Homosexuality

   Until 1977, censorship regulations, which applied both to Spanish and foreign films, banned homosexuality as a central part of a film's plot, and before 1963, representation of "sexual perversions" was simply unthinkable. Of course, one of the issues about homosexuality is that it does not have to be explicitly represented in order to be perceived. Critics have picked out obvious strands of homoeroticism even in army films such as ¡Harka! (Carlos Arévalo, 1942) and ¡A mí la legion! (Hail, the Legion! Juan de Orduña, 1942).
   Homosexuality could also be read into a number of films of the 1940s and 1950s, but the first time it is recognizably and unmistakably articulated in a plot is in Luis Maria Delgado's Diferente (Different, 1962), a garish musical, not very widely distributed after its initial release, conceived by dancer and showman Alfredo Alaria about a young man from a wealthy family whose "artistic" inclinations prevent him from following in his father's footsteps and will eventually cause tragedy. The fact that the film was passed without objections by censors has baffled Spanish historians, although homosexual signifiers were discreet enough to remain concealed to most audiences; it is also worth noting that ideas of homosexuality were not articulated following the usual imagery, which may have contributed to the censors' blindness. Some early 1970s films like Mi querida señorita (My Dear Lady, Jaime de Armiñán, 1972) and La semana del asesino (Cannibal Man, Eloy de la Iglesia, 1972), treaded ambiguous territory. The former was about a small-town spinster in love with her maid who at one point discovers "she" is actually a man; the latter featured a subtly depicted young gay man (played by Eusebio Poncela) involved with a working-class serial killer. Still, the most influential image of homosexuality in Spanish cinema was the stereotypical, effeminate homosexual represented as a clown. One of the biggest box-office hits of Spanish cinema, No desearás al vecino del quinto (Thou Shalt Not Desire the Fifth Floor Neighbor, Ramón Fernández, 1971), is about a man who pretends he is a homosexual. In line with other European examples from those years are titles like Ellas los prefieren locas (Ladies Prefer Queer Ones, Mariano Ozores, 1977) and Aunque la hormona se vista de seda (Hormones Dressed in Silk, 1975).
   When censorship laws were derogated, however, the topic acquired a centrality on Spanish film that has remained throughout the decades. The first film that explicitly presented a central homosexual character was Los placeres ocultos (Hidden Pleasures, Eloy de la Iglesia, 1977). In a few years, a number of films relished the occasion for marginality and scandal that homosexuality seemed to provide, Un hombre llamado flor de Otoño (A Man Named Autumn Flower, Pedro Olea, 1978), Ocaña. Retrato intermitente (Ocaña. An Intermittent Portrait, Ventura Pons, 1978), La muerte de Mikel (Mikel's Death, Imanol Uribe, 1984), Vestida de azul (Dressed in Blue, Antonio Giménez Rico, 1984), and Gay Club (Ramón Fernández, 1981). Homosexuals or transsexuals in these films are stereotypical, and although the homophobic implications of No desearás al vecino del quinto had disappeared, the scandal factor was still important. More timidly, filmmakers started to represent images of lesbianism. The most famous was a weird, voyeuristic coming-out film titled Me siento extraña (I Feel Strange, Enrique Martí Maqueda, 1977), which starred two important actresses of the period, Rocío Dúrcal and Barbara Rey.
   Still, some images were more subdued: Jaime Chávarri's A un dios desconocido (To an Unknown God, 1977) avoided stereotyping in its central character, a magician haunted by memories of the Civil War. What is important about this film is that homosexuality was not an issue, and a strong current in post-Transition Spanish culture insists precisely on this point. Only very seldom was homosexuality allowed to become a political issue. Eloy de la Iglesia's El diputado is among the very few examples of a film that sets homosexuality in a political context.
   Otherwise, the 1980s saw a number of freewheeling representations of sexuality among which one could find examples of both male and female homosexuality. Most notable in this context is Pedro Almodóvar's early career, with films like the cheeky Pepi, Luci Bom y otras chicas del montón (Pepi, Luci, Bom, 1981) and Laberinto de pasiones (Labyrinth of Passion, 1982). His La ley del deseo (Law of Desire, 1987) remains, to date, the most important Spanish film with central homosexual characters in terms of its impact on audiences. The tension between comedy and melodrama, and the assertiveness of sexual identity was, for many, revelatory. Representations of homosexuality connected to night life continued in the 1990s in films like Más que amor frenesí (This Is Frenzy, Not Just Love, 1996).
   In recent years, there seems to be a resurgence of homosexuality in film, as featured in Reinas (Queens, Manuel Gómez Pereira, 2005), Cachorro (Bear Cub, Miguel Albaladejo, 2004), Los novios búlgaros (The Bulgarian Boyfriends, Eloy de la Iglesia, 2003), and the Eloy de la Iglesia-inspired Clandestinos (Clandestine, 2008) directed by Antonio Hens.

Historical dictionary of Spanish cinema. . 2010.

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