The not-so-perfect life of a Spanish salesman
October 5, 2005
Rafael González, the handsome ladies’ man played by Guillermo Toledo in the Spanish comedy “El Crimen Perfecto,” not only works at the downtown Madrid department store Yeyo’s (in the women’s clothes department, of course.). He was actually born at Yeyo’s; his mother went into labor in the store.
Over 30-something years, Rafael’s view of the world has become as limited as his physical domain. Born and working amidst fine clothes, fine foods and the very fine saleswomen at his disposal in Yeyo’s, he has managed to shove all of life’s ugliness well out of his view. “I am an elegant person who pretends to live in an elegant world,” he says, speaking directly to the audience as he strides confidently and untouched down the crowded city streets. “Is that too much to ask?”For at least a moment, we can imagine that Rafael’s discriminating take on life can be sustained. His elevated status, it turns out, is not just in his head. As we learn in an otherworldly prelude to his story, Rafael is considered by his peers the greatest salesman ever to have been made. And he is, in fact, a hit with the women, and the master of his domain at Yeyo’s.But we also know that his bubble is about to be pricked; such overweening pride is destined to be brought down. Rafael’s strident declarations early in the film practically invite a comeuppance: “Personally, I would rather die thanto live a mediocre life, like the rest of the people.” As Rafael’s entire existence – from his very beginning to his sexual encounters to the source of his ego – stems from his job, it is apparent that Yeyo’s will play the dominant role in his downfall. As will all the things in the world that Rafael disdains: ugliness, ordinariness, the settled-down family life of a plain wife and screaming kids.
Rafael is poised to take a turn for the better. The position of floor manager is to be filled by one of two Yeyo veteran employees: Don Antonio (Luis Varela), the unextraordinary, toupée-wearing example of humanity who for years has been relegated to managing the gentlemen’s section; or Rafael. In Rafael’s illusory world, the Don Antonios can’t prevail, and Rafael dreams of the enhanced financial and social status that will soon be his. The job, however, is granted not based on one’s magnificence, but on the more sober measure of sales figures. Rafael is edged out by Don Antonio, his view of the world collapses, and he is overtaken by murderous rage.Despite the film’s title, Rafael’s crime is very imperfect. For one, Don Antonio’s death is accidental. For another, the incident has been witnessed. And most imperfectly, that witness is Lourdes (Monica Cervera), the homely and obsessive Yeyo’s employee who Rafael has made a point of ignoring. All Lourdes wants in life are the very things that Rafael has studiously avoided: domesticity, routine, kids. Holding Don Antonio’s death over Rafael’s head, Lourdes manipulates him into trips to theme parks, meetings with her parents and eventually, marriage.Director Alex de la Iglesia has focused his attention on humor, not morality. In the tradition of murder comedies, there are plenty of “hide-the-body” gags. “El Crimen Perfecto” – which was actually released in Spain as “El Crimen Ferpecto,” which was deemed too confusing for American audiences – often plays at slapstick pace. The ghost of Don Antonio appears, sometimes only as a green head with a knife through it, to console and advise his killer, Rafael. The comedy is spotty, but Iglesia cannot be faulted for lack of originality here. And in terms of providing subtext under the laughs, “El Crimen Perfecto,” which comments on ego, beauty and false reality, stands in opposition to so many brainless, pointless cinema comedies.
“El Crimen Perfecto” shows Sunday through Tuesday, Oct. 16-18, at the Wheeler Opera House.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org