Teen Masculinities in Recent Spanish Cinema santiaco fouzhernandez


Films about youth have been prominent in Spanish cinema of the last three decades. Data suggest that in the early 1990s youth went from media under-representation to overrepresentation and, according to Trenzado Romero, the "profession" most widely represented by male characters in the Spanish cinema of the 1990s was that of the "student," even if the narrative was completely unrelated to the world of education (99-100).1 Young people between 15 and 29 years of age represent a quarter of the Spanish population and, judging by the Revista de estudios de juventud [Journal of Youth Studies], published quarterly by the Instituto de la Juventud [the Youth Institute], the field of youth studies is enjoying a period of great productivity in Spain.2

Among the most widely recognized post-Franco cinematic representations of Spanish youth are the iconic Tigres de papel (Paper Tigers, 1977) and Almodóvar's debut film Pepi, Luci y Bom . . . y otras chicas del montón (Pepi, Luci and Bom, 1980), both set around the time of the first democratic elections.3 The early 1980s films of Eloy de la Iglesia—which focused on the world of drugs and delinquency—and, in the 1990s, Montxo Armendáriz's Historias del Kronen (Stories from the Kronen, 1995), are also generational landmarks from their respective decades.4 Yet, the films that I will analyze here are perhaps more indebted to the long tradition of children narratives in Spanish cinema that goes as far back as Buñuel and that includes classics such as the religious Marcelino Pan y Vino (The Miracle of Marcelino, 1955); the political El espíritu de la colmena (The Spirit of the Beehive, 1973), which uses the point of view of a girl (Ana Torrent) fascinated by cinema to create an allegoric picture of post-Civil War Spain; and the controversial Cría cuervos (Raise Ravens, 1976), a sharp critique of the Francoist model of family seen through the eyes of a girl (also played by Torrent). In the early 1990s, two dark dramas by Basque director Juanma Bajo Ulloa are also noteworthy: Alas de mariposa (Butterfly's Wings, 1991), in which a girl jealous of her little baby brother smothers him to death; and La madre muerta (The Dead Mother, 1993), the story of a little girl traumatized for life after witnessing the murder of her mother. The rural period dramas Secretos del corazón (Secrets of the Heart, 1997), in which a child discovers that his father killed himself probably as a result of the semi-incestuous relationship of the child's mother and his uncle, and La lengua de las mariposas (Butterfly's Tongue, 2000), which illustrates the tragedy of the Spanish Civil War through the story of a troubled child and his Republican school master, are also classic examples. Among the most recent examples are Eres mi héroe (You're My Hero, 2003—set in the Spanish transition—and the hospital drama Planta Cuarta (The Fourth Floor, 2003), which focuses on the lives of young cancer patients. Although there is no room here for a discussion of the latter film, it is worth mentioning its interest to this essay, not only because of the familiar young cast (one of the featured actors, Juan José Ballesta, is also the main character in El Bola, which I analyze later) but also for its themes of adolescent male friendship, loyalty, tragedy, and the body, which will be the pillars of my discussion.

Foreign audiences will be more familiar with the child characters in the psycho thriller Los otros (The Others, 2001—where two traumatized children are victimized by a repressive and psychotic mother (played by Nicole Kidman); or the various child characters who often appear in flashbacks and who are a psychoanalyst's dream in many Almodovar films, such as Laberinto de pasiones (Labyrinth of Passions, 1982); Tacones lejanos (High Heels, 1991), and, more recently, Todo sobre mi madre (All About My Mother, 1999) and La mala educación (Bad Education, 2004), to mention but a few. Needless to say, this frequent use of the child's perspective suggests a national preoccupation with the Oedipal which lends itself to many sociohistorical readings, oriented to the past (infantile regression) and to the future (ongoing process of maturation). These compatible interpretative poles are perhaps best exemplified by the work of Marsha Kinder, who has argued that this obsession with children and Oedipal narratives reveals a latent discourse about unresolved issues of the traumatic Spanish past (197-275), and Marvin D'Lugo, who sees the use of a child's viewpoint as suggestive of a much-needed process of maturation of older versions of Spanish communities (he makes the point with reference to Catalan identity in Bigas Luna's La teta i la lluna [The Tit and the Moon, 1994]), which must move from an inward-looking nationalistic fixation ''toward a Europeanized Spain of the future'' (205). While the historical and political relevance of the films studied in this chapter is undeniable and could inspire many allegorical readings about the Spanish nation, my main concern here relates to wider issues of gender and sexuality, such as male friendship and adolescence, ''probably the period of greatest insecurity in the life course, the time when the young male becomes most vulnerable to peer expectations, pressures and judgement,'' as Messner puts it (199).

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