Men on the Screen

Re-visions of Masculinity in Spanish Cinema (1939-2019)

by Juan Rey (Volume editor)
Monographs VIII, 306 Pages

Table Of Content

Men Who Roam the Spanish Screens

Juan Rey1

Cinema, whether it is understood as entertainment, business, criticism, or art, is always a reflection of the society in which it is born. Men on the Screen is a review of masculinity in cinema made in Spain by Spanish directors from 1939 to the present. The objective of this volume is, then, to observe the different types of masculinities, whose classification gives rise to a chronology that goes from the man who embodies the dream dreamt by the dictator Franco to the modern man, who is lost in his labyrinth, while also examining the repressed men, those men who have strayed and who live in the city, the rascals and braggarts, those who fight every day just to survive, the petty criminals, those men who divest themselves of the rancid national-Catholicism in order to be themselves, those who are caring, those who harass and kill their prey, the heroes, those who seduce women with their gab, corrupt politicians, those who sell their bodies, grandparents, violent and chauvinistic men, those who live in anguish for the passage of time, and even those immured by repressing and hypocritical morality. All of the masculine categories delineated above indicate that cinema is a reflection of the great changes experienced by Spanish society during these years. During this long period, Spain has gone from being a poor, isolated, dark, sad, politically and religiously depressed country to becoming a dynamic, modern country, one of the great countries of the West. And these transformations, these men, who are diverse, who are in conflict at times, and who are depressed, hopeful, hungry, consumerist, and dreamers—they are what cinema gathers. What follows next is a catalog of men who have wandered and roamed the Spanish screens.

1939 is the starting point of this study, the year in which General Franco won the Civil War in Spain and began a dictatorship that lasted until his death in 1975, a time period that largely marks the Spanish twentieth century. This ←3 | 4→extended period (1939–2019) is organized in several sections that are determined by political events. The first phase to be discussed is Francoism, which as already noted lasted from the years 1939 to 1975. However, Franco’s dictatorship was not monolithic, and in the almost forty years that it lasted, there are different sub-phases, depending on the economic and political evolution of Spain, which can be distinguished.

There is a first phase, the post-war period, characterized by hunger, misery, strong political and religious repression, and international isolation (1939–1959). The establishment of industrial stabilization plans carried out by technocratic ministers implied a change of direction that led to a second phase known as Developmentalism (1959–1970). During this decade, Spain began to timidly open to the world, and a fledgling middle-class emerged. The country improved industrially, economically, and socially. Political repression, although tempered, still remained in force. The last phase of the Franco regime known as Late Francoism (1970–1975) corresponds with the last years of the dictator, who died in bed while still in power. Spain was already a modern country in every way except politically, as the dictatorial regime still prevailed, and the Catholic Church continued to exercise an iron grip on morals and customs.

Secondly, there is the Political Transition, which represents the transition from the dictatorial regime to the democratic regime. This second stage goes from 1975 to 1982, a year in which the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) won an absolute majority in the general elections. It was the first time that a leftist party, after almost forty years of dictatorship, came to power in Spain. These were tumultuous times, with a lot of political and social tension, but finally democracy was established. Thus, the third stage, Democracy covers the period of time from 1982 to the present. In recent years, Spain joined NATO, the European Union, is a member of various international organizations and is definitely integrated into modernity.

As far as cinema is concerned, it is convenient to take into account a period known as Destape (literally ‘uncovering,’ ‘undressing,’ or ‘revealing’), also called Comedia sexy celtibérica (Spanish Sexy Comedy), which extends approximately from the early 1970s to the beginning of the 1980s; that is to say, it covers the final years of Late Francoism, the whole Transition, and the first years of Democracy. Its origin has to be sought, on the one hand, in the relentless sexual repression and the desire for freedom, and, on the other hand, in the publication of new censorship norms, which redefined the norms for nudity, and stated that it would be permitted “whenever it [was] required by the total unity of the film, rejecting itself whenever it [was] presented with the intention of arousing passions in the normal viewer or feeding back ←4 | 5→into pornography.” This timid opening resulted in the appearance of films, shows, and publications of high erotic content. The actresses appeared lightly dressed, and a common topical phrase was, “I can do a nude scene if the script requires it.” In short, it was a film of high erotic content, low cost, rude humor, and poor quality, in which they (usually foreigners) appeared lightly dressed and they (always male Spaniards) chased them seeking a satisfaction that they rarely obtained.

