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Torrente: El brazo tonto de la ley

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Icons aren’t always necessarily figures to revere and imitate. Indeed, it sometimes is the opposite.

In 1998, Spanish actor and film director Santiago Segura released onto Spanish screens a film that he didn’t yet know would become one of the best-selling sagas of contemporary Spanish cinema: Torrente. This masterpiece of absurd comedy —which featured a good-for-nothing and slightly overweight stereotyped macho iberico recycled and put to new use some of the most despicable and yet prevalent clichés and archetypes of Spanish culture.  It recounts the absurd adventures of Jose Luis Torrente, a former policeman expelled from the corps, who in the spirit of the best combination of Cervante’s Don Quijote , J. Kennedy Toole’s Ignatius J. Reilly, or even Leslie Nielsen, would have fiction once and again mistaken for reality thus causing many out-of-the-ordinary mishaps. The protagonist of the saga, Torrente himself, would thus soon become, in all his redolent filthiness, a major national icon.

One can hardly dream of the reasons why such a character, hideous in every imaginable way, can have more than a million people leaving the comfort of their house to go to the cinema, especially at a time when the Spanish seventh art is said to be ‘on its way down.’ But still, its by now 4 sequels and more than 8 million € in revenue in its latest release, attest to the saga’s absolute success.  The formula may reside in its unabashed combination of exaggerated physical and personality traits. For Torrente is, indeed, in excess of almost everything about his self: he is sexist to the point of misogyny, extremely deceitful, utterly foul, lazy, a racist of sorts, barely literate, and absolutely unprincipled. He really is a gross apparition of a man. And, as if all this wouldn’t suffice, Santiago Segura managed to turn him into a worshiper of onanism, prostitution, and of some of the most easily recognizable ‘low culture’ icons of Spanish daily life.

Nevertheless, and in the end, Torrente is a sheer caricature of several Spanish traditional archetypes. Santiago Segura’s popularity in the small screen thanks to his numerous cameos on comedy and late night humor shows, already targeted the film to an audience familiar with absurd and crazy comedy, fearless of ridicule, and with a certain appetite for social critique. Hence, the film remains unique in Spanish cinema history for its capacity to bring to cinema venues spectators of all social strata, cultural backgrounds, and types. Whether one considers Torrente a foolish aberration, a hilarious diversion, or a more or less suitable depiction of the ‘Spanish type,’ the film’s ultimate objective, pure entertainment, seems to have been more than successfully accomplished.

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