Lázaro de Tormes (2000) from Tuna

Lázaro de Tormes is a tale set in the sixteenth century, and tells the story of a Spanish peasant defending himself in court. He has been accused of something, and tells his life story as a defense. His claim is that circumstances forced him to do whatever he did, and he is thus not guilty of a crime.

He is called Lázaro from Tormes (Tormes is a river) because his mother was working at his father's mill when he was born, literally in the river. His father was arrested for stealing flour from the customers, and exiled as a soldiers aide, where he dutifully died along with the soldier. Lázaro was then indentured to a blind man, who treated him very badly, but in turn, was constantly tricked by Lázaro in some very amusing ways. Among his tribulations were other harsh masters, a cleric who tried to bugger him, and another cleric who was so stingy that he locked up his leftovers. Eventually, Lázaro hit a streak of luck. He was made town crier (a civil service job), and then encouraged to marry the maid of his benefactor, Beatriz Rico, who shows her breasts in at least three scenes. Seems his benefactor, who is a cleric, is not above using Rico for a little pleasure, but he and Lázaro agree that it doesn't really happen among themselves, and defend her good name to the rest of the world.

But there is far more to this work than just the film.

The film was adapted by Fernando Fernán Gómez from his own long- running play. Bringing his play to the big screen was his life's dream. Unfortunately, he became ill, and José Luis García Sánchez took over the direction. I couldn't notice a difference in their work.


see the main commentary

The play itself is based on the book The Life of Lazarillo of Tormes, which is the second most important work of Spanish literature, coming several years before Don Quixote. It is often credited as being the first novel, and the form, known as a "picaresque novel" became the rage in England much later, with such books as Tom Jones, Moll Flanders, and Fanny Hill. The term means episodic stories all featuring the same rogue, and comes from a Spanish word meaning rogue. For those interested in the original novel, it is available in both English and Spanish. I read through the English version, which was a huge help because there were no subtitles in this film.

This film really merits a US release with subtitles. The film was faithful to the spirit of the book, although it chose to jump around from present to past to future, rather than following the chronological narrative of the book. If you speak Spanish, see this. If not, watch for a dubbed or sub-titled release.

not available in region 1

Scoop's notes:

The essence of the picaresque novel is that the "rogues" ("pícaros", also translatable as "villains") are not really bad people, but rather people born in unfortunate circumstances who have to survive on their cunning. In this version, accused of crimes, El Brujo Alvarez declares to a court that his "villainy" only came from his need to eat and survive, and that the real villains are people who do bad things when they do not need to, like the emperor, the clergy, and the nobility. Given the power of those forces in their society, I think you can see why the author chose to remain unidentified. Tuna noted that the work is sometimes called the first novel ever written. It is also one of the most important anonymous literary works in any language. 

The Critics Vote

  • nominated for five Goyas, won two.

The People Vote ...

  • with their dollars: Despite the acknowledged quality, and the popularity of the play, it was not successful. There were only  134,000 admissions in Spain, despite good reviews.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a B-. The film looked fantastic, with amazing costumes, great atmosphere, and great scenery. The performances were excellent.

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