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Unformatted text preview: Ft. DESIRE UNLIMITED ’ " ' ' , Oxford 1992, 14 ‘Fetishism’ Elizabeth Wright, ed., Feminism and Psychoanalym: A szcal chtummy I pp. 113—17. 15. New Yorker, 16 May 1988. ' ~ ' '6 la derrwcnuia, Bilbao 16 Ramiro Gomez B. de Castro, La produch cinematogrdfica mpanola. de la tram-La n a 1989, p. 252. . .. 17. Frandsco Llinas, 'Cuatro afios de cine mpafiol, Madrid 1987, p. 99. ’ ' d Tim 0 de silencio 18 The films are Sé infiL’l y no mire: um quién (Be Unfaithful Anyansfiztzgliggy P - (Time of Silence), respectively, the latter starring Imanol Arias an I 19 See Philip French, review, Observer, 8 December 1991. 1986 I ‘ ‘ ‘ ' ber . 90 See reviews by Peter Besas, Variety, 9 April 1986; Vrmety, 26 Novem - i 7 - ch 1986. 21 Molina Foix, Fotogramas, April 1986, p. 6-, Guamer, La Vangua‘rdw 15 Mar .l . , . or nauona it as er ormance see emand savater éona de [1 0 rf UVO In 0 actonalism e orma , 22 F V l? y p f F ‘T l p ' ' ‘ “‘ OCLR L‘JgflaiQ lmpertinencias y desafws, Madrid 1981. pp. 68—80. "Lair? 4 55;, g 1, g l m V 4 . 394 AP y 23 See Crisuna PlCCluO S ievxew In E l mind, 01. 0, no , Ill 1989 pp 272‘4 {01 3 leadl“ 0‘ this scene which St! 65565 the £11510!) ofbodies Into a new oblect which liberates d5)! 6 and SH! passes COdes- 24. Review in Cahiers du Cinéma,_407—8, May 1988, p. I v - h ‘ " ’ d Valeria Patané, iFolle, 25 See Vicente Molina Foix, ‘ll Cineasta della vita moderna, in Sergio Naitza an I folle, folle, Pedro!. Cagliari 1992, pp. 13—19. I LA LEY DEL DESEO (THE LAW OF DESIRE, 1987) A Talent for Production THE DESIRE TO DESIRE Hablar de estas cosas no es facil. Hay que ser muy sincero, muy habil, y tener mucho talento. Speaking of these things isn’t easy. You have to be very sincere, very skilful, and very talented.1 ’ La lay del deseo is generally cited as Almodévar‘s most autobiographical film. Like Almodévar, _Pablo (Eusebio Poncela) is a successful film director, author of a number of shocking films with bizarre titles (‘The Paradigm of the Mussel’). He is also provided with a glamorous transsexual sister, Tina (Carmen Maura), whose name mimics that of Almodévar’s own much-loved brother a nd business partner, Agustin (‘Tinin’). Almodévar himself has declared that only two moments in the film derive from his own life: the first is when Tina confronts the choirmaster who had abused her as a child; the second is when Pablo sends his lover Juan (Miguel Molina) a perfect love-letter which he asks Juan to sign and return to him (Vidal, p. 196). While Almodévar claims that he himself thought better of sending such a letter (thus distancing himself once more from his narcissistic protagonist) he is clearly teasing his audience, daring them to associate the director within the film with the one outside it, who had now achieved ‘ such celebrity in Spain. The unpublished script2 contains wry and ironic references to DESIRE UNLIMITED the approach of middle age and the dubious advantages of celebrity (predicaments shared by Pablo and Pedro), which can be meant only for himself. d Spanish press coverage of the film suggests an eagerness assertthat auteu; an, object were one and the same. One critic calls it a ‘shameless and unbridled mam esto , in which Almodovar is ‘stripped bare’.3 Another calls it a ‘desahogo, an outlet fir ‘purging’ of that whichhas previously been bottled up inside.4 A third suggests that t ,: film’s ‘exorbitance’ seeks to undo repression by passing ‘through scandal to freedom 2 This fantasy of immediate expression (of film as bodily discharge or psychic release()iis perhaps paralleled by the material conditions under wluch La ley del deseo was ma e. Unable to find commercial funding, Almodévar and his brother finally secured a largish budget given as ninety million pesetas (as compared to _Matador s seventy million); and, exploiting the newly instituted Miro Law,. set up their own priduction company, El Deseo, S.A. As quite literally a self—production (allgeit With a gov rnlmerlit advance subsidy of 40 per cent, secured with some difficulty), Lei ley delfleseo c ear y offers itself as an auteurist work, one in which the figure of the director informs and transforms the audience’s reception of the film. The production of a self suspended between life and cinema continued in Alinodovar’s dealings with the press. In an important interview with well—known journalist and novelist Rosa Montero (caged, characteristically, ‘A Boy Like Me’), Almodovar'compares the making of La ley‘fiel eseo to a love affair: ‘When you’re madly in love with a boy and someone asks you: Do you like him?”, you don’t know. All you know is that that’s the only thing in your head now, and that it includes every imaginable state of mind, from delight to despair. ‘Architect of himself, in Montero’s tellin‘ phrase, Almodévar stresses both the extraordinary discipline his career has requi d of and 'his -.mabihty to control 1:115 private life, in which (like his creation