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Spanish Queer Cinema$

Chris Perriam

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780748665860

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2013

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748665860.001.0001

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Queer

Queer

Chapter:
(p.9) 1. Queer
Source:
Spanish Queer Cinema
Author(s):

Chris Perriam

Publisher:
Edinburgh University Press
DOI:10.3366/edinburgh/9780748665860.003.0001

Abstract and Keywords

The chapter establishes the connections between LGBTQ filmmaking and the everyday experience of its audiences in Spain over the past 25 years. It links a discussion of the term ‘queer’, relating both to film and Spain, to the phenomenon of liberalization represented by changes to the Spanish Civil Code in July 2005 on same-sex married couples. It traces the developments of a queer Spanish film culture and of post-identity politics through documentaries, feature films and shorts.

Keywords:   queer theory, queer cultures, documentaries, short films, same-sex partnerships

Queer Reconfigurations of LGBT Cultures in Spain

In order to start drawing together the three parts of the title of this book, and of this section, and to elaborate on the issues alluded to in the Introduction, I begin by turning to precedents in discussions of British and French queer cinemas for placing the terms. Engaging in the now conventional struggle with introducing the word queer into a ‘“slippery” ménage[s] à trois’ such as British Queer Cinema, Robin Griffiths constructs the category as containing directors, actors [and films] ‘that . . . either directly address and/or seek to represent “lesbian”, “gay”, “bisexual” or “transgender” themes . . . or in some sense or another lend themselves to – or even openly solicit – queer modes of interpretation’ (Griffiths 2006a: 33). On the thematic front, to take that possible category first, Spanish queer cinema (as a catch-all term) might be said to be highly conventional, including as it does positive images (on which more later), cautionary tales of damage and pain as well as morale-boosting reconciliations, and frequent returns to the generally entertaining and instructive task of simply showing or dramatising the circumstances of LGBT experience. The very preference for the term ‘de temática’ (‘-themed’) by festival programmers or by retailers and distributors tagging their products (‘. . . gai’; ‘. . . lésbica’, ‘. . . trans’ – but rarely ‘. . . queer/bollo/marica’) suggests a pragmatic, content-driven strategy, a make-do approach to the tricky style and implications of the images in question. As to the opening up of queer modes of interpretation (Griffith's second characteristic), I hope to show that online responses, fans and amateur critics construct between them a less conventional corpus of queer Spanish cinema than might be indicated by the thematic classification. Published professional film criticism and history, although it has tended to omit some of the more obvious sources of the unconventional (short films, videoart and a certain form of documentary project), has laid the ground for identifying the effects on audiences of a specifically queer Spanish cinema. Mira (2008) has pointed the way to a number of readings against the grain of popular world cinema from Spanish perspectives, and (p.10) I will be engaging (in Chapter 2) with the substantial work already done on lesbian- and gay-‘themed’ film of the mid-to-late-twentieth century in Spain – work which frequently evokes a resistant, contemporary audience of sorts, or takes a post-lesbian-and-gay perspective on narrative and subtext. Queerings of classic Spanish cinema include Gutiérrez-Albill (2008) on Buñuel, Perriam (2007b) on the work of Sara Montiel (hardly in need of such queering, it might be said) and, with a broader cultural and generic range, Pérez-Sánchez (2007) and Vilaseca (2010) – all, again, evoke a particular configuration of audience response at a slant to the norm in terms of cultural control, market expectation or, indeed, popular taste and selectivity. Focusing on the period 1998 to the early 2010s, my own interest, indeed, is in the potential for rethinking at least some of the directly LGBT-themed production in terms of a particular, queer, mode of interpretation (Griffith's term), formed around an odd, heterogeneous and anti-heteronormative, structurally imperfect and inconclusive experience of viewing.

French Queer Cinema, for Nick Rees-Roberts, is film and video production which can be seen from the critical perspectives alert to intersectionality – ‘cultural contestation’, ‘vectors of power’ in relation, for example, to race and ethnicity and gender, ‘socio-political context’ and ‘local instances of sexual dissidence’ (2008: 5) – and to differences and dissonances (see especially 129–49). With a few notable exceptions, the films that I am going to be discussing here do not map well onto such a contestatory space – except, perhaps, in the ways that audiences and varying commercial presentations recontextualise them. One or two of the films of Pedro Almodóvar and, in a much smaller market, those of Ventura Pons, are alert to these issues in other ways, in that they evince the ‘tactical queerness’ which Moore (2006: 168) associates in the British context with a film like The Crying Game (Neil Jordan, 1992), ‘successfully impressing itself on mainstream culture’ and targeted on ‘the very mainstream audience with most to learn from its queerness’ (168). In the Spanish case, however, when the mainstream audience is targeted with queer images it is more often to get a laugh than to impart a lesson in experience and empathy. Queer Spanish Cinema both is and is not like those other queer cinemas with which in its festivals and distribution and sales outlets it has dealings and affinities.1 At the core of this variable difference there may lie a particular evasiveness within queer which comes of a much discussed problem of cultural and linguistic translation.

The difficulties of transfer and translation of the term ‘queer’ to Spanish contexts has been a recurrent concern (Córdoba et al. 2005; Guasch and Viñuales 2003; Trujillo Barbadillo 2008b; Vosburg and Collins 2011a) and is due, in part, to the productive and problematic undecidability at the core of queer when considered, as it conventionally is, as ‘a sort of vague and indefinable set of practices and (political) positions that has the potential to challenge normative knowledges and identities’ (Sullivan 2003: 43–4). If the term is deliberately unfixed, and if what it can signify is diffuse and shifting, then (p.11) it is understandable that its ‘adoption . . . or [that of] the Spanish equivalent “bollo/marica” has been problematic’, as Vosburg and Collins suggest (2011b: 11), adding that the ‘limited number of groups’ using one of these labels is itself a demonstration of the scope of the problem. As Schehr (2005) observes in a discussion of the presence and function of queer theory in Francophone areas, queer theory is ‘made in the USA’ (10) but some of its foundational ideas are Italian (Mario Mieli) and French (Guy Hocquenhem) while queer theory is eminently redirectable into an engagement with local discourses, histories and practices (11). This potential for redirection into engagement is clear enough too in the Spanish case, especially in its elaboration in proximity to lesbian thought around community, biopolitics and culture (Hernández, C. 2007; López Penedo 2008; Platero Méndez 2008; Preciado 2011; Simonis 2007; Soley-Beltran 2010), and where queer theories and practices intersect (Colectivo Q8 2008; Grupo de Trabajo Queer 2005; Vidarte 2007a).

A number of the studies referenced in the paragraph above, as well as Llamas's (1998) earlier essay proposing a teoría torcida (bent or twisted theory, or theory on the slant), draw substantially on English-language queer theory, and an important introductory text for Catalan readers (Fernàndez 2000b) devotes space to important translations from the English and French of core theoretical texts and extracts. I myself began with Britain and France to orientate the discussion; however, queer is not so foreign as to be strange to Spain. Approximations to it in discourses visual and verbal, fictional and analytical, are perfectly visible and resonant in the languages and cultures of Spain. In cinema and its audiences, as also in theoretical writings and sociological accounts, there is a plurality of Spanish versions of living in that ‘posición desde la que responder políticamente a las normatividades múltiplemente impuestas’ (Grupo de Trabajo Queer 2005: 26) (‘position from which to respond politically to the many forms of enforced normativity’). There are emphatically post lesbian-and-gay citizens, actions, characters and storylines expressing their anti-heteronormativity in relative abundance in the films to be discussed, and they are seen from several positions within the different languages and cultures of the Spanish state and in different points in history. There are, it can be said, Spanish forms of queer on film.

That these can be perceived, imagined and screened is in part due to the work done in Spanish lesbian feminism to put sexuality on the frontline of politics (Osborne 2008: 85–6; Pineda 2008: 321–3) and to mark out the lines of resistance to a more conservative, hegemonic ‘gay’ male thinking (Osborne 2008: 95–6). In part it comes through work by radicalised men such as those contributing to the essays in Córdoba et al. (2005) and (with some overlap) the contributions to the volume by the Grupo de Trabajo Queer (2005) among others. To these social scientific and philosophical constructions of a new sexual politics can be added the work of those predecessors who had delineated homosexual and gay liberation politics for the Spanish contexts – as reviewed by Martínez-Expósito (2004: 31–54), Fuentes (2007: 381–91) and (p.12) Fouz-Hernández (2011), for example – and the cognate response in cultural criticism in and on Spain since 2000. This response has come in a context of belatedness, as Martínez-Expósito has remarked of literary studies, where sexuality ‘[seguía] siendo la gran asignatura pendiente . . . en España’ (2004:31) (‘[was] still a subject waiting to be broached . . . in Spain’).