According to the aforementioned time periods, the book is organized into four sections: Masculinities During Franco, Masculinities in the Late Francoist and Transition periods, From the Transition to the Present Day, and finally New Masculinities? Continuities and Breaks.

The first section addresses the study of the various masculinities that appear in Francoist cinema. In this sense, the chapter “The Man Franco Dreamed of: A Prescriptive and Dictatorial Masculinity” analyzes the male model offered by the Francoist ideology, an amalgam, sometimes confused, of political ideas, worldviews, and beliefs that were changing over time. In this blend there are, as in geological substrata, traces of Fascism of clear Mussolinian style, which were later tailored by Falangism in order to assimilate them to the Hispanic worldview. This amalgam also shows remains of the stalest traditionalism, both in its conservative and monarchical strands; and naturally, in the Catholicism that permeates Spanish society, before, during, and, most surely, after the Civil War. This conjunction of elements turns out in a certain way of being male, which is prescribed (imposed) by the Franco regime, which configures the so-called “Franco man.” In this sense, the hero of the film Raza (Race), played by an actor linked to the regime, represents the origin and the essence of Franco’s masculinity. Yet, the film not only presents that archetype, but, in line with the prevailing authoritarianism, also prescribes it. Thus, every “true man” must aspire to that model, if he does not want to be persecuted, stigmatized, or condemned to a “civil death.”

This view is complemented with the analysis of the renegade that is carried out in “Traitors of the Homeland: The Stigmatization of Reds in Falangist Discourse.” One of the constant features of Francoist cinema is the creation and recreation of “Reds.” Reds are perceived as the enemy against the hero, or the traitor against the patriot, a filmic reality that recreates a world around two opposite human natures, a Manichaean vision of Spanish society. The objective of this chapter is to address the iconic-symbolic analysis of the film Rojo y Negro (Red and Black) in order to identify the attributes imposed on “Reds” (the enemy, the republican) during the years after the civil war, a subject tarnished with the idea of capital sin of Judeo-Christian descent. Hence, the civil conflict is presented as a “crusade” against the “infidel,” the enemy ←5 | 6→of the homeland, who is embodied in an amalgam of characters ranging from the Republican to the Jew through the Anarchist and the Bolshevik. The crusade represents a hatred of the unknown, against everything that comes from abroad. The creation of this enemy contributes to generating alertness and, at the same time, legitimizes the existence of an authoritarian power. All this is present in this filme, one of the few Falangist productions that saw the light in a markedly fascist phase.

But Francoist’s obsession is not only focused on the present, it is also projected onto the past. This can be seen in “Masculinities of the Past as a Re-writing of the Present.” Films that bring historical facts to the screen often serve as a projection or interpretation of ideals or contemporary events in their production. This is the case of the cycle of historical cinema produced in Spain during the first phase of Franco’s dictatorship in the 1940s and 1950s. In this first phase, cinematography and ideology were intertwined with patriotic proclamations and exaltation of the greatness of the Spanish race. The most emblematic films of this period provide leading and supporting roles to historical characters such as Philip I of Castile, known as the Handsome, Christopher Columbus, Luis Montana, Juan de Tapia, known as the warrior, Juan de Padilla and their son Pedro, Manrique, Ramiro de Ávalos and Pedro de Guzmán, among others. These are male characters who star, in three of the cases, in films centered on a strong female character. With the perspective of Francoist historical cinema in mind, different masculinities such as that of the hero, the traitor, the guardian, or the seducer will be analyzed.