Pablo) h'e'feels’he'is‘notdesired as he would‘w1s . I am not concerned here with verifying such statements. Rather I would suggest that Spanish press coverage (whether sympathetic Montero or censorious like much oé the rest) reveals that far from being repressed, homosexuality was actually pronliéat: by the straight media, anxious to procure ‘personal’ statements which con h e presented as unambiguous testimony to the body of the author: As jose Arroyo as suggested, there was thus a desire for homosexuality, an assumption that Almo ovar 5 career would not reach maturity until he had treated a topic which was assumed to be so intimately linked to him.8 In this ‘gay seduction’, it was not at all clear who was the artner. . , . I . legiiliisgnfo accident that this fantasy of immediacy demanded by straight critics (the identification of director and character) is also played out Within the film itself. For THE LAW OF DESIRE example, the closeness of the relation between siblings Pablo and Tina is established through an opening eye-line match: emerging from the cinema in which Pablo’s latest erotic epic has been premiered, Tina casts a look out of frame, which is returned in the next shot by Pablo. The two then embrace as the image freezes. The privileged status of fraternity, suspended outside time and place, will be contrasted with the frantic displacements of erotic affairs. And the one character whose relation to the desired object is immediate will prove to be psychotic: after witnessing Pablo’s film, young provincial Antonio (Antonio Banderas) descends to the cinema lavatories where, masturbating, he repeats the words he has just heard spoken on screen: ‘Fuck me, fuck ’ me. Within the film, then, such ‘alignments of spectator and subject’ are rare indeed, and are displaced by ‘circuits for fantasy’.9 As the prototype of the artist, Pablo’s life is a ‘double-edged boomerang’; and, unlike Antonio whose passion ‘has no inter- mediaries’, he is (in the words of the press book) ‘tied to the typewriter with his heart pounding between the keys’. There is thus a certain abstraction or effacement of homosexuality in La ley del deseo which belies its relatively graphic sex scenes. For example, the relation between Pablo and the lacklustre juan is safely displaced into the past from the very beginning of the film. juan has decided to leave Madrid for the summer. And as the couple undress for a chaste last night together the soundtrack plays Brel’s ‘Ne me quitte pas’. juan, who cannot love Pablo as he would wish to be loved, is always already lost, the object to whose absence Pedro must continually reconcile himself. The script stresses the familial relation between the two (Pablo leads juan to the bedroom ‘as one would a child’)10 and their tender chastity (p. 31). As dawn breaks over the capital, an overhead shot shows them naked and intertwined,juan’s leg wrapped around his lover. The publicity photo corresponding to this scene is much reproduced (Plate 11). But it is perhaps significant that the name of Miguel Molina (whose face is covered by shadow) is often replaced by that of the better-known Antonio Banderas.11 For part of the de—sexing of homosexuality in this film is the defacement of Pablo’s multiple partners, who are presented as interchangeable. Symptomatic here is the ambiguous use of voice-over. While Pablo types the letter he will ask juan to return to him as his own, the two voices merge on the soundtrack, become indistinguishable. But, as the film’s delirious plot will prove, merger has its dangers; and the price of fusion (of overidentification) is death. In The Desire to Desire,12 Mary Ann Doane has given an excellent account of the complexities of the ‘woman’s film’. Doane states the characteristics by which audiences DESIRE UNLlMITED were addressed in such films as: ‘proximity, passivity, overidentification’ (p. 2)..As the woman’s position in dominant cinema is widely held to be resistant to narratiVization per se (because ‘aligned with spectacle, space, or image’ [p. 5]), female spectators were encouraged to adopt ‘the impossible place of a purer \passivesdesire’»(p. 7), a place of contiguity in which the body, too close, was ‘wrapped up in itself (p. 12). Founded as it was on ‘temporal immediacy, spatial proximity [and the] confounding-ofdesire (p. 13), feminine fantasy was ‘desexualized’ (p. 18), confined by ‘a dangerous intimacy With the image’. Woman’s desire in these films is thus a desire to desire, an inability to accede to that fetishizing distance which grants (heterosexual) men visual pleasure in narrative cinema. 