HIDDEN PLEASURES (LOS PLACERES OCULTOS)
Color, 1977, 93 mins. 51 secs.
Directed by Eloy de la Iglesia
Starring Simón Andreu, Tony Fuentes, Beatriz Rossat, Germán Cobos, Charo López
Altered Innocence (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Divisa (Blu-ray & DVD) (Spain R0 HD/PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
CONFESSIONS OF A CONGRESSMAN (EL DIPUTADO)
Color, 1978, 106 mins. 33 secs.
Directed by Eloy de la Iglesia
Starring José Sacristán, María Luisa San José, José Luis Alonso, Enrique Vivó, Ángel Pardo
Altered Innocence (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Divisia (DVD) (Spain R0 PAL) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)
By the mid-1970s, filmmaker Eloy de la Iglesia had built a reputation as a reliable purveyor of twisted thrillers with the likes of Cannibal Man, No One Heard the Scream, Murder in a Blue World, and the sadly underseen Glass Ceiling. With the demise of Generalissimo Francisco Franco and his fascist rule over Spain, Iglesia was one of the first really seize on the relaxed censorship that followed and delivered a string of controversial studies in the spectrum of human sexuality, morphing eventually into his 1980s quinqui cycle of teen crime dramas. Two of the key films in that post-1975 shift, initially released in the U.S. in the 1980s to ride the wave of Pedro Almodóvar's success, have finally been revived for an English-friendly Blu-ray release from Altered Innocence under the peculiar title Uranian Dreams: Two Homosexual Films by Eloy de la Igelsia, and both are excellent depictions of a society whose political demons and peccadilloes were very deeply intertwined.
First up is 1977's Los placeres ocultos, here under the translated title Hidden Pleasures, which had tongues wagging at the time over its frank depiction of gay life coexisting within the status quo of business and home lives. Cannibal Man had alread y featured a prominent gay character, but this one took things further with a respectable banker protagonist, Eduardo, played by Simón Andreu (who headlined The Blood Spattered Bride, The Night of the Sorcerers, and Iglesia's excellent look at religious hypocrisy in all matters of the flesh, El sacerdote). During an afternoon cruising attempt in front of a motorcycle shop he ends up forming a friendship and develops an unrequited crush on the young, lower class Miguel (Fuentes), who's juggling his bed time with girlfriend Carmen (Rossat) and older housewife neighbor Rosa (López). What emerges is a snapshot of the time including a home invasion gay bashing, a visit to a flamboyant nightclub, casual bigotry, the necessities of staying in the closet at work, and the tricky intersection of money and sexual orientation.
An excellent actor also known to giallo fans for Death Walks at Midnight, Death Walks on High Heels, and The Killer Is One of 13, Andreu is a solid anchor for this film with Fuentes matching him as one of Iglesia's trademark young bucks. Considering the subject matter (especially the fetishizing of youth by the older and richer), it's a fairly tame film with Miguel's straight sex scenes being the edgiest material here. The film doesn't quite go where you expect either, with an interesting resolution that probably plays a lot differently for modern audiences than it did back in '77. American gay-themed arthouse label Cinevista (who also handled titles like In a Glass Cage and Black Lizard) released this one theatrically and then on VHS in 1987 under its Award Film International brand along with other Iglesia films like El sacerdote (now currently only available via Spanish Blu-ray without subs) and Pals, after which it effectively disappeared for decades. In 2023 a Spanish Blu-ray popped up early in the years minus any subtitle options, so the Altered Innocence disc is really the way to go here. Featuring a crisp and immaculate transfer, good optional English subtitles, and a clean DTS-HD 1.0 Spanish mono track, this is a radical improvement over the fuzzy old VHS transfer. The video essay "Smiling at the Door" (14m35s) by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas looks at the film's place in the director's filmography and the broader spectrum of groundbreaking '70s Spanish cinema.
Iglesia's next film, El diputado (here titled Confessions of a Congressman on the packaging), is also included here, and it ups the sexual content considerably with a darker depiction of closeted homosexuality within the dog-eat-dog environment of politics. Here our protagonist is Roberto Orbea (Sacristán), a lawyer, onetime communist activist, and left-wing opposition party deputy now being targeted by his fascist opponent. Though he seems to be happily married to Carmen (José), Roberto secretly has a bisexual side and, encouraged by a hustler named Nes (Pardo) who tempts him during a medical stayover, begins to enjoy the company of young rent boys. As his socialist party takes a stronger hold, the stage is set to expose him via Juanito (Alonso), a teenager who ends up falling for Roberto, his ideals, and his family life instead.
Shot during the real turbulence of Spain's years-long shift to democracy, this film is a fiery and often uncomfortable viewing experience with its beady-eyed schemers, easily bribed male prostitutes, and conflicted, sad-eyed central character making for an intriguing snapshot of the filmmaker's mindset at the time. Iglesia's own gravitation to socialism and young men makes it tempting to read this as a manifesto of sorts, something that threads through many of his later films with even more tragic ramifications. This one was also picked up by Cinevsita for stateside distribution in the late '80s, though it never hit Spanish Blu-ray (and only got a DVD release there in 2004). The Altered Innocence release is a very welcome one, finally presenting this film in a good-looking edition with far more legible subtitles than the burned-in ones seen on the old VHS. Again the Spanish track is in excellent shape and much better than what we've had before. In addition to the Spanish trailer (the good U.S. trailers for both films are MIA here), "Sex Post-Franco: The Queer Sensibility of Eloy de la Iglesia" (11m34s) is a new video essay by Lee Gambin examining the flourishing in gay themes and imagery in the director's work after the demise of Franco, which still nevertheless bucked against the restrictions of forces like the Catholic Church. He also goes into parallels with other filmmakers like Vicente Aranda who were forging different ground in the same era. This one is chock full of spoilers, so don't watch until you've seen both films. Bonus trailers are also included for Pals, Dressed in Blue, The Hole in the Fence, and Altered Innocence Vol. 2.
Reviewed on August 18, 2023.