In the period under study in this book, the dialogue with queer writing in English and French in particular has grown louder and louder, to the extent that the casual user of a Spanish lesbian and gay book and film shop browsing the shelves or the web pages will be familiar, if not necessarily comfortable, with the juxtaposition of heavily identity-based same-sex romance on page or disk and Judith Butler, or the rigour of new S/M theory side by side with the belly laughs of mildly complacent self-recognition in stereotypical comedies. Madrid-based bookshop Berkana's April 2011 showcasing of books on queer theory (Especial Teoría Queer: circular mailing of 11 April) included eight titles by Spanish scholars and activists out of thirteen books profiled. Its physical in-shop displays have consistently given visibility to the growing body of work on queer theory, culture and politics in or translated into Castilian. Antinous, Barcelona, with a list of nearly five hundred titles in the ‘essay’ category shows a similar proportion of Catalan or Castilian titles to translated imports but with relatively few titles featuring the term ‘queer’ or its translations. Cómplices, in Barcelona, has approaching fifty titles under ‘Teoría queer’, the majority with Catalan or Castilian authors. The smaller lists of Liburudenda Librería (Bilbao) and alternative bookshops in other cities and parts of the web for Spain largely repeat these proportions. As the substantial dialogue with international debates on LGBTQ politics and cultures has developed in Spain (Vélez-Pellegrini 2011), arguments against the adoption of queer theory have been made (Fernàndez 2000c; Guasch and Viñuales 2003) and some influential scholars effectively leave the term ticking over in passive mode (Fouz-Hernández and Martínez-Expósito 2007; Mira 1999, 2004, 2008). The concept of queer has also been subject, as elsewhere, to a blurring at its edges which is sometimes beneficial to its protean, creative and anti-taxonomical dynamic but sometimes not.

Four years prior to the Berkana's Queer Theory Special, its sister publishing house, Egales, had already presented a compilation of autobiographical essays and accounts by those active in lesbian and gay politics in Spain, a book which felt able to subtitle itself ‘La construcción de una cultura queer en España’ (Herrero Brasas 2007) (‘The construction of a queer culture in Spain’). Its understanding of the terms Spanish, queer and culture are worth dwelling on. Although all the pieces are written in Castilian and most hinge on a narrative of national change where nation equates to ‘Spain’, contributors bring to bear on the collection their experiences in institutionalised LGBT politics in Asturias, the Balearics, the Canaries, Catalunya, the Basque Country and the Community of Valencia. There is a strong sense of the interconnectedness of local action and political impacts on the state; the compilation structures (p.13) its sense of the words ‘activismo y ética’ (‘activism and ethics’) – its second subtitle – in part around the flow from local to national, from organised grassroots to overarching organisation; it also has a strong sense, overall, of the duty to history and posterity, of how ‘la memoria es la base de la ética’ (Hernández, M. 2007: 212) (‘memory is the basis of ethics’). ‘Cultura’, meanwhile, is conceived of largely in terms of a the process of political education of a community and its interlocutors. In his own work, Sáez (2007) has objected strongly and with clarity to the compilation's senses of culture, community and politics, seeing the book as assimilating ‘los diversos activismos queer’ past and present ‘en el Estado español’ (‘the various forms of queer activism past and present in the Spanish State’) under an ‘umbrella’ of gay and lesbian militancy, ‘una tradición que tiene su sentido y su propia historia, pero que no tiene nada que ver con lo queer’ (‘a tradition with its own rationale and history but which has nothing to do with queer’). In what it excludes and in its focus on individuals, the book, for Sáez, is an attack on ‘nuestra memoria colectiva’ (‘our collective memory’) and elides the connected importance of ‘proyectos políticos colectivos, asociativos y culturales’, ‘esos activismos maricas, bolleros y trans alternativos que llamos queer’ (‘collective, associative and cultural proyects’, ‘those forms of marica, bollera and alternative trans activism that we call queer’). Sáez's position is anticipated, and his anxiety to resist a hegemonic flattening out of history is shared, by a number of the contributors to the Herrero Brasas volume. Guasch (2007) makes it clear: that ‘no me representan quienes lideran el movimiento gay hegemónico’ (357) (‘those who now lead the hegemonic gay movement don't represent me’); that he is post-gay (357–8) – post-homosexual, even (358); and that he is in flight from identity politics (358). Aliaga (2007) and Pineda (2007) are also writing unambiguous queer politics, Aliaga seeing the LGTB movement (his formulation) as needing to link back up with wider political initiatives and analyses (for example feminist and antiracist) (299), and Pineda turning readers’ minds to the lesbian public kiss-in actions of the 1980s (319–20) to confront a prevailing ‘amnesia colectiva’ (322) (‘collective amnesia’).

Trujillo Barbadillo (2008b) ends her own discussion of the problematic transfer of queer (110–12) also by looking to the legacy of lesbian thought and activism in Spain, tellingly alighting on the non-queer named collectives Non Grata – as ‘lesbianas que cambian al nombrarse’ (‘lesbians who change once named’) – and the ingeniously mock-labelled LSD, whose activities ceased just as my period of study here began, around 1998. LSD is a designation which both collapses and expands into a proliferation of names, among them Lesbianas Sin Destino, Lesbianas Sin Duda and, ludically, Lesbianas Sospechosas de Delirio (Lesbians Without Direction, Lesbians Without Doubt, Lesbians Thought To Be Dizzy). This grouping's organisation of itself horizontally and organically as a ‘suma de individualidades’ (‘sum of different individualities’) rather than as a bloc-collective (Trujillo Barbadillo 2008b: 109) has a clear analogy in the formation of queer Spanish cinema as a sum of different (p.14) images whose organisation, moreover, is prompted by context, by ephemeral event and by shifting responses, as I hope to show. Like LSD (and cognate groupings), independent feature films such as Spinnin’ (discussed below), shorts like those of Juanma Carrillo (also, below) and LGBTQ-focalised plot lines or characters in otherwise non-LGBTQ targeted materials screen the in-between and map the usually unmarked, unremarked, everyday aspects of interconnected individual lives within a politics of playful, pleasurable occupation of the marginal, as Trujillo Barbadillo has it (109). Others make more angry or poignant claims on their audiences’ and viewers’ awareness, such as Eloïse (addressing lesbophobia), Amic/Amat (Beloved, Friend) (Ventura Pons, 1998) (age and loss), El sueño de Ibiza (Ibiza Dream) (Igor Fioravanti, 2002) (HIV/AIDS and the loss of illusion) and Ander (Roberto Castón, 2009) (rural isolation).

These dialogues and arguments and lost conversations – as well as others in meetings and radical gatherings such as Queeruption Barcelona in 2008, documented in Gender Terrorists (Anty Productions, 2008) or the FeminismoPornoPunk workshop at the Arteleku, San Sebastián in the same year – have sharpened up the sense of queer. However, in relation to cinema, the term ‘queer’ has tended to be used loosely by the most readily available sources, or even tacitly set aside or occasionally brought in alongside lesbian and gay, as I have already suggested. Critics such as Mira (2008) nonetheless usefully manipulate the category of ‘cine gay’ to make as open a discursive space as possible (opposing ghettoisation or niche-making) and Mira himself uses a trio of useful standards for filtering the films: the presence on screen of LGBT characters or narrative motivation; the involvement of known LGBT actors or film-makers; appropriation or supposition by way of affinity or identification. I borrow some of those filters in the chapters that follow, but try to open out the space by looking at the traffic between films and their ambient cultures as well as drawing my readers’ attention to the lesbian and trans, as well as the ‘gay’ film-maker and viewer.

In a further example of the exclusion or reduction of queer in relation to Spanish film, of those loosely applying the queer term, Palencia's handbook on thirty-three ‘queer’ films from North America and Europe (2011) includes just one of the films I will be discussing – Amic/Amat – along with El diputado (The Deputy/The Congressman) (Eloy de la Iglesia, 1978) and La ley del deseo (Law of Desire) (Pedro Almodóvar. 1986), both from what might be thought of as the ‘heritage’ period – see Chapter 2). These three films, he implies reasonably enough, fall into a general and standard working definition of how queer culture might function – they are positioned counter to the normative and normalising, geared to marginalised cultural practices and sexualities beyond the LGB (and even T), and operate in – or make – a flexible space for the deployment of counter-heterosexist, non-straight and anti-mainstream thought, images and action (following, that is, Spargo 1999; Doty 1993; and other early queer theorists) (16). Palencia's listing in an appendix (199–206) of a further (p.15) twenty-nine Spanish films and some actors and ‘gay icons’ slides towards the vaguely conflationary: it brings together the fairly obviously ‘gay’ Las cosas del querer (The Things of Love) (Jaime Chávarri, 1989) and Alegre ma non troppo (Fernando Colomo, 1994), the more or less lesbian A mi madre le gustan las mujeres (My Mother Likes Women) (Inés París and Daniela Fejerman, 2002) and the far more demanding and problematising Tras el cristal (In a Glass Cage) (Agustí Villaronga, 1986) and 20 Centímetros (20 Centimetres) (Ramón Salazar, 2005).

