(2004) Directed by Álex de la Iglesia; Written by Jorge Guerricaechevarría and Álex de la Iglesia; Starring: Guillermo Toledo, Mónica Cervera, Enrique Villén and Luis Varela;
Available on DVD
“Characters facing the abyss is something that is attractive to us.” – Álex de la Iglesia
The Perfect Crime, or its original Spanish title El Crimen Ferpecto (nope, that’s not a typo) illustrates how attaining your goals in life won’t necessarily translate to contentment. Director/co-writer Álex de la Iglesia’s dark comedy is a study of one man’s pursuit of happiness, and how his uncompromising ideals lead him to ruin.
In the opening scene we’re introduced to Rafael (Guillermo Toledo), a self-described “elegant” man, who feels entitled to the finer things in life. If he wants something, he just takes it, and never stops to worry about the consequences. He loves the perfect little superficial kingdom he’s constructed as a department store salesman, gifted with the ability to sell anything to absolutely anyone. The world is his oyster, or so he thinks, as he struts around the store like a peacock, indulging in meaningless sexual encounters with the female employees and equating himself to a predator (intercut with scenes of a lion from a wildlife documentary). His entire life’s ambition is to become a floor manager, and it’s a foregone conclusion, at least in his mind, that he’ll be next in line. That is, until his rival Don Antonio (Luis Varela) gets the job instead.
Push literally turns to shove with the new floor manager in the dressing room, resulting in Don Antonio’s death. Rafael is horrified to discover that there was a witness to his scuffle, but he finds help from an unlikely source. The witness is Lourdes (Mónica Cervera*), a meek saleswoman that he ignored over the past ten years, but now commands his undivided attention. She assists Rafael with the disposal of the body, becoming his accomplice in the process, and demanding nothing more or less than his undying fealty. From one perspective, things are looking up. It appears that he’s given the police the shake, and he’s been appointed the new floor manager in Don Antonio’s extended absence, but there’s a price to be paid.
* In the DVD commentary, de la Iglesia noted how he was attracted to Cervera, due to her expressive eyes, which reminded him of Peter Lorre. Aside from her unconventional looks, he found in Cervera someone who could play the opposite of Rafael.
With Lourdes, looks are deceiving. De la Iglesia compared Rafael and Lourdes’ relationship to that of Sylvester and Tweety, as the seemingly weak and defenseless prey becomes predator. Seemingly overnight, the tables are turned on him. Suddenly, he’s not the master of his own destiny, but her willing pawn. She has him wrapped around her little finger, transforming the store in her own image, starting with the staff. Much to Rafael’s chagrin, she replaces the supermodel-lookalike saleswomen with more ordinary appearing individuals. As he continues his spiral descent, she sucks him into her dysfunctional family’s life, hooking him into marriage. Before long he’s become a part of the very lifestyle that he abhors.
One of the feats that actor Guillermo Toledo, de la Iglesia and co-writer Jorge Guerricaechevarría pull off so effectively is taking a thoroughly despicable character, such as the narcissistic, selfish Rafael, and making him sympathetic. We feel for Rafael, not only because his world has been turned completely upside down by the film’s conclusion, but by our sense of how pathetic his life has become. We understand how completely his world was built around a shallow lie. From a Hitchock-ian (Is that a proper adjective?) perspective, the MacGuffin is the floor manager position. All too late, he realizes that the thing he prizes above everything else, his freedom, is now beyond his grasp.
In addition to the aforementioned Hitchcock, de la Iglesia cited Buñuel and Kubrick as influences for The Perfect Crime, but that’s selling his unique vision a little short. While you can spot the works of these directors in his film, they’re merely used as spice to flavor his wicked soup. Rafael’s world is completely deconstructed by The Perfect Crime’s conclusion. In the delightfully absurd payoff scene, which I won’t spoil by describing here, Rafael and the rest of us are left to ponder what’s beautiful, what’s fashionable, and what’s merely sane. It’s a fitting punishment for Rafael and his limited vision of success.