1 ~ I . Doane takes care to distinguish between audience address and spectator posmomng (p. 34): the responses of empirical women (and men) to actual films are not exhausted by the structures of feeling she analyses. However, Doane’s account of the desexuallza— tion and dangerous proximity of the woman to the image corresponds uncannily‘to Almodovar‘s representation of gay men in La ley del deseo, their bodies so close that they are literally defaced. Almodovar himself has frequently denied that the film is addressed to a gay audience; it is perhaps more interesting to ask why such disavowals are so persistent. ‘3 For‘it is indeed difficult to speak of such matters in a soc1ety which is, as Almodovar acknowledges (Vidal, p. 207), profoundly homophobic. And the playfully ironic and narcissistic appeal to one’s ‘talent’ a useful strategy in this context, one employed by both the empirical and the fictional director. The action of La ley del deseo will suggest, however, that it is only in the moment of merger, in the terrible and pleasurable shattering of the subject, that j‘ouissance to be found. I STRAIGHTENING'OUT l , Un hombre no soporta oir que otro 1e pida: 5Féllame’. One man cannot hear to hear another ask him: ‘Fuck me’. “ - v (Almodévar in Vidal, p. 209) In ‘A Gay Seduction’, jose Arroyo argues that the challenges La ley del desea poses to a straight audience are dissolved, one by one, by narrative means. A plot which objectifies the male body and charts the formation of a homosexual couple (Pablo- Antonio) is offset by ‘the affirmation of traditional values such as the family’ through the plot line of Pablo’s affection for sister Tina and her lesbian lover’s daughter Ada THE LAW OF DESIRE (p. 44). Cross-cutting between dangerous gay eroticism and reassuring if idiosyncratic domestic drama, Almodovar straightens out his queer characters and offers both the shocking difference and the comfortable similarity required of him by a heterosexual Spanish audience. By the end of the film, argues Arroyo, the traditional narrative requirements of process and closure have been achieved. I would propose, however, that the character of Antonio remains troubling, un- resolved. Miguel Albaladejo notes that, unlike Pablo and Tina whose backstories are exhaustively documented, Antonio is a ‘void’, without a past (p. 29). As the figure of passion, absolute and unqualified, he is deprived of the gaps or ‘fissures’ (press book) of the other characters. But, ironically, he is also the only character placed at that intersection of the public and private realms which in English is known as ‘the closet’: spied on by his obsessive German mother, Antonio insists that Pablo sign love—letters to him with a woman’s name. The framing of the encounters between Pablo and Antonio makes his marginal position clear. When they first meet, Pablo attempts to take ‘Antonio home, but is brushed off. He walks out of frame. But in the very next shotit is Antonio who, having conceded that he has ‘lost’ the pick-up ‘competition’, stalks out of frame, leaving a puzzled Pablo behind. Similarly, when later they say goodbye to one another outside a restaurant, Antonio shakes hands formally with Pablo, walks towards the edge of the frame and then rushes back, as the camera moves in on his savage embrace. The script tells us that this passionate kiss is ‘compulsive’, that Antonio has ‘forgotten he is in the middle of the street’ (p. 83). Barely bound by the limits of the cinemadc frame, Antonio is also progressively unrestrained by social restrictions, even though his bourgeois provincial background makes him more vulnerable to those same restrictions than the glamorous metropolitans amongst whom he moves. Pablo’s relaxed acceptance of his homosexuality as open secret (a state of affairs in which the media are shown as happy to collude) is thus troubled by Antonio’s refusal to acknowledge boundaries, whether social or sexual. But there is more. When the two men are about to make love for the first time, neophyte Antonio interrogates the experienced Pablo as to whether his ‘promiscuity’ has made him vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases. Pablo denies the charge, irritably, before penetrating Antonio on the latter’s request. This scene, which features the use of lubricant but not condoms, was much resented by some North American gay viewers, who held Almodévar responsible for_promoting unsafe sex.14 Pauline Kael, however, in her perceptive review, suggests rather that as a ‘conscious fantasist’, Almodovar is as aware of AIDS as is the audience.15 Defiantly championing sensuality, DESIRE UNLIMITED Almodovar’s response to a health crisis which was less familiar in Spain than in the {is is not mimetic but redemptive: he refuses to portray tlLe behaVIour mZdAeagecessary y ’ but rather relieves his audience of that reality y conjuring 1 r . rezilrithh unpublished paper, Maria Donapetry cites thewconriection between $213?th and death in a homosexualization of the Pieta found in Genet 5 Querelle d: 31:1. t nio image recurs in the final shot of La ley del deseo when Pablo Will cradle the ea 1’; onal in his arms. Hence if Almodévar rejects the historical connection of unprotecte af sex with mortal illness (and thus attempts to console gay men through filmic fantasy I or the loss of the unselfconscious pleasures of earlier times), the unconsc1ous associaprti); of sodomy and death will reverberate throughout thewfilm in ways which must 5 l. ‘ coiliiiodévar has claimed in interviews that men cannot to hear another ask fie penetrated, however liberated they may think themselves (Vidal: PF: 208-19): ht t: - this may not correspond to many gay men’s experi Almodovar 15 sure y'rigdices call attention to internalized homophobia and to the possibility that such prejuq ‘1 t have not been eliminated even in the most sexually'open of soc1et1es. Leo Bersani 5 11s the Rectum a Grave?’ has investigated similarly disquieting territory, with equa y controversial resultsfl Bersani begins by suggestingthat there is a pervaSive av(eirs10n to sex which ‘can coexist quite comfortablyWith', say, the most enthus1asti; e: Oriel: ment of polysexuality with multiple sex partners’ (p.t lQS). Widesprea p .enosex enon is linked to the difficulty in basing a political programme on a sexual practice. 1. between men can lead to conservativism as much as to (p. 205). The pen; paradox for gay men is that we both struggl? §g3{f}$F_qefinitions of malenrislsaxwenfl oppress us, and incorporate those definitions‘which weycarry Within us as pe d f Guy renewable sources of excitement’ (p. is the violation of our idea , an o identification in which we take pleasure. The pathological fear of AIDS is thus a heiror of male submission: ‘the seductive and intolerable image of a gr(owr2111;1)an, legs hig in ‘ able to refuse the suicidal ecstasy [of a woman’ p. . . [hfriiis’ iLsuprecisely the position of Antonio’rin’La'lgy‘del deseo, his ankles bent beltgnd the ears. And if, as Bersani argues, ‘to be penetrated is to abdicate power (p. 2E2) 1 en bi1 eis this wilful and pleasurable self—denial that Almodovar, also,. finds int; :ra tor. Response is further complicated, however, when we watch a straight-identiane ‘ ac dc (Banderas) submit to his director and play out scenes which (he claimed) initi y :lnab [him] unsure who [he] was’ (Vidal, p. 206). Moreover, the various pomts at: :1 y Bersani are confirmed by the position of Antonio the character (and actor.) in e m. THE LAW OF DESIRE In spite of his enthusiastic compulsion to perform sex, Antonio clearly shares with Almodovar a certain aversion to it. As a character branded as ‘reactionary’ by Pablo (industrious, puritanical, clean—living), he illustrates the fact that there is no necessary connection between homosexuality and political radicalism. Moreover, as a character coded as ‘straight-acting’ (indifferent to camp and soberly dressed in Lacoste sports shirts) he represents a certain intolerant and inflexible notion of masculinity which is at once hostile and attractive to some gay men, that masculinity whose violation we can most enjoy and regret. If we must urgently resist that fantasy which equates anality and death, then we can, still and more urgently perhaps, take pleasure with Pablo (with Almodévar?) in that ‘internalized phallic male as an infinitely loved object of sacrifice’ (Bersani, p. 222). Such is Antonio’s role in La ley del demo. It is a role which carries with it the greatest of risks, the risk (in Bersani’s words) of ‘losing sight of the self’. TRANSSEXUAL HISTORIES TINA: Los recuerdos son 10 unico que tengo. TINA: All I have left is memories. Buxom and flame—haired Carmen Maura’s Tina squeezes through the railings into her old school (located precisely by Almodévar in the upmarket calle Serrano). As the organ plays a hymn of praise to the Virgin, Tina advances, singing, to the camera, which pulls back to include the elderly organist. Her red dress with white polka dots18 contrasts with his dark cassock. When Tina announces that she is the boy who once sang in his choir, we are given a reverse angle of the priest’s discomposure. Tina tells him that she was betrayed by the only two men she has really loved: her spiritual father and her natural father, who also abandoned her. When the priest exclaims, understandably, to Tina: ‘How you’ve changed!’ she replies: ‘The whole world has changed.’ Minimizing her own transformation, Tina seeks to enforce through sheer strength of will a singular and continuous identity: it is the uncompromising ‘Soy yo’ (‘lt’s me’) which precipitates the cut to the priest’s reaction shot. The priest urges her to forget their love affair. But Tina replies that all she has now is memories. 