Of course, ‘una obra es . . . queer para una audiencia queer en tanto en cuanto subvierte la posición del sujeto gay o lésbico dentro de la identidad gay o lésbica’ (López Penedo 2008: 209) (‘a work is . . . queer for a queer audience in as far as it subverts the position of the gay or lesbian subject within gay or lesbian identities’). In such a context of ‘subversive’ (and anti-mainstream, anti-hegemonic) potential, the kind of combination that is found in Palencia's appendix, intentionally or not, can turn the ‘sort of vague and indefinable’ in queer very much in the direction of ‘challeng[ing] normative knowledges and identities’ (Sullivan 2003: 43–4). Taken as a collectivity of ‘individual’ creations, testimonies, images or documents, the very wide-ranging body of films and responses I am going to be concerned with here – however it is packaged commercially, by agencies, festivals, blog and web spaces, or in casual home storage and conversations – has, I would argue, an overall or cumulative effect of queer. This is especially so in the sporadic, partial and even arbitrary viewing which is typical of the festival circuit where short film production is concerned (see Chapter 4). Moreover, given that the range across films and scenes is also wide in terms of production values, quality of script, conception and performance, there is a productive undecidability generated by juxtaposition, by the jumbling of disparate films into event categories, catalogues, web showcases, ‘L’ or ‘G’ or ‘T’ (less often ‘B’) slots, shelves and chapters in film histories.

Short-Film Production

As well as being engaged with the ethics and aesthetics of the disparate, queer Spanish cinema also responds to a definition of queer as ‘el compromiso con la causa y la crítica de situaciones discriminatorias e injustas’ (García Rodríguez 2008: 456) (‘commitment to the cause and a critique of discrimination and injustice where they occur’) and is concerned with making a difference. This is particularly prominent in the short film. Early on in the period I am covering, one critic-reporter was already noting that ‘el formato corto sigue siendo la principal fuente de relatos gays’ (Retamar 2000b) (‘the short film is still the main source of gay storytelling’) and, in a longer piece, had looked specifically at a ‘proliferation’ in Spain of short film exhibition both at festivals and with the backing of television (Canal + and RTVE 2) (Retamar 2000a: 66). This critic might have added that the same applies, but more acutely, to lesbian (p.16) ‘storytelling’: in the wider viewing list worked through in preparation for this book some fifty titles would count more or less as lesbian short films, but I found only fifteen full-length features since 1998 that would count as at least mainly for or about lesbians, though – strikingly – only two were directed by women. Lesbian film-makers continue to find themselves doubly disadvantaged in a context where, according to director-producer Mariel Maciá, only 8 per cent of films produced in Spain are by women directors and only 20 per cent of screenplays have women writers, and where, plainly still, ‘hay . . . una falta de referentes enorme en la temática lésbica española’ (InCinema 2011) (‘there is a substantial lack of examples of lesbian-themed [film-making]’). There are a number of ways in which the short film can be read as particularly queer, not least in its potential for adventurousness, for the ‘type of fresh, edgy film- and video-making’ and even ‘punkish aggression’ associated with the hard core of queer cinema in the moment of the early 1990s (MacKinnon 2006: 121), or simply for ‘unusualness’ in a refusal – as in the case of My Beautiful Laundrette (Stephen Frears, 1986) discussed by MacKinnon here – ‘to foreground the categories of homo-hetero’ any more than those of race and ethnicity (122) – notably, however, race and ethnicity are categories rarely registered in Spanish queer cinema's representations. More simply too, the legacy of the New Queer Cinema allows new film-makers with precarious resources to ‘hablar de sí mismos y de las subculturas eróticas y comunidades de disidencia a las que pertenecen . . . sin complejos y con voz propia’ (Nabal 2005: 237) (‘speak about themselves and about the sexual subcultures and dissident communities to which they belong . . . openly and distinctively’).

This is the case in Fuckbuddies (Juanma Carrillo, 2011). Its circle of distribution grew rapidly in the year following its premiere and, having been short-listed in March 2012 for the Televisión Española-sponsored competition, the Concurso de Cortos Versión Española, it was shown as part of the prestigious film programme Versión Española on TV2 on the night of 18 April. An elegant and comical arc is stylishly and scandalously traced from sexual urgency to polymorphous banality. The opening seconds of the film show a rapid succession of images of close-up segments of the bodies of two men in frantic preparation for protected sex on the backseat of a car; by the end of the film, they have subsided into the low-key intimacy of a wind-down conversation about their lives with their girlfriend and wife, respectively, and mortgage rates and repayment periods. Wry images, gestures and dialogue punctuate the action: the car is prim and gleaming, barely quivering in response to what is going on inside and shot at a respectable distance with a nice panorama beyond it; the fuckee's darting eye movements, within, show comical uncertainty rather than the awe and eager surprise they might be expected to render in a more ordinary pornographic context of quick, casual sex (see Figure 2). His beautifully delivered, tentative and embarrassed ‘no . . . es que, no . . .’ (‘um . . . it's not, it's not really . . .’) quickly translates lust into fumbling. His friend, a clumsy and squeamish apprentice in the practicalities of foreplay, has to be (p.17)

Queer

Figure 2 Two friends (Richard García Vázquez and Domingo Fernández) in the car in Fuckbuddies (Juanma Carrillo, 2011). Image provided by Juanma Carrillo; reproduced with kind permission.

coaxed like a child being taught how to mix paints or swim to the end of the pool (‘go on, just a bit more’) and when asked to spit, for lubrication, he spits in the wrong place (the other, unfortunate man's face). His excuse, that this is not like doing it with his wife, prompts the conventional disclaimer from him, ‘no soy maricón’ (‘I'm not gay’), and the riposte is an enjoyable take on the solemnities of queer discourse: ‘yo tampoco: soy funcionario’ (‘me neither, I'm a civil servant’). The close-quarters exploration of the filmic conventions of the Sequence-in-a-Car-Interior and the Odd-Couple allows a range of formal effects from the comic and parodic to the concomitantly dramatic and realist: as the two men chat, having failed to bond carnally, a bitter-sweet closeness is constructed around them based on the very lack of adventurousness and the banality of their everyday lives stretching out beyond the parked car. When the talk peters out and the film fades to black, the sound of the clumsy whirring of the electric motors of the side windows winding down bookmarks the small tragedy of disappointment, but it also points up the way in which fresh air has blown in upon it. This, then, is a memorable package of sounds and images for a viewer and an audience to take away and rethink with.

In Pasajero (Miguel Gabaldón Orcoyen, 2009) two young men, Manuel (Pablo de la Chica) and Arturo (Aitor Lizarribar), attempt a belated reconciliation against a classily lit, nocturnal Madrid background (see Figure 3). Wet pavements and distracting lights amplify the inevitability of the failures of their stop-start re-encounter with a love that, as the close-up expressions imply, Manuel has shoddily abandoned in favour of an easier life with a new, steady boyfriend. Two takes of Arturo's finally walking past Manuel – stationary and intense – sharply give form to indecision, to what might have been and (p.18)

Queer

Figure 3 Arturo (Aitor Lizarribar) and Manuel (Pablo de la Chica) in their brief non-encounter in Pasajero (Miguel Gabaldón Orcoyen, 2009). Image provided by Ismael Martín for the Escuela de Cinematografía y del Audiovisual de la Comunidad de Madrid (ECAM); reproduced with kind permission.

to the impermanence of personality where once it seemed to centre love. K (Juan Simons, 2005) sketches the feelings of the eponymous anti-hero (Miguel Ángel Jiménez), a marginal, young hustler living precariously in a rundown neighbourhood, in love with his straight-identified neighbour Nelson (Álex Quiroga). The film constructs a harsh and emotionally arresting criss-crossing of looks and intentions, shades of intimacy and moments missed in a context of social exclusion.

In some cases the very fragmentary, oblique or fleeting form of presentation is what gives productive undecidability to the subjects briefly unfolding on screen. The micro-short Pablo¿has puesto la lavadora? (Pablo: Have You Put the Washing On?) (Javier Haba, 2005) is a low-key depiction through fragments of the domestic everyday of a twenty-something male couple. A lack of (p.19) dialogue is matched by a deliberate lack of narrative motivation (indeed, of specific story at all), and the pivotal moment of intimacy – a kiss in front of the quivering, eponymous washing machine – is itself fragmented, the kiss out of frame. The film seems to deconstruct the love nest, gently, humorously, as a place of non-encounter; if seen, say, or recalled, in juxtaposition to Aliteración (Alliteration) (Roberto Menéndez, 2005), a grimmer and longer (at 8 minutes) exploration of the grip of heteronormativity on relationships, it gathers poignancy. Another micro-short, Dreams Are the Matter We Are Made Of (J. F. Blanco, 2007), gradually obliterates the mid-field screen image of a young male who is quickly framed as a casually dressed artist's model. A patchwork screen is laid close across the camera lens, in rapid stop motion, and constructed of partial shots of the model. The dynamics of looking and being looked at, between two men, and of the fragmentation and repositioning of the image of the younger man, shifts in and out of being homoerotic, in and out of being about the gaze, psychosexually, or more technically and aesthetically. It shifts between being an LGBTQ festival piece, and being a gallery piece. Some of the videoart pieces by Juanma Carrillo (see above) have a similar undecidability, as also do those by Rut Suso (both discussed in Chapter 4).

