Unit 6. Death and Liberalism Within Fascism

Franco’s fascist dictatorship has been characterized as a singular, exceptional kind of regime, especially when compared to that of Hitler in Germany and Mussolini in Italy. During this first week of March we explored the nexus of death, humor, and liberalism in the crucial years of Franco’s fascist regime, and we sought to learn the role played by cinema in the unfolding of this singular phenomenon in fascism.

On Tuesday we explored the unfolding of what Pavlovic calls a ‘liberal’ dictatorship, a repressive regime characterized by a constant straddling of pleasure, delight, and hegemony, and following Steven Marsh’s lead, we focused on the importance of humor in the representation of death, the State, and the family in film.  We analyzed how two surprising sources of influence, French and American cinema, add new turn to this complex screw of aesthetic and political representation.  On Thursday we analyzed how this brand of Spanish ‘liberal’ fascism and the dyad humor-hegemony rear their head in the filmic experiment of Luis García Berlanga’s The Executioner.

Choose one of these leads, and write your reflection on these matters. This reflection does not have a deadline, but try not to let it accumulate until the end of the semester.


  1. The Executioner was by far my favorite film of the class so far, with brilliant details and a slow burn towards the inevitable. It captures perfectly the themes we discussed about liberal fascism, with issues such as globalization, the church-state, freedom, and autonomy at the forefront of this film. The main character, Jose Louis, is slowly drawn into an event that he remain in denial of until the last moment, demonstrating the corrupting force of Francoism with humor and care. Throughout the film, I was struck by how the characters were physically drawn along, with Jose Louis first going downwards into Amadeo’s home, where his corruption starts, out of the cave where he is essentially hiding, upwards into a new apartment as his job provides economic mobility, and finally, through the prison towards his fate as a killer. These movements show how powerful the forces of Francoism are on its subjects, how someone can be physically lead to their fate, and how the fascist regime leaves no one innocent.

  2. Berlanga’s The Executioner was certainly one of the most enjoyable films for me, as it’s tropes and themes were made very clear by the filmmaker’s clever and clear use of humor and dialogue with many hidden meanings (that were not so hidden). Although this period of the liberal dictatorship allows for Spain to begin to open up to the rest of the world, in hopes of improving tourism for the country’s economic interest, it is made clear by this film that traditional values and practices are still very much enforced and praised. The film brings civic discourse and the family into “conflictive relation” with the huge presence (and interference) of the state in Jose Luis’ life throughout film as he begins his new career as the executioner.
    One element of humor that was easy to spot in relation to the dark nature of Jose Luis’ new occupation contrasted with the fact that his wife is so nonchalant about his job (and primarily happy to live what she knows to be a regular life with him), is when he is tracked down while in Mallorca doing regular touristy activities with Carmen. Because Jose Luis is technically in Mallorca for work, and is currently quite closely tied and/or indebted to the state, it is quite comical to witness this public and loud disruption of his day as he is needed for business. Lastly, because Amadeus still represents the state before his retirement, his manner of coercion to try and get Jose Luis to take on his responsibility as role as the head of the household, is largely depicted in funny sequences of him intentionally “forgetting” things to keep Jose Luis in his home.

  3. The gradual change that marked the period of the “liberal dictatorship” during the 60s in Spain, were certainly accompanied by a slow separation of church and state. While Catholicism remained dominant in the country and throughout the policies until the present day, there are a few markers that indicate this separation beginning. While Franco continued to offer his support of the Catholic church, and vica versa, we can see in films such as The Executioner the two beginning to separate.
    It is clear from the beginnings of the film that Amadeo, Carmen, and Jose Luis represent the dealing of the State, and by proxy the dictatorship (and possibly even Franco himself). These three characters make up the society that is Spain in the 60s as both the beneficiaries of the state programs (as seen in their housing) and the hands of the state (as seen in their occupations). However, the removal of these characters from the Catholic church, and it’s practices, seems a predominant aspect in terms of their social lives and day-to-day activities. The main way that this disconnect is seen is between the sanctity of marriage and the sexual activites found in the film.
    First, Carman and Jose Luis are seen having sex prior to their marriage vows (the act which leads them to those vows) which is regarded, especially during these times, as an extremely unCatholic thing to do. Not to say that Catholics never broke their chastity until marriage, but the intentionality of this plot point from Berlanga shows their deviance from this path. Additionally, the marriage ceremony (while following the Catholic traditions) are done rushed and half heartedly as seen by the casual nature of the vows and priestly blessing. The film takes more time to focus on the legality of the marriage in the eyes of the state, then the eyes of God showing once again the separation of church and state within these characters and within the society as a whole. This departure from the religiosity of the state is an indicating factor of the liberal dictatorship and hints at the turn to a secular nation many years in the future.

  4. The idea of a “liberal” dictatorship is foreign to me. Growing up in the West we are often taught that democracy is the only way and that dictatorships are always malevolent. While it cannot be argued that Franco’s dictatorship was in any way right for Spain, the opening up of Spain during his rule did show some benefits to the country. The increased trade with other countries helped boost the economy and open the door to cultural and economic prosperity as communication with the outside world increased.
    This political movement takes place outside of the film The Executionner, however it’s ripples are still felt within the film. As Chase mentions above, one mark of the new liberal dictatorship was the separation of Church and State. This shows itself within the film through pre-marital sex as well as the presence of humor around death. The Catholic Church considers pre-marital sex a sin and death a serious time. This film disregards these rules for the sake of laughter and shows us the increasing liberalism of Spain.
    The humor depicted in this film is very dark. It jokes about life and death, the bureaucracy of death, and many other dark topics. This humor is definitely supported by the increased liberal ideals in Spain and begs the question: without this new form of government, would this movie production even be allowed?

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