepy and quite seamless.
Also, all seemingly random, odd occurrences are given their due follow-up and conclusion, including the introduction of the pathetic Luismi (a fantastic performance from Javier Botet), Eva’s brother who is kept chained in a corner of the cellar. In an avalanche of insanity and wild characters, Luismi is one of the most sympathetic souls we discover. Botet’s strikingly gaunt physicality and his character’s horrific situation immediately make you fall in love. And his make-up is crazy good.
There are a few good scares in there, but all done in good fun. Scares are not what the film is all about. It’s the performances, the production design and humor which will hook you.
The US title won’t sell you (I certainly would not have taken a gander, had I not been assigned to review the picture), so use it only when trying to locate the DVD (which you should do asap!)… then cast aside the Witching & Bitching nonsense and let the wave of over-the-top fun and wackiness wash over you like so much blood and mucus from a gigantically-boobed, witch-deity. Yes, you read right, and also yes… that is icky-pants.
With witch stories still so heavy on the mind, in light of the completion of the dismal recent third season of American Horror Story, I feel obliged to point out: Witching & Bitching is what Covenwanted to and should have been – clear, original and engaging at every plot turn.
And finally, there is simply not enough space to celebrate all the important little details, unmentioned brilliant gags and additional impressive feats in production design which can be found in Witching & Bitching. Just watch the darned thing