Spanish title: El cochecito
Country: Spain / France
Director: Marco Ferreri
Produced by Pedro Portabella for Films 59
Story and screenplay: Rafael Azcona and Marco Ferreri, based on the novel ‘El cochecito’ by Rafael Azcona
Music: Miguel Asins Arbo
Cinematographer: Juan Julio Baena
Editor: Pedro Del Rey
Art director: Enrique Alarcon
Cast: José Isbert (Don Anselmo Proharán) <in> ‘El cochecito’ <with> Pedro Porcel (Carlos Proharán), José Luis López Vázquez (Alvarito), María Luisa Ponte (Matilde), Jose A. Lepe (Don Lucas), Ángel Álvarez (Álvarez), Antonio Gavilán (Don Hilario), <and> María Isbert, María Jesús Lampreave [Chus Lampreave] (Yolanda), Mari Carmen Santonja [Carmen Santonja] (Julita), Eusebio Moreno, Tiburcio Camara, Heredia, Anteno, Antonio Jiménez Escribano, Jesusa de Castro, Andrea Moro, Manuel De Agustino, Fernando Cebreros, Miguel Muňoz <and with the collaboration of> Antonio Riquelme (Doctor). <uncredited> Rafael Azcona (the second friar), Carlos Saura (the first friar)
Anselmo (Jose Isbert) is retired civil servant who lives in a room in the small Madrid apartment he shares with his solicitor son, daughter in law and grandchildren. A widower, his social life has shrunk to almost nothing, not least of all because most of his friends have died. Among the few still surviving is Don Lucas (Lepe) who, because he is a paraplegic, is given a motorized wheelchair (known as a ‘cochecito’). When he rapidly falls in with a gang of other wheelchair users Anselmo feels excluded and, as a result, becomes insanely jealous. He decides that the only thing to do is get a wheelchair of his own, but the slight hitch with this is that they’re far beyond the budgetary constraints of his limited pension. So firstly he pretends to have lost the ability to walk in the hope that his son will pay for one and, when this fails, he begins stealing from his own family.
El cochecito was the second collaboration between Italian director Marco Ferreri and Spanish writer Rafael Azcona, who would work on another fifteen productions together including the likes of The Ape Woman (64) and La grande bouffe (74). As with their first films together, The Little Apartment, this was based on an original story by Azcona, in this case Paralítico, as featured in the almost simultaneously released 1960 collection Pobre, paralítico y muerto.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given the idiosyncratic nature of its director, El cochetino is an unusual film in that it both gives the central role to a septuagenarian and also depicts him behaving in an extremely childish way; there’s no wisdom that comes with age here, in fact the protagonist has become more set in his ways and prone to infantile tantrums as he’s got older. But as an early film by Ferreri it’s not as outlandish and bizarre as his later works and still recognizably belongs to the Spanish comic tradition. In fact it’s often cited as an example of cinema which falls into the Esperpento style, a literary movement which was initiated by Ramón María del Valle-Inclán in the 1920s and which relied upon exaggerating or distorting reality with grotesque and ironic results, largely as a way of critiquing a society which didn’t take criticism particularly well.
Although it’s ironic rather than funny it has some great sequences, especially of the wheelchair users cruising (slowly) through the streets of Madrid like a geriatric version of Marlon Brando’s The Black Rebels Motorcycle Group from The Wild One; these dudes even have organised races where the winners are treated like they’re the victors at a Grand Prix. And underneath the humor there’s a heavy dose of melancholy: although Anselmo is a crotchety git it’s at least partially because he’s a sad old man who has difficulty connecting with the people around him. He is, quite frankly, waiting to die, and everyone else is waiting for him to die as well. As such he fits neatly into a comedic tradition of pensioners behaving badly, whether it’s the assorted protagonists of the TV series Last of the Summer Wine, Jack Lemmon and Walter Mattheau hamming it up in Grumpy Old Men or more particularly Richard Farnsworth and his trusty lawnmower in The Straight Story. This being a Ferreri film, though, it’s a bit more cutting and black humored than that, with Anselmo driven to increasingly capricious and selfish acts in his desire for a cochecito of his own; even going so far as to commit – or try to commit, depending on which version you watch – mass murder.
As an examination of loneliness and old age it stands up incredibly well, but it also works as a depiction of lower middle class life in Madrid of the time. It’s a town full of small and rather grotty tenements, haphazard restaurants where people eat incongruously extravagant meals, and in which just about everyone is on the border of falling into destitution (apart from the occasional aristocrat, who of course everyone else fawns to). Ferreri takes some of his cues from neo-realism, but it has a crispness and visual style which is closer to that of the New Wave which was the rage in France and Italy at the time, complete with long, widescreen shots of the city and the people who inhabit it.
Cast & crew
Born in Milan, Marco Ferreri dropped out of his medical degree in favor of becoming a liquor salesman and then journalist, where one of his roles was marketing a film magazine. It wasn’t long before the cinema bug grabbed him and he began working in a production capacity on the likes of Alberto Lattuada’s The Overcoat and making commercials. In 1957 he started working in Spain and in 1959 he directed The Children and The Little Appartment. Despite the Italian director, both these and El cochecito were purely Spanish productions, and although Ferreri later moved back to Italy after the expiration of his Spanish work visa his work continued to have a pan-European flavor and much of it was shot in France, with the result that he’s often absent from lists of acclaimed Italian directors.
Press coverage & reception
As with The Little Appartment, El cochecito met with only middling success, although in later years it became more valued as Ferreri’s reputation soared. It was at least partially hindered by problems with the censors, who demanded that the ending be changed so that Don Anselmo – who has put poison in his family’s food after a particularly heated argument – is seen to call them up and ask forgiveness (rather than simply being arrested, presumably for having killed them). The critical response was favorable, being shown at the London Film Festivsl in 1960 and winning the FIPRESCI (International Federation of Film Critics) Prize at the Venice Film Festival, where the original version was shown.