A number of short films, crossing over into the docu-fictional or biographical and testimonial, address the plainly political matter of queer in Spain in relation to global sexual and intersectional politics. In Imagina (Sagrario Villalba, 2005) two women walking together in their neighbourhood confront grotesque, everyday machismo and coarse jokes about same-sex marriage as their affection for one another grows; Almas perdidas (Lost Souls) (Julio de la Fuente, 2008) addresses small-town homophobia as a solitary, older man returns from a long fishing expedition off the northern coast of Spain to find that his lover has died but nobody on shore – least of all his family – will offer sympathy. Music over by Lluís Llach – the politically committed Catalan singer-songwriter who came to fame in the 1970s – further codes the film, over and above its unmistakable, remote Asturian sea- and landscapes, with specific forms of Spanish loss, grieving and melancholia associated with the years of Francoist repression of liberties (the years of the man's life).

Tiras de mi piel (You Tug At My Skin) (Ayo Cabrera and Enrique Poveda, 2009) is an activist-confessional documentary that talks of the effects on the ‘skin’ – the body and life experience – of an early HIV diagnosis and of ‘los estragos causados por otra infección mucho peor, la de la sidafobia’ (COGAM 2012) (‘the damage caused by an even worse infection – AIDS-phobia’) (see Figure 4). Kike Poveda's testimony in voice-over commentary is of being in, and then thrown out of, a homophobic communist party in the 1970s, of his work as an activist (then and again now since the early 1990s) and of his radical pleasures – serious drug use in the past, a decidedly un-vanilla sex life, smoking and being fucked, which he pointedly notes is itself a stigma, even in ‘el mundo gay’ (‘the gay world’). The camera roams his body, showing glamorous and raunchy tatoos and piercings, the scars of infections, the marks of (p.20) his first suicide attempt (at twenty-one) and stretch marks from fluid on the abdomen associated with hepatitis C. Until the final moments of the film the camera does not catch the speaker's whole face. His body is shown, in fragments, or sitting naked in the bar of a sauna complex, and there are partial profiles or the odd framing of an eye or the lips. At the end Kike, however, turns suddenly to offer a full close-up to camera, explaining (though still in voice-over) ‘de ahí este ejercicio de visibilidad . . . Te cuento todo esto porque al contarlo me siento vivo. Mi vida está llena de huellas, de estigmas, de vida . . . Los estigmas se perciben cuando tiras de tu piel’ (‘that is the point of this exercise in visibility . . . I'm telling you this because telling it makes me feel alive. My life is covered in traces, stigmas, full of life itself . . . You notice the stigmas when you tug at your own skin’). Direct testimony and a discourse that has internalised (or has shared roots with) more abstract notions of the body as text or site of the inscription and reinscription of power – and specifically the queer body as such (in the tradition of Judith Butler or, in Hispanic contexts, of Pedro Lemebel) (López García 2008) – make this documentary a particularly pointed intervention in the debate on identity, risk, community and well-being (Villamil 2004: 41–66, 115–26). Back where the social stigmatisation and emotional turmoil might begin, Sirenito (Little Boy Mermaid) (María Crespo, 2004) and Vestido nuevo (A New Dress) (Sergi Pérez, 2007) (with 10,644 plays on the dalealplay website as at 12 December 2011) both dramatise the politics of parenting and the odd, simple complexities of the constructedness of gender through tales of young children dressing up ‘wrong’. Sirenito deploys isolating long shots and framings which highlight the hugeness of adults or the vastness of school corridors to emphasise the bewildered shame of its young, cross-dressing protagonist who has been pulled out of his class activity as well as that of the scolding, concerned father who has come to fetch him. Vestido nuevo reprises many of these techniques and scenarios, adding to the audience's sense of horrible familiarity with the shamefulness of stigmatisation and a sense, yet, of redemptive indomitability in the young. These are sharp micro-dramas of the formation of queer personhood caught up in the moment of event, in the impulses of physical becoming and in the networks of other people's power.

Chapter 4 will offer a more extended analysis of the role of the short film in the conformation of LGBTQ audiences in Spain, but it will be useful for the reader to have in mind through the intervening pages – which deal as much with conventional film-making as with more radical projects – something of a sense of how queer Spanish film resides in the particular rhythms, sharp narrative arcs and cumulative (and randomly assembled) effects of festival viewings and browsing on YouTube, Vimeo or Vodpod. The brief foregoing review has rehearsed just such a viewing experience. In the next section, I focus on feature films and on one, core issue for a new queer Spain (and in some views, against it): marriage.

Queer

Figure 4 Section of publicity poster for Tiras de mi piel (Ayo Cabrera and Enrique Poveda, 2009). Image provided by Ayo Cabrera; reproduced with kind permission.

(p.21) ‘Nos Casamos’ (‘We're Getting Married’)

Following a long period of campaigning in Spain for partnership rights and same-sex marriage starting in the early 1990s (Calvo Borobiá 2005; Herrero Brasas 2001: 137–42; Platero Méndez 2007b: 333), and a succession of interventions from the Left and social movements on citizenship (331–2), changes to the Civil Code were passed into law in July 2005, providing ‘access for same-sex married couples to rights of inheritance, residence, adoption of the other spouse's children, tax benefits, and to divorce rights’ (335). During the long period of promises, proposals across the range of models from civil partnership to same-sex marriage, and the preparation of legislation after the electoral victory of the left-wing PSOE in 2004, the conservative Partido Popular (PP) and its parliamentary allies adopted a series of stances ranging from the minimally supportive of arguments on equal rights (short of marriage) to more clear-cut opposition to changes to the law. In their caution, they were working counter to public opinion in Spain (and parts of Europe) (Calvo Borobiá 2005: 38–46). For Pedro Zerolo, a prominent PSOE party member, the PP demonstrated at the time plain hostility and homophobia (Zerolo 2007: 45), aspects of which re-emerged in the run-up to and campaigning for the general elections of November 2011, with a core objection, to the adoption of children by same-sex couples, coming back into particular prominence (‘Flick’ 2011).

The passing of the amendment to the law was seen by Beatriz Gimeno, the then president of the Federación Estatal de Lesbianas, Gays y Transexuales (FELGT; subsequently FELGTB), as of exemplary importance – geopolitically for Europe, Latin America and North Africa, and historically for social movements advocating change as well as, specifically, pivotal for Spanish lesbian and (p.22) gay politics (Gimeno 2007b: 33–4). Gimeno is unambiguous in her assessment of the organisation's role as politically efficacious and representative. Shaping up into being a key player in the negotiations with government, it moved the social and political debate away from civil partnership (Parejas de Hecho) to marriage and adoption and parenting rights, and (implicitly) shifted the focus away from sub-national activism and local practices (town hall registers and their management by mayors and councils) to ‘un frente unido que hablaba con una sola voz’ (‘a united front speaking with one voice’) (37). This story of expediency, of course, involves putting the lid on a considerable number of alternatives which might otherwise have sprung up: not the least of these are the sort of multi-levelled, non-centralised strategies for opening up space for collective action, for the networked, horizontal arrangements favoured, for example, by Catalan organisations, including the Coordinadora Gai-Lesbiana (Paternotte 2008: 940–7).

While recognising internal differences but putting them ‘en suspenso’ (‘on hold’), the FELGT had felt it necessary to separate out ‘[la] cuestión puramente académica’ (the ‘purely academic’ question) of whether or not the Federation was pursuing a variant of identity politics (Gimeno 2007b: 38), which was, of course, precisely to acknowledge the centrality to the marriage debate of live concerns for queer theory and activism. A very real discursive trace of identity politics inheres in the assumption of a more or less fixed mapping of sexual subjectivities to civic imperatives and social norms; marriage undeniably appeals to lifestyle issues for certain class segments (those mainly represented in the films discussed below) and to debates on rights – radicalised when coupled to questions of parenting or of gender reassignment, but nonetheless founded on older debates on equality. Being herself less distanced from ‘academic’ questions than the organisation she had once represented, Gimeno aligns herself (39–40) with the lesbian feminist theorisation of marriage and same-sex marriage by Rosemary Hennessy (2000). Few would underestimate ‘the state's jealous protection of heterosexual marriage, heteronormative family, and heterosexual identity’ (Hennessy 2000: 21) as a context for the debate on and the subsequent fact of legislative change. However, as Platero Méndez observed at the time (2005: 108–9), the debates of the early 2000s largely omitted any aspects of the international feminist critique of marriage (Young and Boyd 2007: 264–9, 271–4) and ‘marriage-like dyads’ (264), with the voices of queer and feminist collectives having their impact minimised by the discourse of unanimity being deployed by the self-styled LGBT ‘collective’ (109). Little, too, has since been heard of arguments that might urge circumspection with regard to same-sex marriage's potential to provide equal citizenship unequivocally (Josephson 2005: 275–7), of the scope and persistence of lesbophobia working against such easy provision, or of the fact that ‘las mujeres lesbianas estamos situadas diferencialmente frente a los varones – homosexuales o no’ (‘lesbian women are situated differentially vis-à-vis men – homosexual or otherwise’) (Platero Méndez 2005: 112; also, in more detail, 2007a: 99). From a male (p.23) perspective, Guasch (2007) has suggested that same-sex marriage is simply one of many pyrrhic victories by established lesbian and gay counter-politics (359):

El Estado español es pionero en la lucha contra la discriminación y las agresiones; si bien la homofobia ambiental y la violencia simbólica que la comporta se mantienen casi inalterables. (260)

(The Spanish State is a pioneer in the battle against discrimination and incidences of violence [relating to gender and sexuality], although underlying homophobia and the symbolic violence that it brings with it remain unchanged.)