1 will suggest a little later that this cult of memory is more than simple nostalgia. But at this point in the film what is significant is the contrast between image and words. Flagrantly visible in the chapel, Tina is (in Pauline Kael’s words) ‘overacting womanhood . . . the role of her life’. But if that performance is denaturalized by its » DESIRE UNLIMITED r very ostentation (if femininity is too clearly a masquerade), then the transsexual cannot ‘pass’, will be forced to ‘crash land’ in mid gender flight. . her Tina’s nostalgia for objects which are (like Pablo’s) always already lost recurs [in ' performance of the leading role in Pablo’s version of Cocteau s La Vozx humtlme. cting out her life once more (for her lesbian lover is watching from the Wings), ITina proclaims into the prop telephone to her absent lover: ‘Before when we had prqp em: we made it up with nothing but a look. By telephone, its different. Plere s e and Cocteau’s Voice reveal a longing for that unmediated communication achievle1 through sight, so different from the mechanical alienation of the telephone. Butf Eh: irony is that, condemned as she is to the realm of the Visible, Tina 1s a liVing icon oh. h falseness of appearance, a flagrant example of that cinema specularization “Blth condemns those coded as feminine to mute and fetishisuchdevotion. The fact that l. 1 Andersen, the actress playing the CG (genuine girl) in this sequence, is well knfown in Spain as a transsexual and was frequently misrecognized as a transvestite by; oretigaq critics only heightens this tyranny of the visual. A look is no guarantee 0 .Inlll u ension. Indeed it can be deadly. cofiaiieilgfina, Pablo, and child Ada are returning home after a performance, through a city ominously cloaked by the hoardings common in summer. They come across; cleaner hoéing down the street, hisjet of water arching, luminous, across the screetn. be a clinging orange knit dress, with a zip down the front, Tina begs for the water 0 turned on her. It is a scene of orgasmic pleasure, and one in which the other characters are delighted voyeurs. It is perhaps characteristic that a rev1ew which castigate: Almodévar for his supposed ‘excesses’ in the film, for his lack of qumbnug/In an continuity, should be illustrated with a still fromsequence (Plate 12). ‘ And 31:12: D’Lugo reads the scene as an erotic spectacle in winchtranssexual and 01:1 cpiinc;i in the ‘place of a persistent breakdown of the traditional categories of sexu11 ’1 en tythe Spanish society’.20 It is not clear, however, whether such jouissance rea stages f breakdown of distinctions between male and female, hetero.and homo in a City 0 constant renovation. For (as in the chapel scene) by escaping into ever more flagrant exhibitionism, Tina is also reconfirming that closeness to the image which has such ects in the woman’s film. V ’ fat"la'lheeftfnress book describes Tina as a ‘self-fabrication’. And as in the case of Banderglls1 s Antonio, Maura’s performance as Tina brings a new-inflection. to the character. e describes to Nuria Vidal how, in such scenes as the hosing-down in the street, she gave herself entirely to the character, was unable to separate herself from her (p. 211). Gomg to the extreme of taking up weight training (which she detested) for the part, Maura . r‘ I \ / THE LAW OF DESIRE It seems unlikely that Almodévar has a great i nterest in transsexuals per se; rather he is concerned with suspending that distinction between artifice and truth which has so oppressed sexual dissidents of all kinds (Vidal, p, 213). However, his portrayal of Tina coincides with Sandy Stone’s recent ‘Posttranssexual Manifesto’.21 Resisting radical, feminists’ accounts of transsexualism as ‘rape’ of women’s bodies, Stone nonetheless criticizes some gender-reassignment narratives whose ‘denial of mixture’ and erection I . . . . . v of an ‘impenetrable barrier’ between pre- and post-operative gender identities she cannot accept (p. 288). Rather than projecti onto ‘God-like‘ figures of surgeon or fathe embrace the whole of their personal history them if they are to pass (p. 295). The brave history would enable a possibility of political“ ng a potentially irruptive male principle r, Stone suggests transgendered people and reject that wilful amnesia required of move of taking responsibility for such a action based on ‘r'eclaiming the power of the refigured and reinscribed body’ (pp. 298—9). In spite of her nostalgia for a singular and unfissured identity and her willingness to project masculine identifications onto God~like father figures, Tina may by read asjust such a posttranssexual. 1n thra11 to memories of the past, she cannot bear that her history be erased. And in spite of her ostentatious femininity, Almodovar has her breach the ‘impenetrable’ gender divid example, when accused by a policeman of ‘n es at key moments in the narrative, For ot being a woman’ she floors him with a very viiile punch. The assumption of mixture may indeed be a source of political agency. Most important however is Tina’s grand confession towards the end of the film. The been hospitalized with amnesia in Madrid. Dr and earrings), Tina retells their life stories, ‘ jealous Antonio has killedjuan. Suspected of the murder, Pablo has crashed his car and essed with unusual modesty (white dress of which the siblings have not spoken before, in an effort to jog Pablo’s memory‘. As a boy Tina had an affair with their father. Fleeing to Morocco, he had encouraged her to change seX, before abandoning her. Tina confronts Pablo with photos of themselves as children, and both begin to weep. Of course, the family romance is absurdl y extravagant, typically Almodovarian. However, its comedy is qualified by Maura’s gravely underplayed'performance, so different from her acting style elsewhere in the film. And one vital line here is Tina’s: ‘Your amnesia deprives me of memory.’ In communal project, that the past (in the family this acknowledgement that history is a , in society) is an intersubjective process, J DESIRE UNLIMITED 0‘ lies the posttranssexual resolution to shun the hard—earned pleasure of passing, and take responsibility for historical change. It is a challenge which is not taken up by La ley del deseo’s gay male characters. PRODUCING ONESELF ‘ ANTONIO: Quererte de este modo es un delito; pero estoy dis- puesto a pagar por e110. ANTONIO: Loving you like this is a crime; but I’m ready to pay for it. When Almodovar and his brother presented the script of La ley del deseo to. the Ministry of Culture, they were refused’ funding by the advisory boards (communes) on the grounds that the film had no ‘story’ (Vidal, p. 245), Eventually, the government nominee responsible for film production, Fernando Mendez—Leite, was .obliged to give the go-ahead himself. On its release La ley del deseo became: the fourth biggest grossing film in Spain for 1987, making over two hundred milhon pesetas and Winning a domestic audience of over six hundred thousand.22 More importantly perhaps, La ley del deseo confirmed Almodovar’s breakthrough abroad. It was reggrted to be the film which most represented Spain at foreign film festivals that year: frequently show; alongside Mario Camus‘s scrupulous adaptation of Garcia Lorca sLa rasa de Bernar f Alba (The House of Bernarda Alba). There could be no more telling Juxtaposition 0 old and new Spains, rural austerity and urbanwextravagancle. Lo ley del [18:38!) earned much praise in the US, where after screening at .the .‘Miami film festival it was premiered at commercial theatres only twelve daysafter its Madrid release, an unprecedented achievement for a Spanish film.24 Later in the year, Almodo2\5/ar won the Los Angeles critics’ prize for ‘best new director’ for this his. Sixth feature. v The first film of Almodovar's to be shown commercially in Britain, La ley del desee had the dubious distinction of pigeon—holina Almodo’var as a ‘Qy director: and creating a frame of reference in which the other, earlier films were read. It also involved him in debates around censorship and the ‘promotion’iof homosexuality which had little meaning in a Spanish context: he could only throw up his hands in horror at British puritanism.26 But there seems little doubt that one reason for La ley del deseo s success abroad was the emergence of Antonio Banderas as a sex symbol, a newJoe Dallesandro ' ' w re more to Almodovar’s Warhol: However, here as so often, Spanish responses e ’i I. THE LAW OF DESIRE complex than those of foreigners. When, after two more films for Almodovar, Banderas began an English—language career in Hollywood with Arnie Glimcher’s The Mambo Kings (1992), even the hippest of the British press knew him only as the ‘Latin lover’, the former Almodovar star who had appeared as Madonna’s love interest in the l99l documentary In Bed with Madonna (US title Truth or Dare)?7 But a lengthy cover feature in the Madrid El Europeo undertook a critical examination of the same myth: ‘Antonio Banderas: el mito del latin—lover’.28 Angel Lopez Soto’s full:page photos friame Banderas, ironically and iconically, as Valentino; formal in tails; or ‘natural’ with bare chest and beads. And the accompanying text makes something of the incongmity that a Spaniard’s first English—speaking role should be as a Cuban. Thus while foreigners were free to take the ‘Latin’ image straight and to identify the ‘actor with the passionate roles he played, Spaniards were more reflective, taking pleasure in pictur. ing Banderas’s foreign success, but qualifying it by what they knew of North American ignorance of and indifference to their culture. ‘ Ambiguous testimony to this cross-cultural pay—off was Banderas’s chaperoning of Sharon Stone at the Oscar awards (both sported red ribbons for AIDS solidarity); and his subsequent appearance with her in a lavish Spanish commercial for Freixenet sparkling wine, filmed on the Queen M my at Long Beach and directed by the currently fashionable cineaste Bigas Luna.29 Stone’s faltering Spanish in this spot (so similar to Banderas’s inadequate English) attests to the curious and mutual exploitation linking Hollywood glamour to ‘Latin’ romance. Few would begrudge Banderas his US success; and he is rumoured to be playing a gay man with AIDS in his next US film. But the continuing resonance in Spain of the provocations caused by La ley del deseo are by no means clear. Almodovar has made no films since La ley del deseo in a recognizable gay milieu; and far fewer gay-themed films are produced in contemporary Spain than in the late seventies.30 Even today the film’s admirers seem unhappy to mention the word ‘homosexuality’. Enthusiast Angel S. Harguindey (who