Landa, Alfredo


Landa, Alfredo
(1933- )
   For two entire decades, Alfredo Landa came to represent a particular version of the homo hispanicus. He projected the image of the average Spaniard, short, plain-looking and unathletic, uncultured, balding, and insistently horny. One is uncertain whether this was wishful thinking on the side of audiences or a case of Caliban looking at himself in the mirror, but Landa's acting skills, which allowed him to project this particular image so accurately, were actually more substantial than he was given credit for. So well did he inhabit the type that he became a cultural phenomenon, lending his name to a whole tradition within Spanish cinema: "landismo," the natural evolution of the comedia desarrollista in the early 1970s.
   Landa was born in Pamplona and started working in the movies in the 1960s, in small supporting roles in Atraco a las tres (Robbery at Three, José María Forqué, 1962) and El verdugo (The Executioner, Luis G. Berlanga, 1963). His starring role in Manuel Summers' La niña de luto (The Girl in Mourning, 1964) gave an early glimpse of a sensitive performer perfectly in touch with the type of the "average man" in all his conventionality, but the industrial context made such good roles very rare for two decades; and he was repeatedly dismissed by critics and intellectual audiences for cultivating bluntly commercial stereotypes. One suspects this was not a case of being "trapped" in a mask as much as of cultivating an image that kept him working through difficult times. He then starred in what became the biggest box-office hit in Spanish cinema for several decades: No desarás al vecino del quinto (Thou Shalt Not Desire Thy Fifth Floor Neighbor, Ramón Fernández, 1971), in which he plays a couturier who pretends to be an effeminate homosexual so that he can get closer to women without making their husbands suspicious. It was not a particularly good performance, but as critics have remarked, it came at a time when people wanted to see exactly this kind of crass version of drag on screens.
   The next five or six years are the golden period of landismo, and he kept on repeating the same character of the "typical" Spaniard. The signs of change came early in the 1980s with El crack (The Best, 1981), José Luis Garci's Madrid twist on the hard-boiled detective (a sequel, El crack 2, was released in 1983) in which Landa unexpectedly displayed a dark side to his audience. For Garci, it was all in the actor's eyes. Those who were still unconvinced about his abilities soon changed their minds after his impressive turn as a poor illiterate peasant in Los santos inocentes (The Holy Innocents, Mario Camus, 1984). He won a best actor award at Cannes for this part, and suddenly found himself in demand for challenging roles.
   After this "discovery," Landa continued showing range and intensity in a series of roles through the 1980s and 1990s, including Los paraísos perdidos (Lost Paradises, Basilio Martín Patino, 1985), Tata Mía (My Grandma, José Luis Borau, 1986), El bosque animado (The Thriving Forest, José Luis Cuerda, 1987), and La marrana (The Sow, José Luis Cuerda, 1992). In an effective casting coup, he also played Sancho Panza on television, to Fernando Rey's Don Quijote in Manuel Gutiérrez Aragón's miniseries El Caballero Don Quijote de Miguel de Cervantes (Cervantes' Don Quixote, 1991). In the 1990s, he continued his collaboration with José Luis Garci, maybe the director who best understood his potential. He continued to use aspects of his old image and recycle them, probing new depths to the mask in a series of films including Canción de cuna (Cradle Song, 1994), La herida luminosa (The Luminous Wound, 1997), and Tiovivo c.1950 (Merry-Go-Round c.1950, 2004). Luz de domingo (Sunday Kind of Light, 2007) was their last film together and the last in Landa's career: after its release, he announced his retirement.
   Historical Dictionary of Spanish Cinema by Alberto Mira

Guide to cinema. . 2011.

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