Same-sex marriage is radically disruptive of heteropatriarchal systems of power, and it makes clear the priority of civil institutions over religious ones (Gimeno 2007b: 40). Similarly, on the one hand:

Simbólicamente, supone un gran paso el poder legitimar la existencia lesbiana como una ciudadanía situada de los márgenes de la normalidad, a estar situada dentro de una de las instituciones más conservadoras y tradicionales.

(Platero Méndez 2005: 113)

(Symbolically, it is a huge step for living as lesbian to be legitimated and placed not now as citizenship at the margins but as on the inside of one of the most conservative and traditional of institutions.)

But in reality, on the other hand, lesbians within marriage, argues Platero Méndez, move from exemplifying forms of sexuality which are disruptive of the gendered and socio-economic norm to fitting into established social roles ‘que relegan a las mujeres a un espacio secundario’ (‘which relegate women to a secondary space’) and which correspond to ‘representaciones [que] desexualizan las relaciones lésbicas’ (‘representations which desexualise lesbian relations’) (115).

A study of the complex links between versions of marriage and notions of citizenship in the USA in the mid-2000s crisply presents the source of a central dilemma which is present in the Spanish case too – how to be disruptive of heteronormative understandings of citizenship in a cautious and gradual pursuit of ‘achievable political goals’ (Josephson 2005: 277). While lack of access to marriage is a powerful sign of discrimination (273), it is, as ‘a public institution’ formed out of political choices over a long period, ‘also a fundamentally conservative institution [which] posits a specific desirable form for intimacy and family life . . . and reinforces that form through legal, economic, political, and social privileges’ (271). Thus, in the USA, ‘many of the most prominent advocates of same-sex marriage are conservative gay men’ (although ‘some lesbian feminists also argue that same-sex marriage is necessary to assure full citizenship’) (272).

(p.24) Wrapped around that first dilemma is also that of

la doble representación de las lesbianas como sexualidades políticas disruptivas, y al mismo tiempo, una representación dominante de las lesbianas como madres y esposas que buscan un reconocimiento ante el Estado.

(Platero Méndez 2007a: 104)

(the double representation of lesbians as on the one hand politically disruptive through their sexuality and at the same time, in a more dominant representation, as wives and mothers seeking recognition from the State.)

These images of the lesbian may or may not be compatible, suggests Platero Méndez, and may or may not point to a gradual, ‘limited’, transformation of the dominant norms (‘los patrones dominantes’) (104).

As in the North American case studied by Josephson (2005), in Spain ‘marriage [had] become “the holy grail of gay politics” [and] a centerpiece for both opponents and proponents of greater rights’ (Josephson 2005: 269). It had become the dominant issue, triumphantly from the point of view of, for example, Gimeno (2007b) or Zerolo (2007). However, as we have been seeing, arguments abroad by queer opponents of same-sex marriage about the institution's reinforcement of the patriarchal family and ascriptive forms of citizenship, and its exclusions – of queer youth and ‘non-normative LGBT individuals’ (Josephson 2005: 273, 277) – are echoed in the Spanish debates (Platero Méndez 2005, 2007a: 98–9, 102–4, 2007b: 336–8; Vidarte 2007a: 11–13, 129–32, 156–7). Consideration of such urgent matters as these, and grounds for a ‘discussion of heterosexual marriage and the family [as] relevant to a radical queer sexual politics’ (Hennessy 2000: 67), are not evident at the surface of the films that deal with the marriage question. They have to be supplied (or, indeed, ignored) at the point of reception; or they emerge (as I hope they might as this chapter progresses) once a more composite viewing – a putting together of the pieces of images – is undertaken or hypothesised. Some of the films take a distinctly perverse angle on the seriousness of the issues; some persuasively celebrate same-sex marriage (if usually leaving aside the associated life issues of care, adoption and so on); a few offer a critique of marriage, but not of same-sex marriage.

The disruptive potential of lesbianism when set against (heterosexual) marriage is explored in light-hearted and thereby potentially naturalising mode – let us start there – in the commercially-oriented semi-musical comedy of urban coupledom Los dos lados de la cama (The Two [or Both] Sides of the Bed) (Emilio Martínez Lázaro, 2005), with 1,540,361 ticket sales at the Spanish box office (MECD 2012) and, more modestly, the winner of a prize for its promotion of the LGBT cause at the Barcelona Mostra Lambda festival (later known as FIRE!!) in 2006. This is one of the several films that I shall be discussing which present an LGTBQ sub-plot or parallel narrative as a crucial part of a more or less light-hearted engagement with the purportedly rapid (p.25) liberalisation in Spain of cultural and media representations of socio-sexual mores. The affair in the film between Marta (Verónica Sánchez) and Raquel (Lucía Jiménez) which prevents the wedding of Marta and Javier (Ernesto Alterio) is deployed as a light foil to some obvious redundancies of heterosexual coupledom and in order to highlight some aspects of complacent lack of emotional know-how in men.2 Javier and Pedro (Guillermo Toledo) exchange tittle-tattle about marriage while their fiancées make out enthusiastically in the women's toilets on their joint stag/hen night. Raquel's profession as a night-club singer adds texture and generic appeal and even allows a reclaiming of the 1960s heterosexually oriented classic ‘¿Porqué te vas . . .?’ (‘Why Are You Leaving?’) in one of the numbers. However, the song is performed in the incongruous context of a male strip club for women, involving Raquel in an economy of the look which is borrowed from (and props up in carnivalesque mode) heteropatriarchal mores; the setting, too, makes lesbianism a sideshow by association. The two women's L-Word style accoutrements and looks both give and take away – like that series (Beirne 2006) – new, empowering and memorable imaginings of the lesbian dynamic. When Pedro and Javier's homosocial friendship is amplified into frank erotic closeness by way of a two-sex threesome and a kiss between the two men the moment is soon bluffly disavowed. The status quo wobbles back into view. Although the heterosexual marriage is postponed, its underpinnings are not contested; its problematics are just so much song and dance here.

In the previous year, Reinas (Queens) (Manuel Gómez Pereira, 2005) had identified in the unfolding debates and legal changes across Europe sufficient material in same-sex marriage for a commercially successful comedy of culture clash, with a cumulative audience of 418,763 in Spain (MECD 2012). The film anticipated (by three months, on its release) the change of the law in Spain by dramatising a marriage ceremony for twenty gay couples held on Spanish soil by a judge despatched from Brussels for the purpose, acting, as she says, by the authority vested in her by the Spanish state. The ‘queens’ in question are not, in fact, any of the six men getting married but, in a borderline-offensive set of caricatures, their variously forceful, kooky, conflicted or frustrated mothers. In different ways, none take the marriages with equanimity, and one – the judge, Helena (Mercedes Sampietro) – is explicitly and unreconstructedly homophobic until the very event itself (which, ironically, she ends up presiding over). One of the six grooms on which the narrative focuses is a politically driven, young MEP (Hugo: Paco León) who has devoted a career to gay marriage (while, to bitter-sweet comic purpose, also secretly sleeping around though engaged and having an affair with his mother's male analyst). The narrative arc is shaped around the wedding event itself, part of a mass event exploiting a new, niche market, sanitising and gentrifying a space that otherwise might have been queer (Fouz-Hernández 2010: 84, 97). The often farcical tensions as well as the lavish arrangements associated with the build-up highlight many of the questions at the core of the phenomenon. As a formulaic (p.26) and romantic comedy of near errors and perennial themes (in the established style of the director) it subsumes the radical potential (in Hennessy's sense) of men formalising their active sexual attraction to one another across class and national cultures into the familiar generic patterns of the dominant cinematic and social narrative in question. The only sex scene between fiancés – Miguel (Unax Ugalde), a rich, fastidious, art-and-media, Northern-European looking gay, and Oscar (Daniel Hendler), an Argentine sports instructor and masseur – is interrupted at the half-naked stage by the intrusion of the egomaniac mother and mother-in-law Ofelia (Bettiana Blum). Homoeroticism, as in a series of normalising feature films, is veiled or curtailed (Ellis 2010: 77; Fouz-Hernández 2010: 98). Similarly truncated is a line of argument brought out during strike action by the unionised labour force in the luxury hotel owned by one of the mothers, Magda (Carmen Maura) – that the whole event and its presuppositions are elitist and exclusivist. In the kitchens, when the mothers of the twenty couples pitch in to cook the banquet (and negate the strike from their non-unionised position), Magda remarks with fond acquiescence ‘¿has visto como son los hombres?; da igual que sean gays; al final acabamos trabajando para ellos’ (‘you see what men are like? Gay or not we women always end up working for them), but the remark has no retroactive critical hold on the narrative. Similarly, little or nothing comes from a sub-plot involving a rich actor (Marisa Paredes) and her initially haughty and reactionary treatment of her gardener (Lluis Homar) or of the social gap-closing being assumed to have been done between their sons (the highly telegenic Hugo Silva as Jonás and Raúl Jiménez as Rafa). In summary, ‘[g]iven the film's political motivation, it's amazing how little it scrapes the surface of the class issues that cloud some of its gay relationships’ (Gonzalez 2006). However, the film still counts, as one commentator in 2006 put it, as a ‘documento’ (‘a document’) – albeit a light one:

de un momento concreto de nuestra historia (o Historia) . . . huella no oficial de aquellos cambios que vivimos, una vez, allá por aquel ya lejano 2005.

