In The Garden of Delights, Carlos Saura infuses his now familiar, archetypal elements of financial crisis, physical disability, infirmity, and game hunting that were introduced in his seminal film, The Hunt as subversive, iconic symbols for the rigidity of Francoist corrupted ideology, with a healthy dose of blunt, tongue in cheek – and pointedly allegorical – Buñuelian absurdity to create a perversely wry, acerbic, and trenchant indictment of the bourgeoisie, whose unwavering support of General Franco enabled his ascension to (and retention of) power in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. The prefiguring title sequence depicting a derelict, primitive, experimental workshop set to curious, otherworldly sound of a variable shortwave, analog noise provides an idiosyncratically appropriate introduction to the film’s surreal fusion of reality, dreams, interpreted recreation, and fleeting memory, creating an atmosphere of deliberate construction that is subsequently reinforced in the establishing sequence of a re-enacted childhood trauma involving a parental scolding that escalates to a trapped encounter with a large, rambunctious pig (note the comical sighting of the farm animal being scuttled through the kitchen that evokes the thwarted, unspecified “entertainment” of Luis Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel). At the heart of the privileged Cano family’s cruel and bluntly coercive elaborate staging and grotesque charade is a crude attempt at immersive psychotherapy designed to mentally rehabilitate (or at least shock) the partially paralyzed, amnesic, recovering accident victim and sole family bread winner, Antonio (José Luis López Vázquez), whose faltering memory holds the key, not only to the secreted family fortune, but to his company’s – and in turn, his family’s – financial viability as well. Recreating transformative encounters and indelible events as a means of re-introducing Antonio to the essential elements of his life – or rather, the family’s superficial perception of his life – in what Antonio’s father, Don Pedro (Francisco Pierrá) earlier describes as the importance of reinforcing its symbols, what is invariably revealed is the pervasive dysfunction, hypocrisy, and greed inherent in Antonio’s empty, coddled, and self-absorbed life. As in The Hunt, Saura obliquely equates the specter of Francoism with social degradation through allegorical contamination, this time, through its most formidable ally: the church. Juxtaposing Antonio’s first communion with the advent of the Spanish Revolution (note the incisive cameo of franquista hero, Alfredo Mayo, who played the role of Paco in The Hunt), the priest’s sermon, “From a tree with diseased roots, what fruit can we expect?” becomes, not a cautionary tale for the young communicant, but a corrupted prophesy that exposes the church’s own complicity and moral paralysis in the institution of Franco’s repressive regime.
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