Anatomy (being the operative word) of a Spanish film

Last night I was speaking with Marina and a friend, Yolanda, about Spanish films and, in particular, the classic Jamon Jamon. Yolanda thought that it really went for the dark side of Spanish life (whorehouses, amateur bull taunting, violence), and Marina commented that Penelope Cruz, then 16, portrayed a strongly sexual role. My reaction was: “Typical Spanish film”.

Over the last few months we have seen several Spanish films including Princesas and Azul Oscuro Casi Negro. Princesas is a gritty drama about prostitutes in Madrid, and involves a lot of sex and violence. Azul Oscuro Casi Negro deals with a young flat-block porter, his disabled father, and the porter’s women. Both contain nudity and are essential harsh social reality pieces. Both are pretty good.

But my question is this, does anyone know any Spanish film that does not contain nudity (all be it the odd topless shot) somewhere in the film? (Even the comedies seem to have to show breasts in order to qualify as Spanish cinema…) Am I being unfair? Is this the same everywhere these days?

36 thoughts on “Anatomy (being the operative word) of a Spanish film

  1. Pedrito J

    Ben, you are soooo right.

    Unfortunately, though spanish cinema is every day less interesting (audience is decreasing according to official data), we are still forced to pay spanish directors and producers, so they can keep undressing.

  2. Carl

    The last time I was in Madrid I tried to view only Spanish movies to improve my language skills but I got depressed. Most seem dark, etc. like you say.

    Is the Spanish film industry subsidized? A la french cinema? If so, that might explain why directors make what they want to show, not what most may want to see.

  3. Alison B

    Here’s one without nudity – “Mar Adentro” (The Sea Inside) with Javier Bardem. Very moving, serious and wonderful movie based on the true story of a Galician poet. Deals with assisted suicide; pretty heavy, but worth it.

  4. Marina

    Cantinflas is Mexican so I guess it doesn’t count.

    Sorry to disagree with you Carl, I think the good thing about Spanish cinema is precisely that directors get to develop their projects, even if the films are a bit weird and not as commercial as in other countries. Truly, there are lots of Spanish good films;-)

    And finally, Ben, the nudity is a cultural thing that we have spoken about in one of the Spanish podcasts (http://www.notesinspanish.com/2006/08/29/notes-in-spanish-podcast-advanced-40-el-destape/). It is a direct product of the repression in Franco’s time.

  5. Sully

    How about Lucia y el sexo? Oh, wait – that’s full of nudity.

    How about these, then?

    La vida secreta de las palabras
    Todo sobre mi madre
    La lengua de las mariposas
    Seres queridos
    El espiritu de la colmena
    Los lunes al sol
    El Espinazo del diablo
    La flor de mi secreto

  6. Ben Post author

    I’m afraid even La lengua de las mariposas has a couple being caught in flagrante rolling in the hay! I think you are right about the others though, thanks!

  7. ValenciaSon

    Marina, do you think Spain’s culture will ever stop or decrease their tendency to compensate for the Franco repressions?

  8. Marina

    It would be “normal” to think that once the generations that lived during Franco’s era die this tendency will disappear, but I don’t think that will happen so quickly. For example I was only a few months old when Franco died but still I grew up with this tendency to change and compensate Franco’s actions. So I think this tendency is part of our culture now a days. On the other hand probably my tendency is much less strong that the one of someone that grew up to adulthood during Franco’s dictatorship. (With the exceptions of pro-Franco people of course)

  9. Carl

    Yes Marina, the films are interesting and of course not as commercial as American movies that always have a happy ending, and I think it is good that they are there. I am just saying that they probably would not make it to the screen without the subsidies.

    And what about the pornography on broadcast TV after midnight? It seems like that may be going too far as a “compensation” for Franco.

  10. Jan (landlady)

    So far I have to agree, especially after borrowing and viewing the DVD’s Jamon Jamon and ‘Y tu madre también’!

    I am still embarrassed by the overtly sexual ornaments and postcards displayed in the tourist shops here. in full view of any passing children….. not just saucy, but in my opinion, crude and pornographic at times.

    Think I will stick to the kiddies films in Spanish from now on….

  11. Tom Clarke

    If I remember correctly, the lengthy nude scenes were removed from the classic comedy, Bienvenido Mr Marshall.

    Joking apart, the Spanish have got a healthier attitude to this sort of theing than the Anglos. I think their frank approach to nudity and sex in general encourages a more open and mature society. There is, of course, the risk that women are pressured into going topless in order to get a film role but I don’t reckon that happens very much. Is it exploitation or empowerment?

    I guess I’ll have to rent Lucia Y El Sexo again. Just to check.

