After the fall of Franco’s fascist regime, but before Pedro Almodóvar’s lushly liberated films launched queer Spanish cinema into the international spotlight, two films by Eloy de la Iglesia snuck in as the first openly gay-themed narrative features released in Spain.
Hidden Pleasures (Los placeres ocultos) and Confessions of a Congressman (El diputado), both concerning successful, middle-aged men with an appetite for young male hustlers, share predilections for sex, violence, secrecy, and betrayal. Originally released in Spain in 1977 and 1978, respectively, both received very limited mid-eighties theatrical releases in the U.S. They have been unavailable to view here in the four decades since — until now.
For its latest Blu-ray and DVD release, LGBTQ film distributor Altered Innocence has packaged new restorations of Hidden Pleasures and Confessions of a Congressman in a potent double bill entitled “Uranian Dreams: Two Homosexual Films by Eloy de la Iglesia.”
Viewed separately or as a spicy double feature, both films provide a prurient peek into post-Franco Spain, as well as the artistry and psyche of de la Iglesia, who, like each film’s protagonist, was a gay man born into a prominent Madrid family. Also a socialist activist, he made several films under the dictatorship, including the horror movies The Cannibal Man and No One Heard the Scream.
The filmmaker often butt heads with government censors, but after the dictatorship — during the national renaissance known as “La Transición” — de la Iglesia finally was free to portray queer reality explicitly onscreen. For his characters, however, such desires remained hidden.
Notably, politics remain in the background, too, in Hidden Pleasures (★★★☆☆), briefly entering the story as suave bank director Eduardo (Simón Andréu) watches his twentysomething niece and nephew get into a heated debate during a Sunday family supper.
Eduardo lives with his Madre (Ana Farra), a sickly, fervent Catholic, but keeps a swank pad to himself, purportedly as a work studio, but really more as a private oasis away from home where he can enjoy his secret life of picking up street trade. The film introduces him ushering a lithe young hustler out his apartment door, then luxuriating in his silk robe, with a cigarette and sun lamp, a homo at home in his vanity.
De la Iglesia, who co-wrote with frequent collaborator Gonzalo Goicoechea, doesn’t shy from sly criticism of Eduardo’s so-called lifestyle roving the streets in his pristine white Mustang to pick up boys, or cruising public bathrooms in his chic tailored suits. Seemingly unencumbered, he’s a “lucky bachelor,” in the words of one clueless straight friend. “Good looking, good position. It’s a wonder no woman has grabbed him!”
Eduardo’s older brother, Ignacio (German Cóbos) doesn’t have to wonder, but he also doesn’t want any of Eduardo’s clandestine activities to soil the family name. Shame runs deep in their family, and certainly through the story as Eduardo meets, befriends, and tries to seduce the working class, college-age Miguel (Tony Fuentes), who is straight and fairly devoted to his girlfriend Carmen (Beatriz Rossat).
But he’s not above accepting a job, gifts, and tutelage from older benefactor Eduardo in exchange for friendship. The film, largely shot in the brilliant natural light of Madrid, briefly entertains the idealistic notion that Eduardo could maintain a platonic friendship with Miguel and Carmen, while still pining away for his hot moto-riding young pal.
Predictably, that fantasy is spoiled by violence, but not before Eduardo confesses his love in a riveting scene that Andréu, who starred in several de la Iglesia films, plays with frank sincerity. The actor fully embodies Eduardo in all his contradictions.
The other performances are hit or miss, with Fuentes fine as the conflicted object of desire, and Spanish star Charo López a melodramatic delight as Rosa, a married shopkeeper who aims to keep Miguel to herself. Farra overacts the paint off the walls as Madre, but Antonio Corencia adds an impressive turn as Raúl, a proud gay man, who years prior, had similarly been chased and “corrupted” by Eduardo.
Raúl urges Eduardo to come out of the closet and stand up for gay rights. Eduardo, though he accepts himself, suffers for being gay, he says. He isn’t ready to march in the streets for LGBTQ rights any more than Roberto Orbea (José Sacristán), the very closeted protagonist of Confessions of a Congressman (★★★★☆).
Sacristán, calling to mind a Spanish Dustin Hoffman, leads an excellent cast, including Maria Luisa San José who plays Roberto’s cunning wife, Carmen, in a taut drama that dives eagerly into post-Franco politics through the story of a socialist congressman secretly infatuated with a cherubic young street hustler, Juanito (José Luis Alonso).
This film also imagines a modern romantic understanding between Roberto, Carmen, and Juanito, who develops true feelings for Roberto, who also loves him. But Roberto doesn’t know that Juanito has been enlisted by leaders of a rival party to blackmail the rising political star, so they can clip his wings at will.
De la Iglesia, again co-writing with Goicoechea, turns the screws sharply on the threesome, as surveillance and betrayal lead to murder. The filmmaker’s experience making horror films pays off in a few tense sequences and one bloody reveal that captures the vibe of ’70s political thrillers. Meanwhile, the constant cruising and abundant thirst for naked female breasts recall the Euro sexploitation flicks of the period.
De la Iglesia’s “Uranian Dreams” — “uranian” being an ancient term for homosexual men — fall all along the genre spectrum, but, with plenty of gay romance and nubile male nudity thrown in, his pioneering films truly are a unique trip unto themselves.
“Uranians Dreams: Two Homosexual Films by Eloy de la Iglesia” is available for streaming or purchase on Amazon and Vimeo, and for purchase on DVD and limited edition Blu-ray, which includes both restored films plus two bonus video essays and the original Spanish trailer for Confessions of a Congressman.
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