Eloy de la Igelsia at the Franco Transition: Cannibal Man (1972) and Confessions of a Congressman (1978)



Eloy de la Igelsia at the Franco Transition: Cannibal Man (1972) and Confessions of a Congressman (1978)
by Luke Safely

After the progressives of the Popular Front won the 1936 elections in Spain an uprising of far right Nationalist, backed by Hitler and Mussolini, led a coup d’etat resulting in the Spanish Civil War. Quickly General Francisco Franco rose in power to lead the Nationalists and began using torture and execution techniques on the opposing Republicans or anyone that were believed to be associated with them, this mass social cleansing became to be known as the White Terror. In 1939 the Spanish Civil War came to an end after the Nationalists conquered the capital city Madrid, the final holdout of the Republicans. Shortly after at a victory parade Franco hung up his sword at the altar of a church and promised to never pick it up again unless it was to defend Spain itself once more. This grand gesture didn’t count for Franco himself though because Franco’s White Terror never did end for the people of Spain. 

Franco used his new power as the dictator of Spain to create laws to eliminate/rehabilitate any dissidents with his national police force, the Civil Guard. It may come as a surprise but this far right nationalist dictator was a Roman Catholic extremist which Franco used these beliefs to enforce the morals of the society that he now controls. Some of the laws that sprouted from this were vagrancy laws that were extremely generalized to “protect” the people from scandalous public behavior. These laws were used especially to target the LGBT+ community which the Civil Guard abused to bypass judicial hearings. The people taken in under these laws were forced into rehabilitation centers, mental institutions, or prisons that were segregated from the general population called, galleries of inverts. Obviously since this behavior was frowned upon by Franco’s government there were also boards of censors created to control any art and media produced within Spain. This was quite often circumvented by Spanish artists who were either exiled or would do co-productions with other countries so that their original work could come out around the world but was censored for Spanish audiences. Even with these circumstances some creators wouldn’t give up and try to keep pushing against Franco’s regime and this is where filmmaker Eloy de la Iglesia comes into the picture. 

Eloy de la Iglesia was born in the Basque region of Spain to a wealthy family and raised in Madrid. Iglesia had an interest in film-making and attended Institut des hautes études cinématographiques in Paris, France. Iglesia tried to continue his film studies at Spain’s national film school but the school’s minimum age restriction kept him from enrolling. Instead Iglesia went to college for a short time in Madrid for philosophy and literature however he quickly dropped out and began working in children’s’ theater and TV programs. This eventually led Iglesia directing his first feature film Fantasy 3 (1966) an anthology of three children stories. Iglesia directed a couple more feature films until finally we reached Cannibal Man (1972) the film that Iglesia was looking to make to push his artistic and political expression against Spanish censors. 

Cannibal Man (1972) 107 minutes Extended Cut

Cannibal Man is about a middle aged low class slaughterhouse worker, Marcos, who can’t seem to keep others out of his private life which eventually leads to him accidentally killing a taxi driver and the killings just seem to perpetuate from there. Nestor, Marcos’ rich neighbor, has a Rear Window-esque interest in Marcos, he’s always watching Marcos from the balcony of his high rise through binoculars witnessing many of Marcos’ crimes. Instead of being disgusted by Marcos, Nestor becomes more and more interested in him and begins a friendship with him. After Nestor reveals to Marcos that he knows his secret, Marcos snaps and attacks Nestor but before killing him Marcos leaves and decides to turn himself into the police. The film ends with Marcos slumped outside his home waiting for the arrival of the police. Now this film including the American title implies this is just another gross out Slasher film but with the extended cut compared to the international cut and the history behind this film we will quickly learn what Iglesia was trying to tell us–the intersectionality of Iglesia’s homosexuality and communist beliefs. 

Iglesia began production on the film before even receiving feedback on the script from Spanish censors which means he was already breaking the law by shooting without a permit. Iglesia knew that this film was going to receive push back from the censors but he also knew that genre films were much more relaxed with the censors because they didn’t take them as seriously as drama films thus he could get away with a little bit more material. The other huge benefit Iglesia had was his two leading actors Vicente Parra (Marcos) and Eusebio Poncela (Nestor). Vicente Parra was quite a popular actor in Spain at the time and believed in this project so much he became an associate producer which resulted in the necessary money to be raised for the film. Vicente and Eusebio were also both homosexual and were willing to go along with Iglesia’s story even though they knew much of it would be cut. The final cut of the film was presented to the censors and they demanded that the film was to make 62 cuts before being released to Spanish audiences, this would be the record for the most censored cuts ever had to be made for a Spanish produced film during the time.

