Tag Archives: Eloy de la Iglesia

Colegas (Eloy de la Iglesia, Spain, 1982)


There is no better evocation of the transition to democracy in Spain than the cinema of Eloy de la Iglesia. Colegas feels like a Pre-Code Warners film: fast, filled with incident, speaking to the issue of the day, siding with the under-dog, throwing in the occasional song for snap and verve, with young energetic performers. De la Iglesia’s films have the added advantage of deploying a lot of on-location shooting, so one gets a feel for the Madrid of the time: the streets and housing estates, the carriageways, the lack of amenities, the dirt on the street.

The story revolves around a trio of teenagers, José (Jose Luis Manzano), Antonio (Antonio González Flores but billed simply as Antonio) and Rosario (Rosario González Flores,  billed as Rosario González, today one of the great international stars of Spanish-speaking music known simply as Rosario).

José and Antonio are best friends; Antonio and Rosario are siblings (as are the actors who play them, on which more later), and José and Rosario are in love, and going steady against the wishes of Rosario’s mother, who sees José’s family as a bunch of borderline criminals and losers.

The film is set in the government housing projects on the outskirts of Madrid, by the highway, and with no amenities (see below), Figuring the teens in front of what is clearly depicted as a waste-land of rabbit hutches in the middle of nowhere, by carriage-ways, or in the midst of dirty, rocky derelict space is perhaps the characteristic shot in the film. These kids are living their melodrama in a social context. It’s not just their story, it’s the story of a generation.

The context as we can see below is one of youth unemployment:

What drives the drama, in a typical de la Iglesia melodramatic vein, is two teenagers in love, imprisoned by the concrete boxes they live in, and the even tighter patriarchal morality their parents have been taught by fascism, about to have a baby out of wedlock, forbidden by the family, shaming by the broader community, and trying to find a solution to a problem which the family and community have themselves created. Some of this is underlined in the two clips below:

Rosario finds herself pregnant from José. The film is careful to always leave the decision making as to what to do about it to her; but it’s the young colegas who the film follows in their efforts to first find an abortionist, then get the money for the abortion.

José and Antonio try prostitution but can’t get hard; they try robbing but don’t have the stomach for it; they hook up with a crime gang to carry drugs in from Morocco (bajarse al moro, a practice which gave name to a popular Gonzalo Suarez comedy starring Antonio Banderas). When the kids finally get the money for the abortion, Rosario can’t go through with it. They then decide to have the baby but sell it to a good home through a gang. They can’t go through with this either. Their families finally come to an understanding but it’s one the couple can’t accept.

Everything is oppressive. What they want is expressed in Antonio’s song (see clip below): to get very far away from there:

In his excellent book, The Spanish Quinqui Film: Delinquency, Sound, Sensation (University of Manchester Press, 2020), Tom Whittaker cites Steve Marsh’s observation that ‘de la Iglesia’s raw style has been labelled tremendista: sensationalist, populist and lurid’ (2013: 157),’ which it certainly is; it is also funny and moving. Whittaker also cites an interview in Triunfo in 1979 where de la Iglesia ‘not only defended his cinematic excesses – described here by the journalist as ‘sensacionalista‘ (sensationalist), ‘molodramática‘ (melodramatic) and ‘panfletaria‘ (propagandistic), terms that are frequently associated with his work in the Spanish media but commented that he actively sought to encourage them in his filmmaking (Galán, 1979) (Whittaker, p. 115).

Whittaker argues that, most of all, de la Iglesia’s cinema is marked by its fascination with the fragile glamour of male youth. I would go further than this and say that Colegas peoples its crowd scenes with youth that look suspiciously like rent boys of the era. See below:

This persistent peopling of shots with particular types of young men — working class or sub proles, signalling their availability — for a price — through dress and posture –and the way they are presented to the camera make his films distinctive. The margins are always present, sometimes in the centre of the frame, even if they are but fragments of the scene. De la Iglesia features male nudity in a way rare for any other director of the era — including Passolini and Fassbinder — part of the reason his films were advertised in North American gay magazines of the time. But these were not art films but mainstream successes in Spain, particularly popular with young boys, so what Manuel Hidalgo dubbed the ‘estética del calzonzillo’ (aesthetic of the underpants (in Whittaker p. 116)  and what I see as a rent-boy aesthetic perhaps deserves further exploration. What did its popular audiences make of that male nudity, present, arguably objectifying, but never intrusive, always with the rationale of ‘this is the way these people live’?

‘La estética del calzonzillo’

There’s a very striking gay gaze — and I use the word gay advisedly –on young bodies in these films, always realistically motivated as below, three brothers in cramped quarters having to share a bathroom. The camera doesn’t fetishize the nudity — it doesn’t move in for a close-up — but it does make the penis visible in a way that was then at least unusual:

That is the way you would expect to see three brothers sharing a bathroom but it’s certainly not the way you would expect it to be represented in cinema (if they were sisters, however….). How this gay male gaze intersects with or communicates to a popular audience is a source of  fascination to me. That and the propulsive narrative is what makes Colegas and the other quinqui films so interesting and exciting to see.

The last element of this particular film that fascinates me is the disrobing of Antonio and Rosario Flores. The disrobing of marginal teens is one thing, but these were the children of one of the most famous women in Spain, Lora Flores, Lola of Spain, La Faraona. And these kids had been cover stars of the popular photo magazines such as Hola and Semana since they were born. How was this negotiated? Was it seen as just  new conventions for new times. Was it proof of Lola’s modernity and that of her children? Was this commented on at the time? Was it a selling point?  How did audiences react? The two Flores have become icons, mainly for their music and the various ways it continues to live in the culture; but also, in Antonio’s case because his death of a drug overdose was so emblematic of the times; and in Rosario’s case, because of her continued survival, relevance and the ties of family her, her sister Lolita and the various siblings continue to symbolise in Spain. It is useful to see de la Iglesia’s films next to Almodóvar’s from the same period, each evokes a movida, but a different one, or at least another side to it.

