Best Bureaucratic Black Comedies — I


Every revolution evaporates and leaves behind only the slime of new bureaucracy.

Franz Kafka

A century ago German sociologist Max Weber esteemed ‘bureaucracy’ as ‘superior to any other organizational form’ because of its precision, reliability, discipline and stability. Bureaucracy was/is an advance in solving problems in a larger, efficient scale. But, when its stops being innovative and discourages human potential, bureaucracy becomes a scourge. When bureaucratic machinery reins its people rather than governing them, then you would see bottle-necking paper works and red tapes. The elite bureaucrats get obsessed with the idea of power, and everything becoming rigid and slow-moving. Around the world, the bureaucratic structure, one way or other has busted progressive thinkers and entrepreneurs. The idiotic bureaucratic policy sometimes intimidates and ridicules the common people. At times, watching this red tape madness makes us laugh. Cinema, over the years, has very well observed the insanity behind these procedures. They have presented disturbing scenarios of bureaucracy, but at the same time it has induced us to chuckle about it. This movie list contains such exceptional ones – films that are chaotic, troubling as well as strangely comical. If you are aware of any such best films that belongs to this list, please cite it on the comments section


Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011)


Turkish auteur Nure Bilge Ceylan’s meditative drama might look as police procedural on the outset. A doctor, prosecutor, police chief, group of policemen and soldiers are searching for a body in the night time, in an Anatolian town. The killer who has surrendered for his crime isn’t sure about the place he buried his victim. As the official police procedures precedes human emotions (no one cares about the crime), each sequence exhibit black humor. However, the film avoids employing the eccentricity, we usually find in black comedies. The movie implicates us to move along with the characters, without throwing us any dramatic moments.


Burn After Reading (2008)


Coen brothers’ violent, ridiculous tale of bureaucracy starts to spin when an alcoholic CIA man, loses his shocking memoir (after getting fired) to two odd ball gym instructors. The film maintains a cynical tone and all the characters revel in silliness or absurdity. At various points, the film might seem to be on the brink of falling apart, but it’s held together by the bold will of its talented cast, which includes George Clooney, John Malkovich, Brad Pitt, Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton. The Coens turn the intelligence gathering bureaucrats into bemused, gormless creatures. Apart from the bureaucracy, the darkly comic stance catches the spirit of our frantic times.


The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005)


Cristi Puiu’s part funny, part enraging drama is an indictment of the modern health-care practices. Mr. Lazarescu is a 63 year old man, who lives alone in an apartment, with his cat. He takes ill one night and the bureaucratic inefficiency of the Bucharest city takes him through a series of hospitals, where every cynical doctor and staffs invent a reason to send him away. The title doesn’t make us to question about Mr. Lazarecu’s fate, but the whole movie makes us think about the pitiless, decaying state of health services. The film comically and hauntingly makes clear that the scary way to die is to die alone in a hospital room, surrounded by a bunch of indifferent bureaucrats.


Man without a Past (2002)


Finnish auteur Aki Kaurismaki’s sublime comedy opens with a brutal beating and mugging of a mystery man. As a result of the beating, the man “M” suffers from amnesia. After getting healed, he emerges into the economically depressed local community, where he attracts the care of Salvation Army worker Irma. In his own trademark style (with deadpan humor), Kaurismaki drifts into urban Finnish landscape, confronting the bureaucratic indifference. He contemplates how bureaucracy can easily deny help based on a technicality. The movie avoids sentimentality, bears a real heart, and tells a compassionate message without getting consumed by the darkness.


Herod’s Law (1999)


Luis Estrada’s political comedy concentrates on the mad bureaucrats running amok within a corrupted system. Set in 1949, a janitor named Juan Vargas is suddenly appointed as the new mayor of a small but very troublesome Mexican town. The mayor’s good intentions are perpetually eroded by the party bosses’ mindset and soon he transforms himself into a perfect bureaucrat. The town itself is considered as a microcosm of the way things have been done, for real, in Mexico. It brings out the horrors of bureaucracy in a funny and clever way. Although, the local peasants are reduced to caricatures, Damian Alcazar’s venomous performance as Vargas displays the malevolent elements that confound the whole of Latin America.


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