The Francoist period concludes with a sarcastic view of the common man, of the ordinary man as can be seen in the chapter “Excessively Comical, Even Grotesque Men.” Spanish cinema in the Franco era has been studied more as a popular spectacle than as a period of exploration of new languages and film formats. However, in this period, one can find hybrid and suggestive productions that have served as a school for later Spanish cinema. In this chapter, we observe and analyze excessively comic male characters, born from one of the most creative coupling of Spanish filmmakers: director Luis García Berlanga and screenwriter Rafael Azcona. The aim of this chapter is to look for the ironic, dissonant, and rebellious meanings of several characters of this kind of cinema of the mid-Franco dictatorship in order to find other dimensions hidden in humor. The result is a humor not designed to make people smile, but to contrast starkly with reality, in order to express the sense of claustrophobia in characters who are trapped in moments or circumstances contrary to their will.

The second section, “Masculinities in Late Francoist and Transition Periods,” examines various masculinities that appear in Spanish cinema from ←6 | 7→1970 to 1982, a time of great political, economic, social, moral, and sexual changes, which triggered different crises. The characters and archetypes who roam and wander the Spanish screens of the time are a sample of Spanish society, a society in the process of transformation in which contradictory values and dreams coexist. One such tension unfolded in the sexual realm, where the old repression sponsored by the Franco regime and national-Catholicism merged with the winds of liberalizing change that foreign tourists, especially Nordic ones, brought to the country. Such confluence can be seen in “The Man in Destape Films: Rascals, Braggarts, Sexually Repressed Men….” The Spanish cinema from the Late Francoist and Transition periods was the visible trace of a society that faced a slight liberalization of a sexual nature. Miniskirts, lingerie, and the bikini began to appear, symbols of a foreign popular culture that was being implanted through risqué comedies roughly sketched; these symbols were the trigger of the fears of the repressed man. The actor Alfredo Landa became the first reference of this type of films, an opportunistic braggart who put a face to the average Spaniard. The commercial success of his films gave rise to a cinematographic classification that bore his own last name: landismo. The conservative costumbrismo (trend emphasizing the interpretation or the importance of local everyday life, mannerisms, and customs) clashed with the sexual liberalization and the figure of the rascal. This new scoundrel, under the tapestry of comedy, expresses the desire of every man, the masculine predisposition not to maintain a relationship exclusively with a single woman. However, this man, who presents a mediocre appearance and possesses an instinctive sexuality under his own buffoonery, is capable of unleashing an irresistible attraction for women.

“The Injured Man: Men Who Sell Their Body” further explores the sexuality of the male protagonist. The representation of men during the Francoist regime and part of the Transition period is clearly defined by the most demanding heteronormativity. The most conservative stereotypes to define national masculinity appear to control cinematic representation: the soldier, the monk, the father, or the husband fill the entire screen. For the Francoist collective imagination, the existence of male sex workers who serve women is unthinkable and, even more unthinkable, to serve other men. Therefore, for a long time, the cinema of these time periods denied the representation of an activity that, despite its social invisibility, has always existed. However, providing sufficient time and giving a certain sociological situation (the tourist boom of the 1960s), even the censorship apparatus of the dictatorship had to negotiate a way to give some visibility, however limited, to a character whose mere presence puts into question the dominant masculinity. From the soft representation of the Francoist film comedy and the Destape films to the ←7 | 8→harsh representations of the Quinqui (petty thief) cinema and other dramas of the beginning of the transition, the figure of the sex worker in the cinema of this period is studied, both in his hetero- and his homosexual strands, in his rapport with hegemonic virility, and in his proposals for new constructions of masculinity.

