December 17, 2006
Carnival Sunday, 1945
Part Alfred Hitchcock styled mysterious intrigue and part 1930s inspired romantic comedy, Edgar Neville's Carnival Sunday is a taut, irresistibly refined, and well crafted whodunit thriller. Set in the surreal atmosphere of the advent of Carnival Sunday, the beginning of the three day celebration that culminates with the Mardi Gras festivities (and ushers the beginning of Lent with Ash Wednesday), the film opens with an obtrusive tenant and night watchman's discovery of the body of a murdered pawn broker that had been haphazardly concealed in her unlocked apartment. Reporting the murder to the local police constable who seems resistant to conducting a prompt examination of the crime scene to search for clues for fear of curtailing his holiday plans (and rationalizing that the social insignificance of the crime lends itself to a soon forgotten resolution, irrespective of the perpetrator's capture), the constable cedes the investigation to his inexperienced, but highly motivated junior officer, Matías (Fernando Fernán Gómez) who believes that the answer to the identity of the murderer may be found within the sheaf of promissory notes discovered within the secret compartment of the victim's bureau. But when Matías makes a quick arrest after a local tonic peddler is discovered attempting to retrieve a lost item in the pawn broker's apartment, the peddler's devoted daughter, a clock seller named Nieves (Conchita Montes) decides to launch her own independent investigation, aided by her affable and well-intentioned friend, a costume merchant and town gossip named Julia (and aided in part by Julia's access to an assortment of disguises) to root out the real killer. Creating an environment that is both ominous and carnivalesque, and sustaining the film's tension and suspense through the efficiency of narrative, Neville not only demonstrates a precision for storytelling, but also provides an incisive glimpse of the endemic social and economic disparity and instability that defined contemporary life during the transitional, early days of postwar Spain and the entrenchment of fascism.