played the cameo role of a journalist in Entre tinieblas) wrote recently that the ‘small scandal’ the film caused on its Cinematic release would not be repeated when it was shown on television. But he speaks, coyly, of ‘forbidden loves’.31 And when next La ley del deseo was networked the press ad talked more mysteriously yet of ‘impossible loves’ and ‘unexpected situations’.32 Almodovar would no doubt concur with this abstract framing of the film’s amour fou, which is by no means unique to gays. But, by coincidence, on the same page of the newspaper maverick columnist Haro Tecglen prints a passionate call for an end to the repression of Spanish lesbians i . oesine UNLIMITED ( and gays.33 Claiming, most unusually for Spain, that the homosexual question has not , 5- been resolved and that only a tiny fraction of society is without prejudice, Haro writes . p l“ 1‘ that women and men are condemned to a ‘clandestinity' worse even than that of “‘7 7‘ Esmvislfié’eldro Almodévar, “un chiquito comp yo'": El Pizsz Smnal, 28 September ' 1. opponents to the Franco regime long ago. And writing shortly before the national ; ‘with a boy’ ('de un chit; ‘ a reproduces these words from the lntel’Vlew (p. 247)she omits me words “ elections, Haro’s fears are whetted by the threat of a return to an unspeakable prev " ‘ 8 José A r u ' ‘1‘“ demomdc past. I . Populmrcoiylz’m' N13Wd;:f:x::dALS:é Sedggfion’, in Richard Dyer and Ginette Wncendeau, EuTDPmn ‘ ‘ It may perhaps be relevant to note that Haro’s late son, a casualty of the movida, was 9 Th h _ 0“ 2v PP- 31-45- . one of the tiny number in Spain to have written openly on-homosexuality and popular _f , , a ; ppng mm mm Mark “"5113 “View in Mum/11y Filmflullelifly Vol- 55, n0- 653' November 1988. fi cu lture.34 What is clearly the case is that the libertarian ethic ofLa 1L1 del deseo, so typical _ I I I y . of its time, has not proved able to contribute to a political or cultural space for the r 10‘ La 15” daldeseoi MEIde 1986, p. 27. m continuing discussion of homosexuality in Spain. Que grave symptom of this is that -, u 11- e.g. Arroyo, p. 40, ‘ i‘ ‘ ‘ lacking, until very recently, effective communal organization around AIDS, Spaniards. f ' V 19 .i The Desire t0 Devin: The erum'r Film aft/Le 19405, . . . . . . Bl ' i . ' including gay men, have suffered the highest [rate of infection in Europe.35 °°mmgt°n 987 i m I When Antonio leaves the bed after last making love with Pablo, the latter isshot from 13- ;::hq:;:::?li:x:f:lja,b§n§il$§ in an “HPUbfiShEd paper on La lei M m“ and Kubrkk's 2001' i i ‘ behind a sheet which is like a shroud. It is Antonioflthe obsesSive lover, who is about to H 14' Enfi ue F I d ‘ . z shoot himself, choosing to pay the price of a criminal passion. But it is as if Pablo is dead ' q emdn 62’ Dame Under the Palms" The mag" Voi“, 17 March 1987. ‘ already, in life. It is an ominous image for gay’men §pain, an unnerving pointer to r , " 15- 1"” Yin/W: 20 April 1987, pp. ego—L the pleasures and perils of a shattered or effaced Subjectivity, sceptical of a community r L, 16. ‘Almodévar: rnérgenes y cemmsg . ' l 1' or a politics founded on sexual piaCtice.‘Butif_ invits disavowal of AIDS and homo- _ _ l7. one/m, 43, 1987, pp. 197—222. - ‘ f phobia La ley del deseo reveals a refusal to deal with thee eryday hfe of lesbians and gays . . .. , . . . 18. Tln'..'l" ]lS-'- . . _ l; ’ in Spain, it is because Almodovar seeks to interv the more potent and fluid level _ 2;, costZQJdpficinsPSP‘fl “few 4 cuguccrIJon With the overblown femminily of the similarly ‘ mi . . . ’” ‘. , .’““' . . ‘ ‘rl on;s ' ‘ v .. . ‘1‘ i of fantasy, of the constitution of new Cinematic subJects. And his self-producing r Hueiva [991_ g as am PM“ NOVOS CrSlebmtm'y Lasfolklonwy glam, ‘ characters, scorn ful of fixed gender identity and ob'ect choice, have earned him attacks ‘La‘le del ' E; l 1‘ from both the homophobic right, who would I I I pence, and the moralistic left, 20 ‘Al ’ . ‘ V “CE” Pa“ (135111610113)' 1 who would insist on more positive images Almodévar has thus also paid a certain price ' modévar? cu” “Des‘m'i QWW’Z? KW ‘W’ilm and Video. in incomprehension for his own pas th Hut limits,':the love of cinema.35 ‘ 19. Angel Ferna‘ndez Santos, 15 February 1987. , H I) what we find in La wield: . fig?) M W ‘ V H I [familial] forms‘ but with ‘new contents' (pl 135). LO “0 m: prescwauon Of Old 3 l” 3* '5i‘ . ,. ', r, . ‘ . i . «a i i a. ‘ ‘ . i ' "NOTES r 2L The Empire Strikes Back: A Posttmnssexual M 'f ’ ' - -- mg, up; A . . l _ _ I 3’" 351°. mEody Guards. The Cultural Pulitzer Gmder a? l J . _ - Ambzwyluha Epfmfi and‘Knsuna Straub, eds, New York and London 1991, pp, 280404. 10ng [he <5: ll? ' l. ‘ 1. Spanish press book, Madrid 1987. ‘ mnssexual Slang GG and 0351'! land' from this article_ , 2 w v , _. , . _ v ‘ é“ fig figm 1“ ‘H‘ 2 1a 16), de] demo: guién" Madrid 1987; I p _ 22‘ .l- M- Capmés Lemv Elm tJ‘l7zuwlde hi dry/Lucretia, Barcelona 1992, p 416. a I . ‘ , , V I ‘ 23. Anon. ‘Laleydelde 1’ 1 - l : , D .19 F b 19 7. _ v sempeicu a uemfisv c . . , c if gm ’ \ y . ‘ 3. Antonio Gum, La la dc! limo» Almogovar aldesnudo Cmcu e ruary 8 Vangmrdia, 13 October 1987- q 6 es representé a Espana en fesuvales extanei-os en 1987 , La v» l 4. Pedro Crespo, ‘La ley dc! desca, un dcsahogo en la arrem de Pedro Almodévax',ABC. 8 February 1987. 