I was intrigued by the LALIFF’s promise of a rarely-seen and newly-preserved gem, Jacobo Morales’ 1979 Dios los cria (…and God created them/Façade). Puerto Rico’s cinema is neither extensive nor widely known; all the more cause for celebration, therefore, that this title should have been chosen by the Academy for its meticulous preservation treatment, and that it should prove so fully deserving.
A delightfully Buñuelian satire on the business classes and man’s fundamentally self-serving nature (with a couple of broadsides aimed at religion for good measure, starting with the title), Morales’s widely-hailed but little-seen* debut comprises five short stories: brothers quarrel over an inheritance; a businessman tricks a bishop twice over; a stuck lift prompts confessions and recriminations; an aged prostitute vainly contemplates her lot; and a man reorders his domestic arrangements between wife and mistress. Jacopo is fond of the ridiculous, from the old man’s funeral that becomes a triple mourning, presided over by the full décolletage of the young widow (of one day!), to the businessman’s gliding escalator descent and re-ascension to the strains of a heavenly male choir; the deliriously purple prose of the blonde temptress (with ridiculous flute-led 70’s love theme) that repeatedly draws her lover (Morales himself) back to her bed in the final episode, and its unexpected revelation and farcically logical resolution.
The cinematic presentation is mostly straightforward, although the fourth episode is formally daring – and successful – in its almost complete lack of dialogue, the montage of looks and touches in a dimly-lit hooker bar carried by the time-worn features of Esther Sandoval as the old pro; and the widely-applicable parable-like nature of each episode is reinforced by an effective final-frame freeze. The silliness may rob the satire of some of its bite, but it is recognisably the product of ferocious outrage at a world of masquerades and hypocrisy and, most important, absurdly, viciously funny throughout.
*so much so that it’s nigh on impossible to find a still from the film. Contrary to the implication of the above image, it’s in colour, pleasantly grainy, with a thoroughbred 70s feel, from the cocktail jazz to spray-stiffened hair helmets, prominent lapels and manly beards. And pulls off with perfect aplomb the old middle-aged-man-imagines-secretary/nun-naked gag.