Vente a Alemania, Pepe (Come to Germany, Pepe – 1971)
Directed by Pedro Lazaga
Written by Vicente Coello and Vicente Escrivá
Starring: Alfredo Landa, Tina Sáinz, José Sacristán
BY RAQUEL MARTÍNEZ
Economic crises and unemployment have caused Spanish natives to find work abroad in different periods of recent history. For Spaniards, top European economies (specially Germany) are often regarded as promised lands ̶ places where virtually anyone can get a fairly paid job. Recent films such as Perdiendo el norte (Off-course – Nacho García Velilla, 2014) and Un franco, 14 pesetas (Crossing Borders – Carlos Iglesias, 2006) have provided diverse perspectives on Spanish emigration to Europe. Within this context, the 1970s comedy Vente a Alemania, Pepe (Come to Germany, Pepe – Pedro Lazaga, 1971) is considered the ‘protofilm’ in the popular Spanish imagery.
The film tells the story of Pepe (Alfredo Landa), a young(ish) Spaniard living in a tiny rural village in Aragón. Pepe works as electrician, altar boy, farmer, and whatever job that comes his way. When show-off Angelino (José Sacristán) returns from Germany for a short holiday, Pepe is stunned by his friend’s stories (i.e. lies) about the Teutonic land. Angelino lives in Munich, owns a Mercedes, dresses in a coconut fibre suit and, most importantly for Pepe, is a true Don Juan for the German ladies. None of it, of course, is true. In spite of his girlfriend Pilar’s opposition (Tina Sáinz), Pepe decides to move to Germany. Once there, Pepe realises that the life prospects for Spaniards working abroad do not entirely match Angelino’s over positive description.
For years, Spanish critics have referred to Vente a Alemania, Pepe as an españolada – a pejorative term for popular Spanish films often associated with Francoism. The choice of Alfredo Landa seems to justify this idea. After all, it was due to the frequent screen appearances of this comic actor that the term landismo was coined. In his sexy comedies, Alfredo Landa usually portrayed an average-looking, stereotypical Spaniard with an insatiable thirst for European girls. Indeed, there is a touch of landismo here, as Pepe chases German females tirelessly. Most times, though, Pepe falls victim of his own misfortunes, as greed and lust are (expectedly) punished.
More than four decades after its release, Vente a Alemania, Pepe reveals more nuanced sub-meanings. The comedic tone that characterises the first act of the film merges with melodramatic touches as the plot moves forward. This is highlighted by a group of secondary characters who are staying in the same boarding house as Angelino and Pepe. A young couple, María and Miguel (interpreted by real-life partners Gemma Cuervo and Fernando Guillén) are saving up to open a petrol station near their village. Their dreams come to an end when Maria finds out that she is pregnant, and she and Miguel are forced to give up on their dream. As most characters, Miguel and María are overcome with nostalgia (the Galician word morriña stands for an irremediable longing for the native land). Aware of the vicissitudes that the unexpected future may bring, María and Miguel return to Spain to bring up their child in a more familiar environment.
More interestingly, the character of Don Emilio (Antonio Ferrandis) provides a subtle political tone to the film. Don Emilio is a political exile unable to return to Spain due to his involvement with the Republicans during the war, although this is never made explicit in the film. This character becomes more relevant if we consider that Pedro Lazaga, who directed the film, was a Republican survivor himself. After spending a few years in a Francoist concentration camp, Lazaga paid his dues by joining the Blue Division (Franco’s special platoon of 10000 volunteers who were sent to fight Stalin’s troops in Russia). Taking this context into account, the character of Don Emilio could be interpreted in two ways. Is he being punished for opposing the Establishment, thus forced to remain in exile? Or is he a Republican hero who would not give up his ideals even if that entails never going back? To contemporary audiences, the warm treatment of Ferrandis’ character may suggest the latter.
In spite of this possible interpretation, there is no explicit mention of Spain’s political or economic situation at the time. The reasons for travelling to Germany are always down to the main characters’ urge to finance their projects, and not to social and economic difficulties in Spain. This is emphasised by Pepe, who has more than three jobs in the village, but dreams about having his own dairy. Controversial aspects remain ambiguous, as the finger could never be pointed at Franco’s Government. The fact that there were so many Spaniards abroad is never questioned in the film.
Clip – Pepe arrives in the German boarding house (in Spanish)
*Image courtesy of Andalucíainformación.es
Raquel Martínez is a language teaching assistant at the University of Strathclyde, where she is also completing her PhD studies on Spanish economic crisis cinema. Raquel is the creator and main editor of the Spanish Film Review Club blog.