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Film / The Cuenca Crime

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When I told the truth, you didn't believe me. But when I lied, they did.

The Cuenca Crime (original title: El Crimen de Cuenca) is a classic 1979 Spanish Crime And Punishment film with a twist: There is a lot of punishment, but the crime is not a crime at all.

The film is based on the Real-Life "investigation" of the 1910 disappearance of simple shepherd José María Grimaldos a.k.a. El Cepa ("The Stump") in a small village of Cuenca province. When a dying landowner accusses his two employees, Gregorio and León, of murdering Grimaldos, the newly appointed Hanging Judge, Isasa, takes upon himself to make them confess by all means possible. By this we mean the most horrifically graphic Cold-Blooded Torture. During their ordeal, Gregorio and León are broken both in body and spirit, lose everything, and are compelled to confess in order to avoid the death penalty, all while believing that their once best friend roped them into paying for a crime they didn't commit.


Considering its production and intended release in 1979, shortly after the end of the the Franco dictatorship, and its onscreen gore, nudity and villainous portrayal of judges, conservatives, landlords, priests and civil guards, the movie was guaranteed to run into trouble. It sat specially bad with then sitting Minister of Culture Ricardo de la Cierva, a holdover of the dictatorship who, in a case of Life Imitates Art Imitates Life, ordered the film pulled and its director, Pilar Miró to be tried by a military tribunal for slandering the Civil Guard, the only time this happened in post-Francoist Spain. However, the case was thrown before trial when it was ruled that no crime was possible due to all film censorship having been abolished in Spain in 1977.

The film hit Spanish theatres at last in 1981. Despite its limited August release and an 'S' rating (equivalent to the American 'R'), it absolutely broke the national box office helped by a great dose of the Streisand Effect. It also established Miró as a film director, as she had almost exclusively worked in television before.