(DosManzanas 2006)

(of a particular moment in our history with a capital H . . . an unofficial trace of the changes we lived through once upon a time in the distant year of 2005.)

The line-up of extremely famous female stars (as has been seen, with also Verónica Forqué as Núria, completing a trio of ‘Almodóvar girls’) and of good-looking young male actors, allowed the film a certain impetus. Its last words, in melancholy but plucky mode, refer to the importance of moving on, emotionally and politically (as Núria, in a Prozac haze, looks back on the enormity of all that has happened, and converses with a recently bereaved gay stranger on a train). Politically, however, the effect is at best neutralising and (falsely) naturalising (Ellis 2010).

(p.27) A stronger take on the politics of partnership is facilitated by the representation of the interconnectedness of the sexual political with social issues in Spinnin’ (Eusebio Pastrana, 2007). The film is low-budget, with an almost community-based project feel, which out of necessity (according to the director) opts for an unconventional style (The Big Bean and The Human Bean Band 2011). Still listed and on shelves in, for example, the Corte Inglés department store during 2011, it has accumulated a lasting and proto-cult appeal (La Higuera 2011). The narrative is focalised through the more-queer-than-gay couple Omar (Olav Fernández) and Gárate (Alejandro Tous, well-known for his part in Tele5's Yo Soy Bea, 2006–9) and lesbians Jana (Arantxa Valdivia) and Luna (Carolina Touceda). It takes in same-sex parenthood, access rights to children, civil partnership (between the women) and same-sex marriage as ‘un derecho por conquistar’ (‘a right yet to be won’) (the script and filming predate the change in law), AIDS and HIV, queer-bashing, and neighbourly responsibility. Gárate is a winningly good Samaritan, an ethical queer (Vidarte 2007a) par excellence; Omar works as a legal adviser at the Fundación Triángulo, no less (anachronistically: the film is set in 1995, one year prior to the founding of the organisation). One of his clients is dealing with the double discrimination of the lesbian single parent in a custody battle in a further sub-plot opening out to crucial queer feminist critiques of masculinist and lesbophobic exclusion (Gimeno 2007a). The film's first extended treatment of same-sex civil partnership and the possibility of marriage comes only sixteen minutes in. Jana and Luna tell the men that ‘nos casamos’ (‘we're getting married’), and they explain, didactically, that they mean that they are entering into a civil partnership and that there is a proper ceremony now to this end (in 1995 the Comunidad de Madrid became one of the early local authorities to set up registers). Omar is clear in his objections (his allergy, as he puts it) to marriage, countering Luna's forceful belief in the significance of the fight for the right to marry with a scepticism born of his own more free-floating sexual politics and instinct for radical (if gentle) alternative patterns of commitment. The sequence is given deftness and lift by darting hand-held camera moves, the smiling conviviality of the four friends, and by the inclusion of the several happy kisses of congratulation exchanged into the quirky meta-structural frame whereby every on-screen kiss is marked by the (usually somewhat irritating) appearance of technical crew or out-of-character actors bearing boards, cards and other items with the sequential number of the kiss. (These kisses, one hundred and one, are the kisses dreamed by Gárate as having been exchanged by his parents and form part, in fact, of his grieving for a mother who never knew love.) The film's celebratory and playful strand of solidarity marks out the space of personal and generational battles for equality of access to care, rights of caring, dignity and citizenship.

Spinnin’ reconfigured for its audiences in fictionalised everyday terms something of the euphoria of the times leading towards the making visible and self-recognition of Spanish LGBTQs as ‘ciudadanos de primera’ (Zerolo 2007: (p.28) 49) (‘first-rank citizens’). A different response to the need to record the history of the difficult struggles – also noted by Zerolo (2007: 49) – to conjoin the personal with the civic in this process comes in the documentary Campillo sí, quiero (Campillo, Yes; I Do) (Andrés Rubio, 2007; re-edited 2008). This is a direct treatment of the issues around same-sex marriage, but from a celebratory and a liberally indignant perspective that includes testimonial accounts of prejudice and inequality. Its chosen style is an effectively naive-didactic one with significant elements of usefully emotive sound and image. The first pre-title sequence inter-title states, in silence, the historical fact of the passing of the law, the second refers to local authorities who boycotted carrying it out, and a third goes direct to the introduction of the mayor of the hamlet of Campillo de Ranas (province of Guadalajara), Francisco (Paco) Maroto who, the audience is told, ‘levantó la mano y dijo: “Yo caso” ’ (‘raised his hand on high and said: “I will, I'll marry people” ’). Airy music and a simple, rustic animation – with a little bee flitting from title to title – follow on, leading from the fields and trees to the happy, colourful community. Animation and music give way to a striking full-screen image of a majestic tree in a field, and the soundtrack is that of a young lamb's bleating. The mayor appears, ready to feed the lambs, anticipating poetically the reading at one ceremony, later in the film, of Whitman's ‘We Two – How Long We Were Fooled’, in Spanish translation (‘somos naturaleza . . . nosotros dos entre rebaños’ – ‘we are nature . . . we are two among wild herds’).

Overlaying this somewhat ahistorical and appealingly simple symbolism is real, national, social history and a measured visual account of the everyday textures of life in this small rural community. Shots of the local media covering the opening of a school replace the tending of the lambs; the mayor points out that if there are now enough young people living in Campillo (at risk of depopulation like so many small communities in Spain since the 1950s) it is due, precisely, to the decision to open up the town hall to marrying same-sex partners. Campillo is made a public, national and international place of social change and, as one student at a Spanish class for immigrants notes cannily enough, the weddings are good because they bring in work.

The first wedding ceremony shown (of grooms) gives a strong sense of the egalitarian and sincere spirit of the occasion and of the place, with refreshingly low-budget arrangements; Paco reads out, as he habitually does for the ceremonies, a text based around the phrase ‘sí, quiero’ (‘I do’), tagging together a series of claims to rights in social equality including, crucially, ‘I wish to bring up children’. A day visit by COGAM (Colectivo de Lesbianas, Gays, Transexuales y Bisexuales de Madrid) allows this aspect of rights-related politics to be emphasised, as well as for a micro-history of the enterprise to be rehearsed by way of a welcoming speech. Later, Paco's own memories of his adolescence in an unenlightened and unsupportive Madrid give specific texture and testimonial depth to the history, as also does the culminating ceremony, in June 2008, between Paco and a tense and camera-shy partner Enrique (with (p.29) footage and an inter-title added to the originally exhibited version of 2007). The one lesbian wedding, between Pilar and Malena, with their grown-up children and grandchildren in attendance, suggests a long and difficult journey made by the two towards this moment. Their tears of angrily reclaimed joy match those of Enrique, another of the subjects whom the film gently, in its attention to facial gestures and tones of voice, shows to be as much an exhausted survivor of history as a pioneer.

One contradiction is left interestingly hanging in the high blue air. The alternative, lay beliefs and practices supporting same-sex marriage clash with the strong Catholic traditions of the town. A procession is filmed, with a statue of the virgin, a mass attended by the mayor and a snippet of a sermon (which sticks cautiously, it appears, to themes of hospitality and good works). The reality of the Church's opposition to same-sex marriage and the crux of the dispute over what is and is not ‘natural’ is elided. Nor does one heterosexual couple who have tricked out their celebration with cod-medieval fancy-dress and tents and old-world games (all, as the bride explains, hired online) register any awareness of the strong associations of such folkloric goings on with the evasive costumbrismo propagated by Francoism. The worst effects of that prior era – as epitomised in the use of unmarked mass graves for the bodies of the vanquished of the Civil War and the following repression (Jerez-Farrán and Amago 2010) – are obliquely but inevitably suggested in the attentive filming and discussion of the digging up of an ancient ossuary in the churchyard which gives this documentary further topicality and its issues a gravitas beyond, even, their own.

