Los Jueves, Milagro (Miracles of Thursday, 1957)
Directed by Luis García Berlanga
Written by Luis García Berlanga and José Luis Colina
Starring: Richard Basehart, Pepe Isbert, José Luis López Vázquez, Manuel Alexandre.
There wasn’t much room for artistic freedom during the almost four decades (1939 – 1975) when General Francisco Franco exerted his power in Spain. Due to the Catholic Church’s censorship practices, Spanish audiences were deprived from enjoying Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara’s passionate kiss in “Gone with the Wind”. Hundreds of people crossed the border to watch “Last Tango in Paris” which could not be released in Spain until 1978. It was also in France where Luis Buñuel filmed one of his most suggestive and provocative films – “Belle de Jour” – at the end of the 60s. It would have been just impossible to even attempt to do anything like that in a “moral-ruled” country such as Spain at the time.
Within this context, Luis García Berlanga tried to write and direct from a more liberal point of view. His works were clever analyses of the sociopolitical situation of the time combined with high doses of irony. With “Los jueves, milagro”, Berlanga initially intended to criticise the exacerbated fervour with which some sectors of society blindly followed religion. The film takes place in “Fontecilla”, a little village which had been famous for its spa and mineral water’s health benefits but is now in decline because the train does not stop there anymore. The most powerful men in the town think up a plan: every Thursday a fake Saint Dimas will appear to the local congregation. Resembling cases like Lourdes, this miraculous event will attract hundreds of tourists, making the village come to life again. However, a mysterious man called Martino arrives and starts blackmailing the plan perpetrators in exchange of his silence.
“Los jueves, milagro”’s first script was more critical towards the establishment, disguised behind Berlanga’s signature black humour. However, a change of production company caused the ultra-Catholic organisation Opus Dei to have a direct influence on the movie. As a result, Berlanga felt so disappointed that he would not direct again in the subsequent four years.
In spite of the aforementioned difficulties and the introduction of a morally acceptable – although bland – ending, “Los jueves, milagro” is still an enjoyable comedy. With hilarious artistic interventions from Pepe Isbert, José Luis López Vázquez and a very young and almost unrecognisable Manuel Alexandre, some of its most iconic scenes (e.g. St. Dimas’ first apparition) still remain fresh for contemporary audiences.
Scene of “Los jueves, milagro” (Spanish only)