Witching and Bitching (2013)

Witching and Bitching first published by

“His name’s José. José Fernández Costa. He’s divorced. He wants joint custody, but Mum refused, because she says he’s irresponsible.”

This is how 10-year-old Sergio (Gabriel Delgado) introduces his father (Hugo Silva) to the other men in the taxi – driver Manuel (Jaime Ordóñez), partner-in-crime Tony (Mario Casas), and a third unnamed passenger (Manuel Tallafé) trying to get to a job interview in Badajoz. By this point in Álex de Iglesia’s Witching and Bitching (Las Brujas de Zugarramurdi), it is clear just how irresponsible José is – after all, we have just seen him commit armed robbery with his young son not only in tow but an active accomplice, and now José and Tony have hijacked this cab and are insisting, at gunpoint, that Manuel drive them across the Spanish border to France. Yet even as this high-speed chase unfolds, with José still disguised as Jesus as he was during the stick-up itself, it also becomes clear that the cross that all these men bear is a collective fear and hatred of women.

José, Tony and Manuel are united by a deep sense of unease and insecurity regarding the opposite sex. José is in conflict with his ex-wife Silvia (Macarena Gómez) over Sergio. Tony is terrified of his more successful girlfriend Sonia, and unable to feed her sexual appetites. And badmouthed by a mall-meeting conspiracy of his mother, sister and wife, Manuel is also adamant: “Women destroyed my life too.” So this unlikely trio of armed yet fugitive Meninists cuts a contradictory figure – the very picture of both gun-toting machismo and pathetic impotence. It is no coincidence that what they have stolen is a bag full of wedding rings – those symbols of union between Man and Woman, now pawned and purloined.

As José, Tony and Manuel band together to flee their women for a new life (in Disneyland!), Iglesia exposes them as lovably silly little boys lost, even more immature than the young boy in their company – and before they can get to France, they must pass through the border town of Zagarramurdi (notorious for the 17th-century Basque witch trials). There they will face their greatest fear: powerful women determined to turn the patriarchy on its head. For elderly Maritxu (Terele Pávez), her middle-aged daughter Graciana (Carmen Maura) and Graciana’s young adult daughter Eva (Carolina Bing) have their own designs on Sergio, as well as on the end of the world ruled by men – and they are gathering their sisterhood to raise hell.

Successfully navigating the sort of violent switch from heist flick to something else – a genre switch made familiar by, e.g., Psycho (1960), From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) and Livid (2011), Iglesia’s film is soon entering surreal, effects heavy terrain, including a visit from a gigantic CG version of the Venus of Willendorf – but while Witching and Bitching might be treading similar thematic ground (female oppression, resistance and revenge) to The Witch (2015) or even The Love Witch (2016), it comes closest in tone to the blackly comic whimsy of Nicolas Roeg’s The Witches (1990). Either way, this is a funny, outrageous war of the sexes played out on the battlefield of genre. Best of all, the film does not come down on any side. The principal point of view may belong to the hapless male characters, but their perspective is repeatedly lampooned as clueless, while the conflict of gender in which they are all engaged is not so much resolved as revealed to be endless.

Summary: Álex de Iglesia’s broad coven comedy ritualises the gender divide in our own (and every) age