The gentle comedy of homosocial errors, Nacidas para sufrir (Born to Suffer) (Miguel Albaladejo, 2009) also sets the questions about same-sex marriage in a rural space, but takes a quirky angle that of itself manages to out some equivocal elements in the socio-romantic phenomenon of material union. Flora (Petra Martínez), the over-sixties owner of a big house and smallholding in a sunlit, generically rural (but in fact Valencian) Spain decides to take advantage of recent changes in the law to marry her help Purita (Adriana Ozores) in order to offer Purita stability and herself security of care (and protection of her property from a grasping family). The patrician Flora is able to rebuff the local priest's objections that the arrangement goes against Catholic doctrine, and is for convenience only (as, she retorts, most marriages, then) – the film thus ludically highlights one of the most serious sources of opposition to same-sex marriage, satirises heterosexual marriage (in a time-honoured way), but also acknowledges a potential for complicity in that shared, lesbian and straight, option of convenience. However, Purita is frightened all along that her family will find out about ‘lo nuestro’ (‘our secret/our arrangement’), and, under pressure from her own family, is unable to resist the force of heteronormativity in the guise of imposed family duty. She abandons Flora, annulling the marriage. Flora pines not just for lost security and independence but – which is what saves the film and gives it edge – for the physical presence of Pura, albeit in the (p.30) next and not the same bed. The two women have a conflicted eroticised love based on caring which is seen to flourish not so much while they are married (although at the annual village fiesta they are feted as its first same-sex couple, to their consternation) but in between, in the crisis of separation prior to Flora's angry but passionate ‘¿De manera que has venido a pedirme a que te perdone y que me case otra vez contigo?’ (‘So you've come to ask me to forgive you and marry you again?’).

Although one blog sees the film as laughing at small-town intolerance and the power of communal homophobia (prompted by its programming in an anti-homophobia mini-season) (LesPlanet 2011), the film shows the rural community to be split between self-affirming inclusiveness that is very much to do with sexuality (containing it, perhaps), on the one hand, and on the other, gossip and received ideas about duty that are more to do with gender, social structures, class and kinship. It explores, in fact, a range of causes of uneven justice and denial of feelings, among these (while fondly and picturesquely reimagining it) marriage. Another blogger notes that ‘El tema de la película es el matrimonio de conveniencia, no el matrimonio lésbico’ (‘the film's subject is marriages of convenience not lesbian marriage’) (‘Juan’ 2010), but the queer comic twist – and classic, Spanish, 1960s comedic take (Albaladejo 2011) – on the subject immediately springs the social and the lesbian question. It is not for nothing that the film continued on the shelves of Berkana bookshop at least until the end of 2011, or was flagged as of interest in the web magazine EurOut (European Lesbian News) (Joreen 2010).

As in Ander (Roberto Castón, 2009) (see Chapter 4) the freshness as well as the isolation of the rural setting offsets in imaginative ways the usually urban and modern connotations of the marriage debate and pushes to the sidelines the usual terms of lesbian-to-lesbian and gay-to-gay relationship-making. The lesbian question, having been sprung, is redirected through setting and generic framing towards something more off-centre. The many looks which the two women exchange (usually with Purita avoiding them at first) are queer looks – not sexualised at all, but warm with the almost erotic sufficiency of living in a space structured by ‘una película con aire de cuento, intemporal, más cercana al falso costumbrismo inventado por Fellini para Amarcord’ (Albaladejo 2011) (‘a film with an air of storytelling to it, a timelessness, closer perhaps to the false local realism invented by Fellini for Amarcord’). After the wedding, in the fields, both Flora and Purita realise, and declare, that they are happy – a rarity for them – with Flora setting this in the context of their work in the fields together and the beauty of the land around them. A mid long shot from higher up the field, cued by an affection-charged look in medium close-up by Flora at Purita, places them in eyeline match with one another on the horizontal across the screen, with the sound of the wind blowing the alfalfa caught for a few seconds before Purita recommences scything the crop. The film is indeed one of indirectness, of ‘amor latente entre dos mujeres’ (Europa Press 2009) (‘latent love between two women’). As Adriana Ozores (p.31) has suggested, it is ‘una película que presenta otra manera de entender lo gay . . . creo que es lo que se plantea’ (Cascales 2010a) (‘a film which presents a different way of understanding gay experience . . . I believe that this is what is intended’).

In Juan Pinzás's Galician trilogy Era outra vez (Once Upon Another Time) (2000), Días de voda (Wedding Days) (2002) and El desenlace (The Ending) (2003) marriage is under bleaker scrutiny. The trilogy has as one of its main threads the character of gay novelist Rosendo (Monti Castiñeiras in the first two films), whose wedding to his publisher's daughter is at the narrative core of the central film. The three films are made in accordance with the Dogme 95 tenets, and are certificated as such (Prout 2010: 70).3 Prout sees Dogme's ‘prising open [of] familial and societal vaults’ by the production in filming and performance of an ‘authentically differentiated emotional plane’ as here shifted to homosexual and transgender experience and identity (2010: 71), the trilogy being ‘structured around the epistemology of the closet’ (79), not only sexually but also linguistically and culturally. The first film ‘suggest[s] parity between the visible assumption of a gay identity and the audibility in public space of the Galician language’ (84); the second links a challenge to heteronormativity to a challenge of traditional views of Galician culture (in a scene I will return to) (83); and in the third, Rosendo (now played by Carlos Bardem, and in Castilian) has accepted that he was living a lie in a heterosexual marriage and has – in his relationship with Fabio (Víctor Rueda), who is a young transitioning male-to-female cabaret artist (Fabiola) – ‘emerge[d] from the gay closet but [been] thrown back into the bilingual one’ (85). As Prout observes of the shift out of Galician for this last film – an effect in part of problems with the production schedule (85–6) but nonetheless remarkable – ‘it seems that a Galician speaking gay man cannot cross [the threshold of the closet] without reverting to Castilian’ (85). Similarly, in the reproduction in the story of the relationship of Rosendo and Fabio in conventional terms of an erotic, cross-generational partnership of protection and power inequality, it seems as if that same gay man cannot help himself reverting into a form of inauthenticy when all around there are more egalitarian models to follow than those epitomised in letting the younger, prettier partner have the keys to the (swanky) car and in letting, at least by omission, the younger man be propositioned and emotionally exploited by your mixed-up, bohemian, ostensibly straight male friend (Fernando, played by Javier Gurruchaga).

This unequal relationship repeats, by inversion, that which sows the discord of inauthenticity at the heart of the marriage in Días de voda. Rosendo brings himself to marry his publisher's daughter, Sofia (Comba Campoy), not only to further his career but also because she reminds him of her father, Alexandre (Ernesto Chao), with whom he has had a passionate affair and whom he kisses in semi-public view outside the wedding feast. Rosendo's closetry as well as his cavalier dedication to forwarding his career have led him to neglect the grandparents who brought him up and not even to have invited them to the wedding. (p.32) In a Dogme-style improvisation (Prout 2010: 83–4), they accuse Rosendo of a lack of integrity. This also calls into question the credibility of the discourse of family unity and the sacredness of commitment which has been part of the ritual diet of the day. In a parodically folkloric sequence later, a possibly lesbian and certainly black-sheep aunt reads the Tarot cards for Sofia and sees signs of dark family secrets and ill omen. Rosendo's absence from the table (and preference for the gentlemen's toilet, Alexandre and the kiss outside) as well as the evidence of his being a bad scion, mean that the priest, representing a rival set of supernatural beliefs, is hard put upon to make count his exhortation at the feast that everything be forgotten and the wedding be remembered as ‘una voda feliz’ (‘a happy wedding day’).

For Sonia, the single most visible and disruptive sign of the wedding turning out badly is Rosendo's dancing of the traditional centrepiece muiñeira not with her, as he should have done, but with Beatriz (Pilar Saavedra), the loud and big-egoed close friend and gleeful sexual confidante of his gayness. The sound of the traditional bagpipe band and the steps of the dance are, as Prout observes, provocatively eroticised here (2010: 81). Because of the anthropological and ethnographic interconnectedness of the wedding ceremony, the festivities, family, music, tradition and national identity (80–3), the film ‘gravitates towards marriage as a key element of the Galician heritage industry which is ripe for deconstruction’ (83). In its interrogation of the truths and lies of kinship and erotic commitment, and through this gravitation towards marriage, the film also reminds queer audiences of the institution itself as a nexus of problematic discourses in need of unravelling before they unravel themselves and catch up LGBTQ subjects in webs of damage, inauthenticity and confusion.

Queer Ethics/Positive Images

The ethical texture of Spinnin’, to return to that film, is grounded in queer social concerns, and the film offers a series of critiques of naturalised and naturalising received ideas. The character of Gárate serves, for example, as a cypher for common attitudes to parenthood. Although he bonds strongly with Adriana (Alejandra P. Pastrana) whose lesbian mother is losing a custody battle against the biological father, initially he is both reluctant to join Omar in his enthusiasm to be a father and tells his own father (when the latter asks the standard straight question, ‘when are you going to have a child?’) ‘Papá, los maricas no tienen niños’ (‘Dad, queers don't have kids’). Then he changes: when he and Omar decide, both, to ‘marry’ Raquel, a.k.a. Kela (Zoraida Kroley), who is living with HIV-AIDS and is pregnant with a child who may or may not sero-reconvert, they also commit to her unborn child, to the pre- and post-natal anxieties, and to being, in García's words outside the registry office, familia. The film is enriched by a concern with death, dying, and grieving: less than four minutes into the film Gárate is telling his best friend García (Agustín (p.33)

Queer

Figure 5 Omar (Olav Fernández) and Gárate (Alejandro Tous) adopting fatherhood in Spinnin’ (Eusebio Pastrana, 2007). Screen grab reproduced with kind permission of The Big Bean, Productores.

