A new DVD entitled, “Uranian Dreams: Two Homosexual Films by Eloy de la Iglesia” packages a pair of controversial dramas by the late, great gay Spanish filmmaker. “Hidden Pleasures” from 1977, was considered the first Spanish film to have a gay protagonist. “Confessions of a Congressman,” from 1978, also featured a gay storyline.
Both films depicted middle-aged men falling for younger guys, and a hallmark of the director’s work is his prominently showcasing attractive actors in various stages of undress. But de la Iglesia had a political agenda as well. “Hidden Pleasures” takes pains to present its gay protagonist as a man who is comfortable with his sexuality, and, when asked, would turn down a pill to make him straight even if it was free. In contrast, “Confessions” deals with Spain’s transition into democracy.
“Hidden Pleasures” is fascinating for its historical importance and problematic for its grooming narrative. It remains engrossing even as it treats its subject in ways that feel dated (e.g, stereotypical) now, because the film was likely quite radical given that it was made in the immediate post-Franco era.
Eduardo (Simón Andreu) is a closeted bank manager who likes to pay young men for sex. When he sets his eyes on Miguel (Tony Fuentes), a student, he contrives ways for them to be together, sending a letter offering him a job and also paying him to type out a novel he is writing. Miguel, who is working class, appreciates the financial opportunities Eduardo provides him, and is not aware of his benefactor’s ulterior motives. Miguel is straight and dating Carmen (Beatriz Rossat), and he is having an affair with Rosa (Charo López), a married woman.
Eduardo’s behavior toward Miguel, which includes taking him out to singles bars, and buying him a motorcycle he coveted, is a bit creepy. And when Eduardo refers to himself as “The corruptor” — in a conversation with his friend Raúl (Antonio Corencia), a gay man who was once in Miguel’s shoes — it is practically cringy. When Raúl gives Eduardo an article to read about “the homosexual’s place in society,” it is likely de la Iglesia’s way of commenting on attitudes of the day, which his film both presents and breaks down.
Eventually Eduardo confesses his attraction to Miguel but insists that he will not act on it. (And to his credit, he doesn’t). Moreover, Eduardo befriends Carmen, who also learns the truth about Miguel’s homosexuality. Their acceptance is gratifying; however, it is countered by negativity from others. Miguel’s friend, Nes (Ángel Pardo), goes home with Eduardo for sex, but in fact, is conspiring to rob Eduardo. In addition, Rosa soon threatens to expose Eduardo — and by extension, Miguel — if Eduardo doesn’t let her have her lover back. It may also sound soapy, but in the filmmaker’s capable hands, it reflects the power struggles desire has ignited in each character.
“Hidden Pleasures” takes pains to show that homosexuality is not “a sickness,” and looking at the film through a modern lens, it is interesting to consider that de la Iglesia provoked his detractors by having Eduardo indulge in some lecherous behavior. The filmmaker certainly ogles the young flesh on display with his camera, which compromises things further. But “Hidden Pleasures” still deserves a look all these years later.
“Confessions of a Congressman,” a juicy drama about truth, betrayal and fear, is also ripe for rediscovery.
Roberto (José Sacristán) is a married politician with Marxist/Socialist leanings, who meets Nes (Ángel Pardo, from “Hidden Pleasures”) in jail and becomes smitten with the attractive young hustler after catching an eyeful of him in a hospital bed. Nes, however, schemes to make Juanito (Jose Luis Alonso) the bait in a plot to entrap the gay Roberto in a scandal and prevent him from gaining any political power.
The film features a heavy dose of the politics of the era, but it also shows how Juanito actually becomes more socially conscious after spending time with both Roberto and Roberto’s understanding wife, Carmen (María Luisa San José); she is aware of her husband’s homosexuality, but she loves him (as he does her.) The depiction of these relationships against this backdrop of fascism is why “Confessions of a Congressman” is both powerful and depressing. Roberto and Juanito are both pawns under authoritarian control, despite being set in a time when things should be starting to improve.
De la Iglesia is also very deliberate in how he presents the intimacy between Roberto and Juanito — who is straight — as they spend time together in Roberto’s secret apartment. When Carmen is folded into their relationship, the story is propelled to its expected and tragic conclusion.
“Confessions of a Congressman” is a stinging social commentary about sexuality and politics in post-Franco Spain.