¡Bienvenido, Míster Marshall!

¡Bienvenido, Míster Marshall!
Welcome Mr. Marshall! (1953)
   This is one of the best loved productions in Spanish cinema and historically a key title in the evolution of Spanish film, marking a watershed between the mainstream of the 1940s and the "new" films by dissident filmmakers in the new decade.
   ¡Bienvenido Mr. Marshall! started out in 1952 as a proposal for a folkloric musical with clear roots in the "costumbrismo" outlook, meant as a vehicle for second-string singer Lolita Sevilla. The producers, including Ricardo Muñoz Suay, who was the main force behind the project, had enjoyed Esa Pareja Feliz (That Happy Couple, 1953), and called up Berlanga and Juan Antonio Bardem to complete the script (with some assistance from playwright Miguel Mihura) and direct. Since this was a small production company, they were invited to become associates and get a percentage of the profit, but when Bardem could not follow through with the project, Berlanga decided to direct on his own.
   At the time, it had just been made public that Spain would be left out of the Marshall Plan, which was funded with U.S. capital to assist European countries in reconstruction after World War II. The government expressed outrage and was keen in supporting the project when Berlanga and his co-script writer decided to concentrate on this decision as their central anecdote. Many saw the story as confirming the official view of the isolationist Franco regime, suggesting that the country did not need any external help (or interference), blessed as it was with an essential goodness and a myriad of hardworking inhabitants. In line with this, Berlanga's film was awarded the "Interés Nacional" category, which entailed a substantial subvention. Some critics would for years claim that Berlanga's project was made in support of the Fascists. On the other hand, the film was at the time seen as a slap in the face by some American audiences, most prominently actor Edward G. Robinson, who expressed outrage when he saw it as a member of the Jury at the 1953 Cannes Film Festival (Berlanga would go on to win the International Prize that year).
   The story takes place in a poverty-stricken Castilian village whose inhabitants get their hopes up when it is suggested that they could be recipients of American munificence. The mayor (Pepe Isbert) seeks the assistance of Manolo (Manolo Morán), a smart entrepreneur who is the agent of a folkloric singer (this gave Lolita Sevilla a good opportunity to showcase her performing talents). To maximize their chances, Manolo advises the villagers to pretend to be Andalusians, as the Americans seem fascinated by the exoticism of Andalusian style (rather than the duller Castilian culture). Most of the narrative is taken up with the preparations for the welcome festivities and the dreams of the villagers. Of course, the Marshall Plan representatives pass by, leaving nothing, and the villagers must return to their former lives. A political message was conveyed in the very last scenes: it starts to rain as the narrator (voiced by Fernando Rey) reminds audiences that hard work and not magical solutions ensure progress and a comfortable life.
   One main influence on the film's approach was neorealism. Although it may seem removed from the urban stories told by De Sica or Rossellini, Berlanga sets his fable (narrated in fairytale style) among common people with modest dreams and in a very precise historical moment: with José Antonio Nieves Conde's Surcos, the film was an early attempt to look at real lives and real social concerns. More generally, it was among the first films to shift from official bombastic versions of Fascist triumphs and put the small lives and dreams of people in a social context.

Historical dictionary of Spanish cinema. . 2010.

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