Even the theme of class struggle faced some of these censored cuts. The undertones of class struggle in the international cut of Cannibal Man we get through the juxtaposition of Marcos and Nestor’s lifestyles made obvious by the looming high rises right next to the dirt lot that Marcos rundown patched small villa sits. Inside Marcos home it is very sparse with furnishings, slightly dirty, and claustrophobic even with the open design of the living room. As for Nestor’s high-rise home it comes off as a French palace covered in art and ornamental furniture however the largeness of it makes it feel empty which echoes Nestor loneliness. There’s a moment where Nestor and Marcos are out for a drink and they are harassed by Civil Guards. You can see the difference of treatment between Nestor and Marcos based on their financial standing, they are both grilled by the police, Marcos is nervous but Nestor is dismissive and the Civil Guard recognizing his standing let them go. The extended cut however has this entire background story for Marcos at his job in the slaughterhouse that is completely cut from the international cut, this being the interactions between Marcos, his boss, and his coworkers. Through these interactions we learn that Marcos’ mother also worked at the slaughterhouse but died in an accident on the job. The boss plays it off that it was okay because they paid more than the guilds recommended death payoff but they also paid for a nice obituary in the local newspaper and now they will give a promotion at the plant so no hard feelings right? I believe that this important factor really gives you an understanding of the pressures Marcos was under and hiding throughout the film that could help explain the position he finds himself in whether it be the death of his mother, class struggle, gentrification looming literally at his doorstep, corrupt civil guard oppressing the people, having to marry and have a family.

Marcos has a young girlfriend who is harassing him about marriage and that keeps closing on him more by a local waitress who questions why he is still unmarried and a younger brother who is getting married that also can’t help but find his brother’s bachelor life quite strange. Marcos’ room is plastered with posters of beautiful female models and he engages in promiscuous relationships with a couple women throughout the film but the only time Marcos seems to be at ease and most comfortable is when he is with Nestor this is even more true after his nervous breakdown and killings. Iglesia came in with the complete intention of making Nestor and Marcos lovers but the censors of course were not having any of that. Instead we only have a couple moments of gaze and sexually tense moments during the scenes they are together. In the Severin Blu-ray release of this film it includes deleted scenes where we see Nestor and Marcos kissing underwater during the pool scene and a brief shirtless make out session as the camera spins around them. Even those scenes aren’t included in the film, the finale of Marcos sparing Nestor’s life resulting in Marcos finally breaking his killing cycle is the ultimate tell of the true relationship between these two men. 

Francisco Franco was starting to become very weak due to age related illnesses and knew that his end was coming. Due to not having a male heir of his own Franco appointed his long-time loyal right hand man Luis Carrero Blanco as his successor in June 1973. Blanco was definitely the prolongation of Franco’s regime beyond even Franco’s grave and Basque separatists of the ETA knew this so they made sure that Blanco’s time as Spain’s Prime Minister would be short lived. On December 20th, 1973 the ETA assassinated Blanco by blowing up his car along a route that he always took to church. The explosion was so powerful it sent Blanco’s car 35 meters into the air and tumbling over a 5 story building into its inner courtyard. The explosion was so notorious there are still jokes to this day that Luis Blanco was Spain’s first astronaut. After Blanco’s death Franco’s regime was absolutely shaken to its core, Franco would eventually appoint Juan Carlos, an heir to the Spanish Royalty, to take over after his death. Francisco Franco finally died on November 20th, 1975 at 82 years old. Juan Carlos immediately crumpled under pressure from both the radical right and left so he opened Spain into a democratic constitutional monarchy. With this the floodgates opened for social reform throughout Spain, even the Spanish communist party was legalized once again in 1977 and they gained a table in the talks for the Spanish Constitution of 1978. No matter how large of gains they had in such a short time Iglesia and many others in the LGBT+ community couldn’t help but notice how easily they were pushed to the side by their so-called allies.