Aside from the pleasure of its narrative and its mode of telling, Colegas is also a valuable evocation of particular structures of feeling of marginalised youth in a time of political, economic and social change in Spain’s transition to democracy. According to de la Iglesia’s himself, it’s a turning point in his cinema, a move away from the pamphleteering aspect that had to then been so characteristic of his work. Many reasons to see it.

José Arroyo

El Sacerdote/ The Priest (Eloy de la Iglesia, Spain, 1978)

Eloy de la Iglesias’s ‘70s films make Almodóvar’s ‘80s films look conservative and even more superficial. In El Sacerdote/ The Priest (Spain, 1978), the Church is depicted in the very first shot as part and parcel of the Falangist state (see below), and debates around modernising it are couched in a priest’s torment over sin and sexual abstention.



Father Miguel (Simón Andreu) believes all the things he should, in Franco’s dogma as much as the Vatican’s. He’s handsome and good, but he is going mad with sexual desire. At the confessional he listens to Irene (Esperanza Roy) and falls in love with her.

He can’t do anything about it but can’t bear for even her husband to do anything with her either. He is removed from his function as her spiritual advisor and placed teaching children but even though he is not homosexual or pedophile, his gaze at their thighs take on a sexual tinge.

He can’t have sex anywhere so sees it everywhere, wants it with anyone, but is too riven by notions of sin to find satisfaction even with prostitutes. His desires are such a torment he goes back to his village to rest but even there his memories turn to childhood, when he was a normal boy who easily satisfied his urges, amongst his friends, even with geese. Finally his desires are in such a conflict with his faith that the only solution he can find is to cut off his penis with a pair of garden shears.

At the end, the parish is left with few priests, some have married, others have gone into other lines of work, the more left-wing priests have become the most active and didactic but have moved on to more needy neighbourhoods. Father Miguel leaves the priesthood in order to put his faith in man and to find salvation now rather than in the after-life: ‘It is very difficult to be free in this country’, he tells Irene, ‘but it is a goal we must pursue above all others.’ It’s an extraordinary film, that takes full sensational advantage of Spain’s then emerging freedoms. The film revels in its sensationalist situations but sensationalism here is never just an end in itself but a vehicle for the exploration of serious ideas – Francoism, the Church, how traditional beliefs not only control society but also stunt, damage and may even drive mad the individual. An astonishing work.

José Arroyo

Juegos de amor prohibido/ Forbidden Love Games (Eloy de la Iglesia, Spain, 1975)



A film about politics, and the politics of sex, power and money, with a fascinating contrast between the musty décor of past grandness and the brutalist architecture of modern times.

The last film Eloy de la Iglesia made under the Franco dictatorship and the one that suffers most from the censorship it received: 42 cuts in all. And one can understand why. A pair of siblings, Julia (Inma de Santis) and Miguel (John Moulder Brown), who look like twins, run away from home to start incestuous sexual relations on the last day of classes. Their professor of literature, Don Luis (Javier Escrivá) picks them up hitch-hiking, invites them to his stately home to stay the night but soon makes it known they will not leave. Don Luis is extremely rich, literature is only his latest hobby, after enthusiasms for shooting, drama and a life-long passion for Wagner. He lives only with his servant Jaime (Simón Andreu) whom he also picked up and gave shelter to once, after Jaime’s face was splashed all over Spanish newspapers for a crime that the narrative leaves mysterious. Jaime is just as trapped as Julia and Inma and it’s implied his role as servant involves more than lighting Don Luis’ cigarette. After a summer where Don Luis and Jaime train, dominate, humiliate and otherwise beat the siblings into submitting to their fate, classes begin again and soon the tables are turned. Don Luis becomes a prisoner. Jaime starts a sexual relationship with Julia AND Miguel. The house begins to be plastered with posters of Elvis and Rachel Welch. Rockabilly takes over from Wagner and Don Luis commits suicide at the change of events. The trio, however, decide to continue living on the estate, with Julia returning order to the house and hierarchy to the household with herself at the head of it. An extraordinary film to have made in Spain in 1975. Luis Martinez, writing in El Pais in 1996 writes, ‘More than a movie, evidence of the silences of an era/ Más que una película, un acta notarial de los silencios de una época’. A film about politics, and the politics of sex, power and money, with a fascinating contrast between the musty décor of past grandness and the brutalist architecture of modern times.

One of the film’s metaphors:

José Arroyo



Los novios Búlgaros/ Bulgarian Lovers (2003)

love Eloy de la Iglesia but couldn’t get on with his last, Los novios búlgaros/ Bulgarian Lovers (2003). It’s still a story taken from a contemporary situation, here Eastern European workers trying to make a better life for themselves and being a bit free and loose as to how they do so. But whereas once Iglesia’s outlook and that of the marginals he focussed on where as one, here there’s a distinction, a separation. It’s them and us. The film’s outlook is that of the middle-aged bourgeois lawyer; the younger Bulgarian lover is an object of desire, a spark to craziness, a lesson. The acting is quite variable throughout the film, and the campiness that Iglesia finally felt liberated to revel in feels forced, false and witless. Iglesia was never a visual stylist but his films had a pulpy melodramatic verve that felt real and urgent. This tries to be funny and touching and often fails. It’s Iglesia’s last film — and his first since La estanqueria de Vallecas in 1987 –and I wish it were better.

José Arroyo

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