  12. Sarralucia

    Pan’s Labyrinth shows no nudity. It’s quite different (and very good). But even though it’s a Spanish story with a Spanish cast, it is a Mexican production (Guillermo del Toro). It’s worth seeing it…

  13. Akaky

    Hey hey hey, none of that now. If the Spanish want to keep putting good looking girls in movies without their skivvies on then more power to them.

  14. ValenciaSon

    Though a lot of American films are more commercial than Spanish films, I don’t think it is a fair statement to say all American films are a commercial bore with guaranteed happy endings. American Beauty, Bobby and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest are a few examples. We have quite a few independent films coming out of the Sundance Film Festivals and the Tribeca Film Festivals every year. I have to say though, there’s a lot of angst in the few spanish films I’ve seen. That as opposed to the nudity is what I notice the most as the common thread in spanish films.

  15. carl

    Be careful ValenicaSon, I was throwing a softball saying that all American movies are commercial bores. That’s what all Europeans love to hear – and they do believe it. But you will get unpopular by defending anything American. The problem? American movies outdraw European ones.

  16. Pedrito J

    I guess that we spaniards are becoming tired of paying taxes that allow Bardem and alikes to make movies that little people is interested in.

    For the moment being, we still have compulsory quotas in cinemas and TV as well, to assure that they will keep showing spanish movies that consumers would not voluntarily pay.

    New laws are planned to increase tax pressure on citizens to guarantee minimum wages for so-called artists.

  17. ValenciaSon

    Well people may say one thing (whatever is popular) but in the end they speak with their wallets.

  18. Tom Clarke

    Carl – I prefer American movies to Spanish ones… for what it’s worth. I thought Pan’s Labyrinth was the most over-rated load of tosh I’ve seen in a long time. But then, it had no nudity.

  19. sully

    Related to the American/European film dichotomy, there was an article in the NY Times yesterday. I can’t get the link to post correctly, but the article was “The World Is Watching. Not Americans.” By A. O. SCOTT (These days, the cosmopolitanism of international filmmaking is matched by the parochialism of American film culture.)

  20. Parubin

    Valenciason :
    Pulp Fiction was a great success in Spain too.

    I think everyone (both in Spain and in the rest of Europe as well) will have to agree that American films are way better than both, Spanish and European films.
    Of course in Spain and in Europe, sometimes we can produce a piece of good quality entertainment, but, come on, films have to be considered one of the greatests american inventions (disregarding the Lumiere brothers) and us, Europeans, are only lucky if only sometimes we can get close to them.

    For instance, let’s have some recent examples, let’s take a look at last years Oscar nominees for best picture. If I rember correctly this films were : * Crash, * Brokeback Mountain, * Good Night and Good Luck, * Munich and * Capote. Some other masterpieces were left out, such as Woody Allen’s Match Point.

    This was only last year’s example, but Americans give out such great films on a regular basis. Let’s face it. When have we, Europeans, been able to produce such an incredible amount of quality and passion on screen??

    The label of American films being stupid commercial bores with happy endings is so wrong. Their industry is so big that they cover the whole spectrum, but when they do a good movie (which is quite often) they are unmatchable.

    As to Spanish films, yes, sometimes we do interesting things, like ‘Volver’ (which I think shows no nudity, at least I don’t remember) or ‘El Laberinto del Fauno’ (Pan’s Labyrinth) which, by the way is Spanish, despite having a Mexican director (Guillermo del Toro). The cast, plot, story and production comes from Spain (in fact it has been produced by Spanish TV channel, Tele Cinco).

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  22. ValenciaSon

    Pan’s Labyrinth did get nominated for Achievement in art direction, Achievement in cinematography, Best foreign language film of the year, Achievement in makeup, Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score), and Original screenplay. Not too shabby. http://www.oscars.org/79academyawards/noms.html

    I still intend to see Volver as well as Pan’s Lab.

  23. Steve

    I saw Pan’s Labyrinth a couple of months ago and then the director del Toro did a Q&A. It was a great film and he was hilarious. I don’t understand how someone could dislike this movie but oh well. I have been on a Spanish/Latin American film kick ever since I joined Netflix a few months ago. I have decided that I can’t really watch american movies anymore. Not all of them are terrible but most of them seem like a waste of time and not very creative. Plus there are no boobies. just kidding…or am i?

  24. Sean

    Well i think that alot of people who think that american film is of better quality actually only see american films by and large, which is actually the case with myself and this is down to various political and cultural reasons, I live in Europe and I am shocked with myself and others at the amount of european films we watch, I am sure that if i watched more european films I would discover that there are just as talented filmakers in Europe as anywhere in the world, creative intelligence and craft is never the property of one country. It doesn’t take a big budget to make a good film, Balzac wrote 20 novels with a quill pen!!!!!!

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