Santiago Segura is Torrente… and an incurable romantic
Anti-hero José Luis Torrente is a racist, sexually confused coward - and one of Spanish cinema’s great creations.
By Nick Lyne
Gladdened by the recent news that Santiago Segura is making his fourth Torrente film, and in 3D, I was prompted to illegally download and re-watch the three previous movies in the series.
Like his hero Peter Sellers, who for most movie fans will forever be Inspector Clouseau, Spanish comic Santiago Segura seems unable, or unwilling, to shake off his alter ego, Inspector José Luis Torrente. Little wonder: the racist, sexist, homophobic Madrid cop is one of the biggest pulls in Spanish cinema. Torrente 2: Mission in Marbella, made in 2001, remains the most profitable Spanish film of all time.
The Torrente formula is simple: lots of smutty jokes at our hero’s expense; plenty of gratuitous (female) nudity; villains hatching extravagant plots; and a gang of incompetent but well-meaning helpers, usually in the form of unemployed/unemployable kids from the neighbourhood who eventually unwittingly bring down the baddies.
Aside from the endearing qualities mentioned above, what makes the Torrente character special is the way that Segura uses him to celebrate a very different Spain to the smart, confident, World Cup-winning country that has emerged over the last 30 years. Torrente connects with most Spaniards: his overt political incorrectness appeals to the chavales, or youngsters, while the older generation gets the innumerable references to the darker Spain of their childhood and youth.
The first Torrente movie came out in 1998. But to judge from the locations and characters, it could have been made two decades earlier. Set in the run-down outskirts of Madrid, the film’s look self-consciously harks back to the realist films of the first years after the death of Franco.
Torrente himself is trapped in time: he’s still trying to squeeze into the flared trousers and wide lapelled suits of the 1970s; he’s got a fine comb-over; drives a SEAT 124; wears that thin pencil moustache beloved of Spanish police officers during the Franco years; is a fan of flamenco pop singer El Fary (sadly deceased); and lives in a run-down apartment with his ageing father that harks back to 1960s classics like El Pisito.
We never see the centre of the city: Torrente’s world is the barrio, the hood. In the opening scenes of the first movie, we see our character down several large ones (I think it’s orujo de hierbas) before beginning his midnight shift. Drunk, he then cruises the mean streets, guffawing at the crimes he sees being committed around him, but doing nothing until he comes across a lone figure urinating against a dumpster. Outraged, Torrente screeches to a halt, leaps from his car, and attacks the hapless delinquent, who of course is a sudacaca, a South American, and then proceeds to break one of his fingers and steal his shopping.
A coward and a bully, Torrente takes advantage of a robbery in his local supermarket to do a bit of shoplifting, and makes his exit when the hoodlums open fire on the cashier. Time and again we see our hero wait until somebody is down before kicking them.
Similarly, Torrente’s attitudes to women lie deep in the Spanish male psyche, and his principal sexual experiences have been and remain, with prostitutes. In one scene in Torrente 3, he comes across the junkie girlfriend of one of his new-found friends, face down and comatose on his sofa. Realising the possibilities, he casts a quick glance round, and then proceeds to rape her while she sleeps. When he is reunited with his long-lost son in Torrente 3, our hero suggests that the two go out on the town: “de putas”: literally a night in the brothels.
Sexual confusion on the beat
Segura also takes aim at his character’s confused attitude towards homosexuality. Every time Torrente is on a stakeout, after a few moments, he turns to his partner and says in an offhand way: “so, not much happening; how about we jerk each other off?” Then adding: “not that I’m queer or anything.”
The Torrente films are at their weakest when the director reins them back into the structure of a B-movie, and a formulaic set-piece such as a car chase ensues. As the sequels’ budgets increased, the action scenes stand out, and are perhaps a little too polished for the tarnished, sordid reality of Torrente.
Because, at the end of the day, Torrente is a loser. He always comes up trumps, confounding and confabulating, but never winning the girl, who is always absent. He’s a kind of George Formby in reverse.
Segura won’t give much away about the plot of Torrente 4, which has a €10-million budget and a 12-week shooting schedule. In keeping with previous Torrente movies there is no shortage of Z-list celebrities queuing up for a cameo role, along with any number of established actors who should know better (Javier Bardem pops up in the first Torrente movie as a deformed pool player). Segura says that in his 3D incarnation of the anti-hero the tradition will continue, with roles for Kiko Rivera, the son of singer Isabel Pantoja and Paquirri, the bullfighter who died in the ring in 1984, along with Belén Esteban, the addled and ridiculed ex of bullfighter Jesulín de Ubrique, whose private life has been lived very much in public.
There is also an intriguing rumour that Sacha Baron Cohen, also known as Borat, is on board for the project.
Sadly, Torrente fans will have to wait until the summer of 2011 for the next instalment of our unlikely hero’s adventures. We can only hope that despite the temptations of 3D, Segura continues to celebrate the darker side of Spanish humour.
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Published: Sep 1 2010
Category: Culture, Films
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
Short URL: http://iberosphere.com/?p=1296
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Tags: Belén Esteban, Borat, Javier Bardem, Sacha Baron Cohen, Santiago Segura, Spanish cinema, Torrente, Torrente 2: Mission in Marbella, Torrente 4, Torrente el brazo tonto de la ley