24 José L . G El _ d d ‘ - ~ _ 7 - ~ ' , . ' "’5 Hamel", ‘ one 6 Fe ro Almodovar la m‘ ' d ' a? go; ‘1!) i ‘l r 5. josep Maria Lopez i Llavi, ‘Per l’escandol, a la llibertat‘, Ami, 20 February 1987. , Festival de Cine de Miami’, La Vangmrdia, 21 FebrilIary 191185;.2 e Pegasus. glands munfadores dd $1, v; Vt ‘ * ‘1 l 50 5192‘ ‘ l 91 w i 30. 31. 32. 33. 34. 35. 36. DESIRE UNLIMITED Anon. ‘Pedro Almodévar, premiado por la Critica de Los Angeles como mejor nuevo realizador, La Vanguardia. 22 December 1987. Tim Clark, ‘Pedro Almodévar: Desperado Living’, Time Oul, 2—9 November 1988. james Ryan. ‘Latin Lover', The Face, 45. june 1992, pp. 64—7. Tex: by jesus Beltran andjuan I. Francia, El Europl’n, 37, November 1991. Lucia Argos, ‘Ponte un lazo rojo', El Pais, 30 September 1992; Redo Garcia, ‘Por Navidad, Sharon Stone’. El Pais, 29 November 1992. See my Law; of Desire, chapter 4. ‘El deseo cumplido', El Pais. 18 April 1991. Anon., ‘La eerella es . , . Pedro Almodévar: La [2y del desca', El Pair, 3 May 1993, ‘Sexo prohibido’. A ' L ' ' l dne espafiol del postfx‘an— d d Haro lbars. ‘La homosexuahdad Como problema sogopohuco en t: I Eui‘s‘rario'oTiempo dc H Maria, 52, March 1979, pp 88—91 , Haro Ibars 5 book Guy Rock was a infllgeo’rlice 2n moviiia luminaries such as Alaska; see josé Luis Qaljero, se me una Lyn, Madrid 1 . p. . For an account of and a call for AIDS activism in Spain, seejordi Esteva and Oscar Fontrodona, Tu sl puedes pamr el SIDA', Ajublunw, 47, December 1992, pp. 25—30. See jean Douchet, ‘L'Amour du dnéma’, Callie/S du 435, 1990, pp. 52—3. MUJERES AL BORDE DE UN ATAQUE DE NERVJOS (WOMEN ON , THE VERGE OF ANERVOUS BREAKDOWN, 1983) Femininity by Design HIGH COMEDY Soy infeliz. 1 am unhappy.l SCENE ONE. LARGE TERRACE. PEPA’S PENTHOUSE. DAWN. INTERIOR. Stealthily, as it does every day, dawn breaks over Madrid, The sun fights its way through the pollution floating over the dty. With an imperceptible magic it bestows its light on the large terrace of the penthouse in which Pepa lives. The sun must enjoy rising each day in order to take up its place on this terrace. Here Pepa has brought together her desire to live in thejungle, in the country. and in a farm: there are palms, a hammock, trees with birds in them, and even a little yard with hens, a cock, and a rabbit. There are also a great number of more familiar plants. Everything is put together with cheerfulness and good taste. silhouetted against the Madrid skyline, a cock crows its early cock«a—doodle-do.2 Almodévar’s description of the main set of Mujeres illustrates the ‘theory of content- ment' that pervades his most successful film. Its utopian thesis is that ‘society has now adapted itself to individuals', and all their social and professional needs have been met.3 As Jose A. Hergueta notes, in the penthouse on calle Montalban we are far indeed from the M—3O.’1 But the synthetic space of the terrace (which unites country Critical Studies in Latin American and Iberian Cultures Other T2"th in the Series: DRAWING THE LINE: ART AND CULTURAL IDENTITY IN CONTEMPORARY LATIN AMERICA by Oriana Baddeley and Valerie Fraser PLOTTINC WOMEN: GENDER AND REPRESENTATION IN MEXICO by jean Franco jOURNEYS THROUGH THE LABYRINTH: LATIN AMERICAN FICTION IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY by Gerald Martin MACICAL REELSZ A HISTORY OF CINEMA IN LATIN AMERICA by John King MEMORY AND MODERNITY: POPULAR CULTURE IN LATIN AMERICA by William Rowe and Vivian Schelling MISPLACED IDEAS: ESSAYS ON BRAZILIAN CULTURE by Roberto Schwarz THE GATHERING 0F VOICES: THE TWENTTETH CENTURY POETRY OF LATIN AMERICA by Mike Gonzalez and David Treece JORGE LUIS BORCES: A WRITER ON THE EDGE by Beatriz Sarlo DESIRE UNLIMITED The Cinema ofPedm Almodo’vm" ____.___ PAUL JULIAN SMITH V V E R S 0 London - New York First published by Verso 1994 © Pauljulian Smith All rights reserved All stills are reproduced by permission of Pedro Almodévar and El Deseo, S.A. Plates 3, 13, 15, 19, 20 are from the collection of El Deseo, S.A.: l, 2, 5 7, 8, 9 from the Collection of Metro Pictures, 79 Wardour St., London WlV 3TH; 4, 6,10, 11, 12,14, 16, 17,18 from BFI stills, posters, and designs. Verso UK: 6 Meard Street, London WlV 3HR USA: 29 West 35th Street, New York, NY 10001—2291 Verso is the imprint of New Left Books ISBN 0—86091—497 6 ISBN O~86091—662 6 (pbk) British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Camloging-in-Publication Data A catalog record for this book is available from the Library of Congress Typeset by York House Typographic Ltd, London W13 Printed in Great Britain by The Bath Press » l l F or Amen'ccm Friends ...
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