  • Acceptable Targets: In-universe. Gregorio and León are acceptable targets to the landlords because they are leftists (the movie doesn't get in detail but they were rumored to be Anarchists in Real Life), and they are acceptable targets to the Tresjuncos villagers because they are from the town over, La Osa de la Vega. After a while, they become acceptable targets to everyone because they are believed guilty.
  • Acquitted Too Late: In a non-lethal example, Gregorio and León are proven innocent after their jail sentence is over.
  • All for Nothing: Grimaldos is found to have been alive in another village the entire time.
  • Always Gets His Man: Hanging Judge Isasa. Very Played for Drama.
  • And Starring: Fernando Rey as Deputy Contreras.
  • Artistic License – History:
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Though there are exceptions, it's almost a rule that the sharper dressed a character is in this film, the more morally despicable he is beneath.
  • Bad Cop/Incompetent Cop: All they had to do was to find El Cepa or contact their own colleagues who knew El Cepa and where he was.
  • Based on a True Story: ...yes.
  • Blatant Lies: The summary of the first investigation ends with the claim that the accussed were not tortured nor injured during preventive prison in any way, and that there was no reason to think otherwise.
  • The Brute: Sergeant Taboada is a mindless henchman to Isasa.
  • Clear Their Name: Eventually achieved by Isasa's servant, Alejandra.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Alejandra.
  • Christianity is Catholic: At this time in Spain, pretty much the truth, and with a pretty jarring influence over civilian life (just look at the number of crosses in the tribunal).
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: The Movie.
  • Convicted by Public Opinion: Long before trial, the accussed become guilty in the eyes of everyone, who won't even consider their innocence and just look for ways to prove their guilt. Gregorio's wife is almost arrested too because of the same wild rumors, but Isasa prevents it because he doesn't want to take her away from her children.
  • Cut Himself Shaving: Taboada invokes the trope when he shaves Gregorio, telling him to not move, less he cut "himself". He then picks some pliers and rips out his moustache.
  • Dirty Coward:
    • When the guards come to escort El Cepa back to La Osa, his main concern is if he will be thrown in jail. Once before Gregorio, he throws himself at his feet, claiming to know nothing of his disgrace, before fleeing as soon as the crowd's attention is not on himself. It is at least possible that he knew about the men paying for his "murder" but was too afraid to come forward.
    • Don Rufo, who when confronted with evidence that El Cepa is still alive cares only about how this will reflect upon himself, hides and denies said evidence, and finally takes the coward's way out by killing himself. The kicker? Don Rufo is the village's Catholic priest.
    • Taboada (in the movie) and Isasa also kill themselves rather than face the same justice they claim to serve.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • Isasa keeps Gregorio's wife out of jail because he doesn't want her children to lose both parents.
    • Taboada pushes Gregorio's wife to the ground the moment after she's arrested, even though he has no reason at all and everyone is watching him. However, he picks her child midair so she doesn't also hit the ground.
  • Fed to Pigs: When all attempts to locate the body fail, a rumor arises that the accused fed it to pigs (among other things), and they are also forced to confess that.
  • Fingore: In one graphic scene, León has splinters driven under his nails. One nail pops out of his finger completely.
  • The Fool: El Cepa, the village idiot.
  • Groin Attack: In another scene, León is hung from a beam in the roof by his genitals.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Although she was never evil to begin with (nor showed any sign that she believed them guilty) Alejandra betrays Isasa, ruins his career and eventually drives him to suicide by exposing that El Cepa is still alive.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: León and Gregorio, before they are driven to blame each other for their ordeal.
  • Hanging Judge: Isasa, although as an investigative judge, he is closer to an Inspector Javert and doesn't impose the sentence.
  • Holier Than Thou: Don Rufo, the priest, betrays any Christian ideal as soon as he is confronted with evidence that he screwed up and might have to pay for it.
  • Inspector Javert: Isasa, since he believes the accussed are guilty without question.
  • Insane Troll Logic: Every time the accussed get something wrong about the crime, Isasa furiously states that they are lying and mocking the investigators. The idea that they might be innocent, despite the absolute lack of evidence of their guilt, never crosses his mind.
  • Kangaroo Court: After five years of the accussed being already Convicted by Public Opinion, the Court is as convinced of Gregorio and León's guilt as everyone else.
  • Malaproper: El Cepa has the least educated speech of all characters and confuses his words. As in Real Life, his explanation for what happened is that he had a "barrunto" (or "barruntá", which means nothing) and he left. "Barrunto" is an old Spanish word for a suspicion or premonition, but he uses it to mean "impulsive behavior".
  • Miscarriage of Justice: The most notable in the History of Spain. Guaranteed to be brought as the Ur-Example, even a century after.
  • Momma's Boy: El Cepa, so much that the moment he disappears his mother is certain that he has been murdered. Averted, however, in that he actually leaves and lives for years without ever contacting her.
  • Never Found the Body: The main problem for the prosecution and the aspect that brings even more torture for Gregorio and León, who obviously can't tell what happened. They eventually settle for a wild rumor about having butchered it, fed the pieces to pigs, incinerated the parts they didn't like, and finally, grinded every bit of bone until there was nothing left.
  • Never Learned to Read: El Cepa. When first introduced, he holds a flier about his own "murder" upside down.
  • Shamed by a Mob: Gregorio and León are humiliated by the villagers when the Civil Guard escorts them to the cemetary to reconstruct the crime.
  • Small Town Rivalry: Tresjuncos is a typical conservative village under the grip of Deputy Contreras; La Osa is the one leftist hub in the area that is outside his control. They are a one-hour walk apart.
  • Technology Marches On: Used to show the passage of time in-universe. As the Twenties roar along, Tresjuncos gets a paved road and a telephone line.
  • Throw the Dog a Bone: After Taboada leaves the room, the guard supposed to carry on with Gregorio's torture is so sickened by it all that he tells Gregorio to scream while he belts the wall. He still begs Gregorio to confess and does not give him water in spite of his dehydration, however.
  • Torture Porn: The movie is often accussed of this, despite obviously wanting the audience to feel horrified by it.
  • Tragic Bromance: In an unusual example, the tragedy is the death of the bromance itself, rather than either Gregorio or León. They reconcile when they get confirmation that both are innocent.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: El Cepa and his unnamed fiancée. Thank God the children took after their mother.
  • Unconventional Courtroom Tactics: Gregorio's lawyer tries to defend his innocence by reminding the tribunal that they Never Found the Body and that Grimaldos had talked of migrating to Brazil. After León's lawyer convinces him that it is best to claim guilt with diminished responsibility, they claim that their clients were drunk when the murder happened and that Grimaldos provoked them by throwing a chair at them when he lost a card game. The jury is not impressed and denies any mitigating circumstance.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom:
    • El Cepa, by leaving one day suddenly and never contacting his family again.
    • Gregorio and León's boss revives the case when he says that he believes they are guilty in his deathbed.
    • Goaded and threatened by Isasa, Gregorio's wife says that she heard her husband and León talk about the local graveyard once. Despite the absolute lack of evidence, this is taken as further confirmation that they committed the crime and hid the body there.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Isasa, the all-respectable judge. Gregorio's wife even thanks him in one scene, even though he is the one ruining her and her family single-handedly.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: El Cepa's mother died offscreen, but what happened to his father?
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: Taboada seems almost charming when he is shaving Gregorio before the reconstruction of the crime. Of course, he's just fucking with him to get his guard down when he tortures him again.