The chapter “The Latin Lover Who Degenerates into an Iberian Male” follows along the same lines. At the end of the 1960s, when the Franco regime began a slight liberalization, Spain started to welcome tourists, and the coasts began to fill with ‘Swedish’ women in bikinis. In the masculine ideology of the time, these tourists not only sought the sun but were also attracted by the sex appeal of the Iberian male: a rude, primitive, short, hairy and vigorous lover. The popular saying here makes sense: “the man, like the bear, the more hairy, the more fair.” This stereotype of masculinity is faithfully reflected by the Destape cinema, in which the Latin lover of yesteryear degenerates into the Iberian male. The paradigm of the Iberian macho of the cinema of the late-Francoist period a sexually repressed man, but obsessed with women, a physically unattractive seducer (short, dark, hairy), a hick (uncultured and little traveled) and sexist (a sultan, a hunter, a sweet talker of easy flattery). The trail of this ridiculous character can be traced to the present.

The perspective on the moral and sexual crisis that is experienced in Spain is complemented by a vision that, in this case, proceeds from the outside as it is included in “The Fetishist or the Erotic Gaze of the Repressed Man.” Despite the international isolation brought about by the Dictatorship, a part of the Spanish cinema transcended borders. For almost three decades, from the 1950s on, feature films of Hispanic origin were produced in Mexico, by filmmaker Luis Buñuel. In this chapter, the presence of a man who lives eroticized by specific parts of a woman’s young body is acknowledged. These are men who give an account of a deep and unacknowledged erotic-sexual desire generated by the nudity of feet, legs, thighs, and the female breast; that is to say, they are repressed men who experience a libidinous spiral from certain areas of the female body that they furtively observe and spy.

The economic crisis and social collapse are reflected in “The Quinqui as a Hero: Criminal Adolescence During the Transition.” During the Transition to democracy, Spain undergoes a period of social transformation and an economic crisis. In this environment, the suburbs of the big cities become a breeding place for adolescent delinquents who become heroes for the most depressed classes. Ángel Fernández Franco (a.k.a. El Torete), among others, star on the covers of the national press and lead to a filmography known as “Quinqui cinema.” It narrates the adventures of the most popular criminals of the time. In most of these films, the lead actors are the same criminals who ←8 | 9→frighten the citizens. These actors, delinquents and delinquent actors, mostly adolescents, represent some of the traits of the youth of the time: a brutal masculinity and a traditional heteronormative sexuality, in which violence as a way of life is rooted since preadolescence. These young delinquents are the survivors of economically impoverished environments in which they carry out their activities, aspects which contribute to the hagiographic nature of these films. The Quinquis are one of the distinguishing elements of an era in which Spanish cinema does not hesitate to show the suburbs, drugs, and criminal acts of this group of boys.

The chapter “Man and God: The Sacred in the Construction of Masculinity” tackles man’s spiritual crisis. In Francoist cinema, the construction of masculinity is dominated by the codes and examples derived from a heteropatriarchal and Catholic belief system. With the death of the dictator and the entry of Spain into a postmodern religious system, a questioning of the way in which personal belief is experienced, imposed, or transmitted is carried out. This chapter addresses the phenomenology of religious practices as constructors of masculinities at a time when they have lost their centrality and, therefore, the social acceptance of their foundational work. For this purpose, the representation of religious gestures linked to masculinity is analyzed in such complex and stimulating films. The objective of this chapter is to demonstrate how the crisis of masculinity in Spain is closely linked to the crisis of Catholic centrality.

“The Man of the Transition Period: Deadbeats, Losers and Simpletons” addresses the general crisis that befell Spanish society during these years. It appeared that after a Civil War and almost forty years of dictatorship, Spaniards did not know with certainty where the country was heading, and this unease was picked up by the films of its day. Spanish society enters a new cycle with the death of Franco and the initial steps of Democracy. The political and institutional representatives change, but the average Spanish citizen represented by the cinema of the Transition is still a loser who tries to change his situation with guile and wit, in keeping with classic archetypes of Spanish literature. As Berlanga’s or Garci’s films register in these first years, the man portrayed is frustrated by failing to achieve his goals of change. Such failure shows that his characterization as an underdog is indifferent to the new winds of freedom that democracy, development, and social change brought about. This archetype of man goes beyond its historical context, in such a way that these films convey a critical political message. According to these film directors, faced with the possible illusion of political change, the portrayal of the man of the Transition to democracy prolongs an image of the dark and disenchanted Spanish man, someone without immediate solutions. The representation of ←9 | 10→the male is thus a sort of political metaphor of the history of Spain and of Spain itself, as a frustrated character that prolongs a historical consciousness of failure.

