Father Figures

According to a survey carried out by the CIS (Spanish Centre of Sociological Research) in 1999, 80 percent of young Spaniards between the ages of 15 and 29 live at their parents' home and 60 percent live off their parents' income (42 percent exclusively so). Recent studies suggest that the age of emancipation of young people in Spain continues to increase due to the high cost of housing and instability of jobs (Requena, 1-13). Spanish critics such as Mon-terde (1993) and Trenzado Romero (1997) have argued that the family setting features so prominently in Spanish cinema due to its multifunctional narrative potential. As Trenzado Romero puts it, the family setting provides discourses of ''power, submission and transgression . . . emancipation, maturation, initiation to sex, confrontation of old and new customs and economic cells of production and reproduction" (100-101, my translation). Fernando León de Aranoa's own debut film, Familia (Family, 1997) is, as its title suggests, a clear example of this. Spanish television has also exploited the narrative potential of the family unit, with hit series such as the early 1980s Verano Azul (Blue Summer, TVE-i), an important referent for Krámpack given its summer and coastal setting; the 1990s series Médico de familia (Family Doctor, Tele 5); Compañeros (Peers, Antena 3); and Al salir de clase (After School, Tele 5), among others.

The three young men of Barrio (León de Aranoa's second feature film) all come from dysfunctional working-class families who live in a modest barrio of Madrid.7 Manu (Eloy Yebra) is the target of constant jokes and abuse from his two friends because he does not have a mother (she is apparently dead). His father, a former Metro driver who had to retire early due to problems with alcohol, lies to him regarding the whereabouts of his absent elder brother, apparently a busy businessman who in reality—as Manu later discovers—is a heroin addict who lives under a bridge and relies on their father to bring food for him on a daily basis. Manu's friend Javi (Timy Benito) lives in a nuclear family, but their daily family lunches are characterized by constant arguments between his miserable parents, the silent but mildly intrusive presence of his deaf grandfather, and the invasive noise of either his sister's salsa music or the television news.8 His parents eventually separate after the mother reports an episode of domestic abuse (a central issue also in El Bola) but, as Marsh notes (169), his father's oppressive presence becomes even more intense when he decides to live in an old caravan within the con-

Barrio (1998) explores the lives of three friends in Madrid who appear entrapped by their social and class surroundings.

fines of the neighborhood. The familial tensions eventually provoke Javi's breakdown, later accentuated by the tragic destiny of his friend Rai (Crispulo Cabezas).

The presence of Rai's family is less prominent, with the exception of his elder brother, who is presented, on the one hand, as a heroic father figure (he has a job as a security guard, which is associated with power and the law, he has a nice-looking girlfriend, and apparently a good sex life) and, on the other hand, as an antihero responsible for some of Rai's misfortunes (he uses him as a drug dealer). In one scene that I will refer to later, Manu and Javi masturbate while watching Rai's brother have sex with his girlfriend through one of the security cameras at his workplace. Toward the end of the film, the three friends watch a couple have sex in a car, later discovering that the girl in the car is Javi's sister. These voyeuristic scenes are reminiscent of Manu's gaze when he discovers his drug-addict brother about to shoot up, subtly linking the claustrophobic atmosphere of the setting with the equally claustrophobic dependence on the family. As the director has said, the boys' financial and emotional dependence on the family—a function of their age and not the barrio in itself—is an important cause of their problems (Barrio DVD). The film also seems to suggest that the lack of role models available to these boys within their families will also affect their identities. Just as Rai is about to have his first romantic date (with Javi's sister), he dies a victim of his delinquent tendencies (and also a victim of a sick society—the neighbor who shoots him is a paranoid policeman obsessed with being a target of terrorism). Javi breaks down, unable to face his situation at home and the death of his friend, while Manu is shocked by a sudden awakening to life's harsh realities, represented by the unknown sides of his brother; the mulatto babysitter, who is associated with tenderness and nurturing at the beginning of the film but with casual sex at the end; or Rai's drug dealing. The story that started with the boys' dreams about women, sex, holidays, and cars ends with a series of events that will undoubtedly result in a fast growing-up process.

The presence of the family is even more crucial in El Bola. Pablo's family represents an older model of the family in Spain: the father works all day at his own modest business, helped by Pablo (Juan José Ballesta); the mother is a devoted housewife, and the grandmother also lives in the house.9 As in Barrio, the presence of a grandparent (here suffering from incontinence) is a source of tension between her son and her son's wife as well as a vivid reminder of the futility of life and youth.

