La Semana del Asesino/ The Cannibal Man (Eloy de la Iglesia, Spain, 1972)

La Semana del Asesino/ The Cannibal Man (Eloy de la Iglesia, Spain, 1972) is the best dramatisation I’ve seen of the social regulation of sex and desire in late-Franquist Spain and its effects on individuals. Appropriately, it’s a serial killer film. Marcos (Vicente Parra), too old to still be unmarried, is kissing his much younger girlfriend (Emma Cohen) in the back of a cab, and the cab-driver gets so disgusted he kicks them out. A fight ensues and Marcos ends up accidentally killing the cab-driver, the first of a series of daily killings that will last a week. Next it will be his girlfriend who won’t keep quiet, his brother who wants to turn him in to the police, etc. All of them happen after sex or on the threshold of the bedroom where the bodies are piling up on or under the bed, stinking up the place, and leading all the stray dogs in the neighbourhood ending to his door wanting a feed. The message couldn’t be clearer: the bedroom, and the ideologies that surround the appropriateness of when where and with whom=sex=death, at least in this Spain.

Marcos works in an abattoir, and we see the brutality of the job, not only in the way the animals are killed but in the way that people are treated, if not like an animals, certainly alienated and soon to be disposable as the jobs get increasingly mechanised. His own mother worked there before being killed in an accident where she was consumed by fire, almost certainly a metaphor for a desire without outlet, one that burns, consumes, kills (the father is evident in family photos but absent from the narrative). And Marcos himself will soon be chopping up the bodies on his bed and carrying them in a sports bag to his job before feeding them bag-by-bag to the machine that will turn them into soup stock. Sex and death are constantly linked here, sometimes humorously, always darkly. The film is also a harsh critique of the Spanish culture of the time: the patriarchy which controls, the way the police treat citizens according to class, the casual cruelty of gangs of men. There’s some great footage of the emerging consumer culture around Plaza Callao, the serial killer, dazed like a zombie in the modern city of neon lights at night, staring at all these consumer items he cannot afford, behind glass, in shops that are now closed, and probably always closed to him.

Marcos lives in a shack. He works all day, has no life, no social, cultural or sexual outlet. But he doesn’t quite share what we’re told is every Spanish man’s goal, to save up to buy a Seat 600 car. The only one who seems to understand him is Nestor((Eusebio Poncela), the homosexual across the way, a peeping Tom with a dog called Trotsky, who gets off on adolescent boys playing football, seems to understand him and might even have witnessed some of the murders, though he claims not. What is evident is that they’ve shared a moment. What excerpts of the censored and deleted footage show( see below), is that the moment was meant to be a fulfilling one where minds and bodies meet in a way Marco had not known before. That’s why Marcos spares Néstor.

It’s a very radical film to have made In Spain in 1972: social prohibitions of sex go against nature and thus cause psychological havoc and may even result in murder. The opposite of that,  a radical imaginary resolution to these social contradictions, is social justice and gay liberation. It’s no surprise that this quite extraordinary film is a collaboration of three of Spain’s most famous homosexuals of the period: Vicente Parra who helped produce was on his way down career-wise (He and Paquita Rico had been designated ‘Spain’s fiancées’ in the 50s through their role in Donde Vas, Alfonso XII?); Eusebio Poncela, whose epicene qualities were deployed in Arrebato (Ivan Zulueta, 1978) and The Law of Desire (Pedro Almodóvar, 1987) is seen quite early in his career and was on his way up; and of course, director Eloy de la Iglesia, director non-pareil of all that was quinqui (drugs, crimes, prostitution, juvenile delinquency). An extraordinary film, pulpy and political, extremely daring for its time and heavily censored.

José Arroyo

The English Trailer may be seen here:

José Arroyo

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