Confessions of a Congressman (1978) 110 minutes

Roberto Orbea reflects on his life after a current scandal will cost him his career as a politician. In the reflections we learn about Roberto’s clashes with the law as he imagines what his police record looks like where it eventually reveals that Roberto has had a homosexual past but that wasn’t to be a concern anymore after he fell in love with and married his wife,Carmen– well that was until this scandal. Roberto’s scandal is revealed to us throughout the rest of the film where we learn that Roberto homosexual relationships strike back up again after meeting Nes during a short stint in jail. Nes sets Roberto up with young male prostitutes for casual encounters in dark alleys. Eventually Roberto had to give up this vice because his political party had finally been legalized and his career as a politician was taking off and he knew his closeted secret could cost him his position. Nes ends up being recruited by the far right opposition to break up communist rallies and campaigns. At one of these attacks the far right politicians learn about Roberto’s secret and hire juvenile delinquent, Juanita, to seduce and trap Roberto. Juanito and Roberto’s relationship becomes much more complicated not just between each other but with Roberto’s wife and the far right politicians until the whole thing boils over into a scandal far worse than homosexuality. 

Iglesia came out swinging in this film not just at the far right but also the communists that he once identified with. This was because the LGBT+ community felt abandoned by left wing politics after the fall of the Franco regime and the rise of democracy. The communists used their new gained power in 1977 to release political prisoners and having the crimes of previous political terrorists forgiven but the vagrancy laws against the LGBT+ community weren’t revoked until 1979 even then the previous charged crimes of homosexuality during the Franco regime weren’t forgiven until 2001. Iglesia did what he does best, humanizing homosexuality by putting the communist leaders in LGBT+ shoes.

Roberto and Juanito’s relationship was kept secret, even from Carmen, throughout most of the film. Roberto comments about his political meetings that were held in secret at his apartment and how now after the party’s legalization he still has to live on in hiding because of his and Juanito’s relationship. This correlation couldn’t be more obvious and Iglesia made sure the audience knew it. Eventually Carmen catches onto Roberto’s secret lover and accepts it but she wants to be more involved in it in fear of being left behind, this eventually results in a menage a trois. Even with this new bond between Roberto, Juanita, and Carmen we quickly learn that when things start to get dangerous and this relationship will be made public how very easy it was for Carmen to tell Roberto to forget about Juanito and leave him in possible danger from far right politicians threatening his life. How easy it is to abandon someone you supposedly love for the sake of their own comfort and success. Thankfully Roberto finally does the right thing and goes to save Juanito but sadly he was too late, Juanito was killed in Roberto’s secret apartment and reported to the police to create such a scandal that Roberto will never recover. 

Upon reflection we don’t feel bad for Roberto after all of this because he had what was coming to him. Roberto was no different than his far right counterparts; they both point fingers at each other throughout the film but commit the same crimes which Nes the hustler points out to Roberto after he’s questioned why he sat them up, “…you bought me didn’t you? So did they.”. Roberto gave speeches about how terrorism was now unacceptable abandoning people like the ETA who made the legalization of his party possible, he used Juanito to try to double cross the far right to frame them of illegally spying on him resulting in the death of Juanito, and he gave up on his true self and he didn’t realize it until it was too late. The final scene of the film Roberto comes to a large party meeting where he has just been elected Secretary General, we see him standing there broken and alone even among comrades as he knows he must tell his truth that will ruin him. A true justice for those who Roberto burned and left behind that was a reflection of Iglesia becoming disillusioned by the communist party resulting in Iglesia leaving the party and becoming a socialist. This film became so popular with Spanish audiences that it was nationally broadcasted on television in the 1980s.

Iglesia would go on to find great success in the 1980s with the juvenile delinquent Spanish sub-genre, quinqui films. Iglesia covered topics of poverty, prostitution, drug addiction, prison, and abortion with Knifers (1981), Pals (1982), The Needle (1983), and The Needle 2 (1984). However during this time Iglesia fell victim to heroin addiction just like the characters in these films, the addiction started to affect the quality of the next couple films which flopped. After these flops Iglesia disappeared for 15 years which rumors spread around that he died broke in an alleyway but eventually a close friend of Iglesia found him selling Kleenex on a street corner and was able to convince him to go to rehab. Iglesia finally kicks the habit and returns with his first film in some time Bulgarian Lovers (2003). In a period of Iglesia retrospectives and revitalization things were finally looking up but then Iglesia died at 62 during a surgery to remove a tumor. Iglesia is still quite a popular figure to this day in Spain but hasn’t broken through to US audiences. Hopefully with English friendly home media releases of Iglesia work more and more will grow to appreciate the strength and bravery of  Iglesia, a true homosexual icon. 

Luke Safely is a letter carrier who has too much time on his hands (after being cleared of mail that is) and fills it with film. Holds a bachelor’s in film production with a minor in philosophy from MSUM.

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