During most of the film, Pablo suffers his father's abuse in silence, only daring to admit it to himself and others when he graphically describes it

Pablo (Juan José Ballesta, right), the title character of El Bola (2000), watches intently as Alfredo's father (Alberto Jiménez) plies his tattooing skills.

to a police officer in the very last scene, thus marking his final liberation and maturity. There are clear contrasts between Pablo and the ''new kid on the block,'' Alfredo (Pablo Galán), who is introduced by a teacher halfway through a class; wearing a bright orange hat, he awakens much curiosity among his peers. Alfredo's family is portrayed as the new, young, and liberated type of post-Franco, European family. In contrast with the cluttered, dark, heavy, and traditional furnishings and atmosphere of Pablo's family home, Alfredo's home is light, spacious, and modern, simply decorated with functional modern furniture. By all accounts both parents treat Alfredo as an equal, including him in various outdoor activities with their friends and generally allowing him a healthy level of freedom. Pablo's father owns an old-style tool shop, while Alfredo's dad is a passionate tattoo artist. From the beginning, Pablo observes Alfredo and his family with exotic fascination. Unlike Pablo's friends, he resists peer pressure and refuses to take part in their favorite and risky pastime (crossing the railroad track just seconds before a fast train is about to pass). Perplexed by Alfredo's individuality and difference, the other kids react typically, by insulting him and questioning his masculine identity and his sexuality.10 As director Achero Mañas notes on the DVD commentary, conservative audiences would be quick to link the tattoo artist and hash-consuming dad (who hides his tattoo when he visits Pablo's family) to a dark narrative twist, and yet he is the picture of wholesomeness in contrast with the abusive and frustrated old man. As with Manu in Barrio, Pablo's family life is marked by tragedy: his elder brother died before Pablo was born, apparently in a car accident (although he might have been killed by his father). The anniversary of his death is marked by a solemn and sombre ceremony at the cemetery. It appears that death is a taboo in his family and the father uses his dead son as a way to exert more psychological pressure on Pablo, who is constantly and negatively compared to him. In contrast, Alfredo's family and friends discuss with him the illness and death of his godfather. The fatherhood embodied by Alfredo's dad is a positive, modern, and democratic alternative to the old, repressive ways of Pablo's father, which are reminiscent of fascist Spain. At the end of the film, after his worst battering ever, Pablo escapes home and is found in a park by Alfredo and his dad. Despite the advice of a friendly social worker, Alfredo's dad keeps his previous promise to protect Pablo, and it is suggested that Pablo will never return to his father. The pathetic picture of the repentant, powerless, and trembling abuser is contrasted with the confident and caring manner of the ''new'' father holding Pablo and covering him with his coat.

Krámpack provides a contrast with the other two films, not only because the main character, Dani (Fernando Ramallo), comes from a much more privileged background (his father runs a publishing business, they have a

Nico (Jordi Vilches) and Dani (Fernando Ramallo) enact masculine rites while confronting their sexuality more than they expected in Krampack (2000).

huge house with a swimming pool and a maid), but also because the parents conveniently go on holiday at the very start of the film, leaving their son and his visiting friend Nico (Jordi Vilches)—whose parents we never see —to their own devices. While other adults fill the parental roles, they have a rather open approach to life. The maid (a liberated French woman) asks Dani's friend Nico to take her out to parties with them; the English teacher (actually Spanish) admits to Dani that she had a lesboerotic friendship in her adolescence and has liberal views on sex, reluctantly consenting to Dani's intimate encounter with her gay friend (who is about twice the boy's age). In the meantime, the "real" parents are on a trip to Egypt, thus further separating the world of the adults from that of the boys and yet, the "foreign" and feminine influence of the maid and the teacher contributes to the boys' critical reorientation toward the macho and conservative ways of Francoist Spain and their further integration into the more modern gender attitudes of Northern Europe.

masculinity and friendship

Hammond and Jablow trace the dramatization of male friendship to the classic Gilgamesh epic (discovered in the late nineteenth century), adding that even the biblical friendship of David and Jonathan and the story of Achilles and Patroclus in the Iliad had much earlier oral antecedents (245). As they note, these narratives often refer to close and devoted friendships between two men in agonistic settings and are common in Western literary tradition—including, as Hammond and Jablow also note (252), the Spanish medieval classic Cantar de Mio Cid as well as Cervantes' masterpiece novel of the seventeenth century, Don Quijote. In these stories, male friends openly declare their feelings to each other, stand together against all difficulties, and relegate family relationships to a secondary place. The concept has survived through the centuries and has also been celebrated in contemporary comics, television series, and in film, resulting in the popular Hollywood ''buddy movie'' genre. In non-Western societies, tribal rituals to mark samesex friendships have been and still are common, and friendships between men are highly valued (see Sherrod, 231 and 237).