Ruiz) of his intention to go to visit his mother's grave at the cemetery since it is the anniversary of her birthday. The second half is structured around Kela. Her eventual suicide leaves Gárate and Omar with the (healthy) baby – in perhaps another Almodovarian echo, alongside the cemetery scene, of Todo sobre mi madre (All About My Mother) (1999) – and leaves the film's viewers with a strong sentiment of sympathetic solidarity (as is summarised in the compendium of critical views on the film's Facebook website: Fans de Spinnin) (see Figure 5).

Such a seriously freighted narrative structure, though, is saved from clumsy exposition by adventurous editing which intersperses the story with the following: whimsical vignettes (several involving two municipal policemen gradually falling in love on patrol, watched over by a chubby fairy godfather figure); scenes of adulation of Atlético Madrid football team (Gárate is named after the legendary player of the 1970s, José Eulogio Gárate Ormaechea); the intermittent, dancing appearance of a middle-aged, shaven-headed tutu-wearing male; brief scenes (and one extended musical one, at the end) of whirling and spinning; and experiments, in the kissing countdown already mentioned, with the kind of numerical estrangement produced once before by Peter Greenaway's Drowning by Numbers (1988).

It proved hard for viewers to be anything but positive about this film – and something of its upbeat, inclusive style is also to be found in the (unusually for Spanish LGBTQ productions) race-aware short Happy Day in Barcelona (Johann Pérez Viera, 2009), where happiness depends absolutely on awareness and understanding of the other, and where Muslim co-protagonist Meriam's lesbianism makes no sense outside the frame of family, religious custom, (p.34) self-knowledge and non-sexual commitment to others. However, some of the goodness of Spinnin’ is based on far from complex or philosophical apprehensions such as are encapsulated in the (sincere enough) motif ‘El amor tiene aristas, las heridas te mantienen vivo . . .’ (‘Love has sharp edges, its wounds keep you feeling alive’), frequently repeated verbatim, in the mouths of different characters. Similarly, a long soliloquy on grief and pain, spoken by two separate characters, threatens to tip tragedy into portentousness, but the rhetoric overwhelms the sentiment on any conventional reading and viewing of the scenes. Furthermore, despite its clear and successful politics of making visible the everyday experiences of those affected by discrimination or social exclusion, some of its modes of representation risk moving towards assimilation and normalisation, and the film is very white by comparison to independent films in other LGBTQ film traditions (and as Happy Day in Barcelona emphasises by contrast). A two-shot intervention to camera by Jana and Luna, speculating on the life of the baby girl about to be born to them, notes (astutely enough) that should she be lesbian then the world which awaits her is likely to to be one whose prejudices will still be based around the comforting doublet of the fashionability of gay men and the consequent invisibility of ‘nosotras’, we lesbians. So far, so political. However, in a dissonant echo of the commercial aesthetic whereby ‘the lesbian imagination can easily be . . . exploited and recuperated by the homogenising dream-machine’ (Cairns 2006: 5), the women are conventionally beautiful, long-haired, golden-skinned and lit from back right by sunlight through the white pillars of a portico, whereas elsewhere in the film they seem more ordinary. It is as if an ironic reference to Gárate's own, sporadic, profession as an advertising creative had backfired.

The film is an example of the unintentional queer aesthetic which the collective of films I am discussing pieces together; despite its easy popular and youth appeal, and the sense of a fairly simple if emotionally demanding set of story lines, Spinnin’ is odd, bitty, sometimes edgy, juxtaposing a comfortable feel with formal disruption and coincidental parody of normative behaviours and attitudes. In her discussion of Beautiful Thing (Hettie Macdonald, 1996), Jennings (2006) adapts the notion of ‘positive unoriginality’ to the British context, situating it as a mode which combines ‘typical strategies associated with positive images and traditional identity politics’ with ‘some uncertain forms of viewing identification’ (193). This, she argues, is done to specifically queer effect, that is there is an effect on queer audiences which is complex and productive and observable (192). There are some similarities to Spanish productions. Beautiful Thing's mélange of conventional coming-out tale framed by television-drama-style social realism with overt self-reflexivity with regard to genre (186) and its productively contradictory representations of secondary characters (189) matches up with a queer tendency in Spanish films to mismatch the highly conventional – in one or other formal category or in look – and the unexpected (and sometimes unintended) effect, outcome or emotion.

In a different register, and with a bigger draw at the Spanish box office (p.35) (76,432 tickets sold: MECD 2012) plus substantial availability on DVD, Cachorro (Bear Cub) (Miguel Albaladejo, 2004) essays a similar combination. Its setting – gay central Madrid, and particularly Chueca, as ‘a universally recognisable queer space’ (Fouz-Hernández 2010: 84) – was in many ways, by 2004, positively unoriginal, its narrative premise of a sex- and fun-loving lifestyle suddenly being interrupted by the need to care for a child, a traditional one (in the mode of Trois hommes et un couffin (Three Men and a Cradle) (Coline Serreau, 1985)). Its combination of narrative and representational elements is more thought-provoking and has an ethical edge. There is a serious and engaging representation of a sexually active and attractive ‘bear’-type male protagonist Pedro (José Luis García Pérez) – an anti-normative representation in terms of image (Fouz-Hernández 2010: 92–3), at the time at least – living proudly as part of a supportive older male community and living with HIV-AIDS. There is the narrative treatment of surrogate parental care (by Pedro of his nephew) and a key questioning of the hegemonic, ideological ‘split between domesticity and sex’ (Fouz-Hernández 2010: 88), although the parallel satire of heteronormative family control is less convincing as a radical strategy. The sense of ‘“alternative family” formation’ (96) is, for much of the film, truly alternative, precisely because it is sexualised from the start (98) (Fouz-Hernández and Martínez-Expósito 2007: 192); the domestic space of Pedro's flat is also intersected powerfully by community concerns. It shares with Reinas (see above) and Chuecatown (Boystown) (Juan Flahn, 2007) (see Chapter 2), a ‘redeeming factor [that] may be their general disregard for “gayness” as a problem’, suggests Fouz-Hernández (2010: 95), adding that ‘[t] his might be problematic in itself’ (95). It might be: the process of normalisation is fraught with exclusion, and to make a representational point about being LGTB being no different, and to do so in entertaining mode, is often to redeploy old stereotypes, old standbys, a preterite mode. In the next chapter I review a number of studies of filmic representation of lesbian and gay subjects from the Spanish past; I move forward in time a little to consider some overlaps of positive images, identity politics and a nascent queer, radically original mode; and I build a sense of heritage, good and bad.

Notes

(1) One of the many omissions of this book is a close study, however, of the affinities of Spanish with certain Latin, Central and Spanish-speaking North America queer cinemas. The Fundación Triángulo/LesGaiCine's projects in relation to these cinemas makes the connection in practical terms (see 〈http://www.lesgaicinemad.com/Archivo/Lesgai11/introduccion.htm〉 [last accessed 21 May 2012]). On relevant aspects of Latin American queer cinema (in Spanish-speaking territories), and an extensive review of existing studies, see Subero (forthcoming).

(2) Part of this discussion appears in a longer piece on comedy and musicals in Labanyi and Pavlović (2012: 193–223).

(3) The certificates are reproduced at 〈http://www.atlanticofilms.com/AF_Dogma.asp [last accessed 21 October 2011], with that for El desenlace dated 2 July 2002, just (p.36) as the closure of the Dogme ‘Secretariat’ and the end of certification was announced (see statement in the appendix in Stevenson 2003: 291–2). Pinzás appears to have made his promise about its mode of production to Dogme far in advance of the shooting (in 2004: see 〈http://www.atlanticofilms.com/AF_noticia_01_04.asp〉 [last accessed 21 October 2011]) and of the final shaping for release in 2005.

Notes:

(1) One of the many omissions of this book is a close study, however, of the affinities of Spanish with certain Latin, Central and Spanish-speaking North America queer cinemas. The Fundación Triángulo/LesGaiCine's projects in relation to these cinemas makes the connection in practical terms (see 〈http://www.lesgaicinemad.com/Archivo/Lesgai11/introduccion.htm〉 [last accessed 21 May 2012]). On relevant aspects of Latin American queer cinema (in Spanish-speaking territories), and an extensive review of existing studies, see Subero (forthcoming).

(2) Part of this discussion appears in a longer piece on comedy and musicals in Labanyi and Pavlović (2012: 193–223).

(3) The certificates are reproduced at 〈http://www.atlanticofilms.com/AF_Dogma.asp [last accessed 21 October 2011], with that for El desenlace dated 2 July 2002, just (p.36) as the closure of the Dogme ‘Secretariat’ and the end of certification was announced (see statement in the appendix in Stevenson 2003: 291–2). Pinzás appears to have made his promise about its mode of production to Dogme far in advance of the shooting (in 2004: see 〈http://www.atlanticofilms.com/AF_noticia_01_04.asp〉 [last accessed 21 October 2011]) and of the final shaping for release in 2005.