Though still lacking the international recognition of his soulful mentor, Pedro Almodóvar, Spanish auteur Álex de la Iglesia has created a splashily sardonic film world scarcely less recognizable. In his latest postmodern cherry bomb, Crimen Ferpecto, the frenetic (yet melancholy-tinged) transgressive impulses of Day of the Beast, La Comunidad, and 800 Bullets all but explode in a satire of modern-day consumerism clashing with the homely messiness of life. Slant Magazine recently spoke with the director about Monty Python, Buñuel, the hardships of dark comedy and the elusiveness of perfection.
The English-language title, The Perfect Crime, misses one of the movie’s best jokes. Where does “Ferpecto” come from?
It comes from my fondness for the characters of Asterix and Obelix, who in one of the stories got drunk and went around saying “ferpectamente!” Maybe for some commercial reasons, it got changed, I don’t know. The title is important, because the joke represents my way of thinking. Life as nonsense, you know, of how impossible it is to have perfect things in life. You can’t have a perfect wife, you can’t have a perfect family. The only way to survive is to assume the mistakes in life, and live with them. That’s the problem with the character [Rafael], he tries to be elegant all the time, and, the way I see it, you try to be Frank Sinatra all the time, you die. [Laughs]
Would you say the film is about the destruction of Rafael’s ideals of perfection?
It’s the destruction of our ideals of consumerist happiness.
From where do you think people get this idea of perfection, of materialistic elegance and supermodel beauty?
I don’t know. It’s not just an American way of life, you know. It comes from before. People need this perfection, to imagine happiness in perfection, and imagine other lives for themselves. These other lives here take place in the shopping center, because it’s like a temple. A place where you can find perfection because there are no human beings inside. You go to a shopping mall, and you can say, “I love everything. I love the TV plasma, I love this stupid Sony thing, everything.” Then you buy the TV, you put it in your house, and then it’s not so good. Why? Because now, it’s human. Same with women. You think about having sex with women, then you have sex with one, and it’s no good. Why? It’s not a dream anymore, it’s a real thing.
There’s a terrific moment in the scene where Rafael’s sense of an enclosed dream world is cracked open by Lourdes and virtually the whole world, in the reality TV show.
Reality intruding upon his fantasy, yes.
Ensayo de un Crimen looms largely over the film as a reference point. Are you a big fan of Buñuel?
Of course. I love all his movies. I take a lot of things from him, like the mannequin. I like working with his iconography and putting it into the movie. Also the symbolism. The mannequins could be the way women are seen, and the commercial center, like I said, a temple where you can go to pray to the money-god. At the same time, you have heaven, where Rafael works, and hell, in the basement, with the flames, where he plans to kill Don Antonio and he and Lourdes dismember his body. Every heaven has a hell. Besides, Ensayo de un Crimen is the only film I remember that had a death by elevator shaft.
That’s one of the most memorable bits, the nun falling down the shaft and robbing the character of his fantasy of murder.
Oh, it’s fantastic.
Speaking of Don Antonio being dismembered, there are scenes that push black comedy beyond what is normally accepted, like the little girl at the dinner table announcing she was raped by her gym teacher. Is it easier to put extreme things past censors in a comedy than in a drama?
Yes, but even in a comedy it’s not easy, because the audience can simply say, “Oh no, that’s too much for me!” You know, suddenly you lose the audience. For example, in the dismemberment scene, I thought, “How can I avoid blood?” We had the idea of the feathers flying from the winter clothing as the cleaver came down. And the sequence with the little girl, the moment is so surreal, with the old father asleep at the table. You can think the people are crazy, and think of what she says as a joke, but at the same time, you think, “With these people, could this be true?” [Laughs] I love that scene, it’s the kind of humor I want to do. I feel this kind of humor in Monty Python, for example. Like the scene in The Meaning of Life, with the Irish mother in the hospital and her baby dropping on the floor. It’s like walking on a tightrope off the side of a building.
Tell me a bit about your Hollywood experiences, or rather, near-experiences. Were you at one point supposed to direct a version of Doom?
Oh, that was 10 years ago. I remember somebody telling me the game was going to be turned into a movie, and I just love playing that game at my house. I wanted to make the movie. So there was only one meeting with an American studio, but it was a pretty bad one, because they asked me, “What kind of movie do you want to do?” And I said, “A horror movie.” “Do you think it’s for children, or families?” “No, no, adult movie, like Alien, you know. Big monsters.” They said no because it’s easier to make a big, expensive movie for everybody, than a cheap movie for adults only. I never forgot that.
But you did shoot a film in English, Dance with the Devil, with Javier Bardem.
And Rosie Perez and James Gandolfini.
And Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.
Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, one year before he died. Not a Hollywood movie, though. It’s become a bit of a cult film, but you know, it’s been totally cut. Five minutes from the film, just cut. Extreme things, a beautiful scene, like Christ crying