Drury Sherrod has argued that postindustrial Western societies have transformed the logistics of this type of male friendship, now damaged by the competitive nature of the job market (231). Eve Sedgwick (1990) has also described how the ''homosexual panic'' of contemporary Western societies has undoubtedly had an impact on the level of intimacy that exists in heterosexual male friendships. One of the striking features of the three films discussed here is precisely the emphasis that all three narratives place on male friendship (an aspect highlighted by all three directors in the respective DVD interviews). In Barrio, despite the narrative investment in their separate families and problems, the mise-en-scène often celebrates the boys' friendship by framing them together in memorable moments that depict them fantasizing about women, sex, travel, or cars, providing a sheer contrast with those darker scenes in which they are seen in their separate contexts, at home with their families (Javi), at work (Manu), or confronted by the police (Rai). Despite various cruel jokes about Manu's dead mother, Rai's useless jet ski—he won it after cheating his way into a contest—and Javi's saucy sister, the strength of their friendship becomes transparent at the end of the film, when Manu and Javi embrace and try to comfort each other about the loss of Rai.

In El Bola, Pablo's superficial and competitive relationships with his old school peers are contrasted with the sincerity and depth of his relationship with Alfredo. Pablo's schoolmates know that his father hits him but do nothing about it (other than gossip among themselves). Their daring game is based on competitiveness, confrontation, and risk (all traditional male traits). These relationships follow the classic pattern of male friendships, often based on common interests, group activities, and frequent laughter and put-downs, as opposed to the intimacy and conversation that charac terize friendships between females (Sherrod, 220-222). Pablo actively seeks Alfredo's friendship, following him home after his first day at school and later finding out his exact address and visiting him spontaneously. Their clear and deep connection is confirmed during a visit to an amusement park. The various rides are exciting for both of them but not really risky, becoming a safe substitute for the railroad track game that Pablo used to practice with his mates earlier in the film. After the rides (the rollercoaster being a symbolic reference to the difficult times they are about to experience), they have something to eat together and enjoy having a chat, something that Pablo did not experience with his school acquaintances. Their friendship goes from strength to strength, provoking the jealousy of the other kids. When Alfredo refuses to take part in the suicidal game, the other boys react by typically questioning his sexuality, saying that Alfredo is probably ''a poof like his godfather'' (who has just died of AIDS). They also question his masculinity, challenging him to a game and provoking him by saying that he has no balls. Alfredo's reply is telling: ''It is not that I have no balls, I just think it is a pointless game.'' Alfredo's friendship and the support of his family are instrumental for Pablo's emancipation from his abusive father, not only by offering refuge but also by providing emotional support and an alternative model to the macho masculinity that he sees at home and in the other kids.

During the casting for Krampack, director Cesc Gay had in mind classic screen male friendships: ''Redford and Newman, Lemmon and Matthau, Laurel and Hardy, Delon and Belmondo'' (Renoir). Originally a play set within the confines of a flat, and mostly about homosexuality, Gay changed the setting (remarkably bright and exterior in the film) and, importantly, the focus (from sexuality to friendship), as well as the ages of the characters (which were lowered from 20-something university students to 16-year-olds) (as noted by Armengol). Nico's arrival and departure conveniently frame the film as a summer experience that will probably not be repeated, but which has been crucial in the maturation process of the two boys. Nico's hetero-sexuality is made clear from the start, when he flirts with a French girl on the train, and reinforced at the end, on the train back, when he looks at another girl tourist who sits in front of him. In the coastal town where they presumably spend most summer holidays together, Nico seems more interested in spending time with Elena (Marieta Orozco—who plays Javi's sister in Barrio) and discovering sex with her than in cultivating his friendship with Dani. Elena's presence becomes a threat for Dani, who gradually requires more from his friend than their sporadic and apparently meaningless mutual masturbations. The triangle between the two boys and Elena follows the conventions of many classic literary male friendships, in which the female element disturbs the homosocial pleasure of the two men (see Sedgwick 1985, 21-27). Dani goes out of his way to hinder Nico and Elena's relationship. Eventually, the boys come to realize that sex and friendship are best kept separate and, as the story of the English teacher suggests, their friendship will probably survive the transition into adulthood, but the physical element is likely to disappear.

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