This is the kind of comedy where a divorced father—covered in gold body paint, lugging a giant cross (with a shotgun inside) while portraying Christ at a street fair—brings his 10-year-old son along for a jewelry store robbery. Is this appropriate? Cowering on the floor, the store’s customers debate the question along gender lines. The women say no. The sympathetic men say, essentially, Christ loves his son, there are no good jobs in this economy, and a guy feels emasculated by the demands of alimony and hectoring exes. After a police shootout—SpongeBob Squarepants goes down!—the same complaints continue in a hijacked cab: Women expect too much in bed; there’s too much pressure on a guy to perform sexually; and men have become essentially disposable, powerless.
It’s an old complaint, rooted in the folklore of pre-Christian Europe; and it’s into such a pagan redoubt that our fugitives flee from Madrid. In a Basque village forgotten by time, three women hold sway—a matriarchal coven of witches led by Graciana (Carmen Maura, gleefully displaying all her Almodovarian expertise). She’s got an old-crone mother and a sexy daughter named Eva (Carolina Bang), and they easily overpower the hapless criminals. Up against supernatural forces, the guys are like Abbott and Costello in a monster movie, or The Three Stooges versus vampires—woefully and hilariously mismatched. Body paint removed, Jose (Hugo Silva) tries to protect his son and fellow robbers, but they don’t stand a chance against these literal maneaters . . . unless, of course, Eva takes a different kind of carnal interest in Jose.
Originally titled Las Brujas de Zugarramurdi, Witching and Bitching is the latest romp from Alex de la Iglesia, whose The Last Circus and 800 Bullets previously played during SIFF. Those unfamiliar with his earlier works will find the tone here to be the Brothers Grimm meet John Waters. Yet for all the zany laughs, de la Iglesia gives Graciana a serious agenda at the film’s final subterranean witch convention (attended by a giant, naked female ogre—her pendulous breasts as big as Fiats): The witches just want to reclaim the power taken from them by Christendom. Men have ruled for 2,000 years, and someone has to clean up their mess.
Runs Fri., July 18–Thurs., July 24 at SIFF Cinema Uptown. Not rated. 110 minutes.