If the man in the previous section was dominated almost exclusively by his sexual drive, now, in “From the Transition to Present Day,” men are portrayed as heterogeneous and complex, even contradictory characters. They are the modern men, affected by the big city, the insecurity, the tragedy, the loneliness, the uncertainty, the estrangement, the doubt, and the abandonment. In “Candidates and Corrupt Politicians: Political Men Since the Transition,” the political crisis generated by corruption cases is addressed. Due to the context that Spain witnessed during most of the twentieth century, the representation of the political world in cinema has generally remained on the back burner. Franco’s dictatorship developed a propagandistic cinema which prevented films from exploring the disputes between politicians and political parties that are characteristic of democratic regimes. Thus, beyond some notable cases, it is only in the Transition to democracy when Spanish cinema begins to gradually explore these themes. However, in recent years, as a sign of the democratic maturity of the country, but in connection with the prevailing economic and socio-political crisis, Spanish cinema is devoting more attention to these public figures, sometimes depicting them as the villains in the story. These are films where the political class opposes the citizens, blaming the former for the current situation.

“The Tragic Man: Cyber-Genealogy of the Impossible Male” deals with a genealogy of tragic masculinity in Spanish cinema from Francoism to contemporary times. For this purpose, a genealogy of film titles is displayed in which the masculine entity and its relationship with tragedy turns out to be significant. Considering masculinities in terms of increasingly mechanized processes (devoid of human sense while being controlled by other “machines”), it is observed how the fall of masculinity is, until the 1970s, interpreted against the backdrop of the Civil War, and in the telluric/Dionysian sphere and in sensationalist realism. As the twenty-first century was drawing closer, this trend gave way to a gradual removal of the anti-Franco dimension, to the confinement of the tragic, and the Apollonian order brought about by devices, switchboards of urban life and its conundrums.

Besides the ordinary man, the hero is also influenced by the transformations of modernity. This can be seen in “The Heroes of the Thriller: The Disintegration of the Romantic Canon.” Thrillers, due to their popular bent, develop a very codified and, at the same time, a very naturalistic kind of cinema. A thriller projects a social image of Spain and, simultaneously, outlines the hero’s codes of conduct. The male hero evolves from the patriarchal ←10 | 11→model of Francoism to a neoliberal, Darwinist, and obscure model. The epic in fiction always plays a social role. The link between heroic values and social values is essential to understanding the transformation that takes place in Spanish society, from the dictatorship to the present day. Without values, there is no hero. The hero is always a proposal of the ideals of his time. The Spanish thriller represents the evolution and disintegration of the male hero figure in three phases: the social criticism of the end of the regime in the political cinema of the political Transition, the loneliness of the upright hero in the new modernity, and the disintegration of the hero in the thriller of the new century.

Social transformations also affect the monster, both in its conception and in its representation. This can be seen in “The Man-Monster: Masculinity and Visual Effects (VFX).” The fantasy and horror genre is quite prolific in the 1970s in Spain. The Miró Law went into effect in 1984 and pushed for the promotion and protection of quality cinema comparable to the French, while at the same time it brought about a drastic decline in the production of the much-reviled film genre and its subsequent reformulation. The history of fantaterror (fantasy and horror) in Spanish cinema is marked by the appearance of very prominent films that coexist with others of very low quality. However, by the end of the twentieth century, there is a renewed return to the fantastic film genre and a surge in the quality of horror films. Given the rise of the genre in these years, Filmax created Fantastic Factory, a production company to produce fantastic and horror films in English. In this chapter an attempt is made to define the male models or archetypes of the characters of the fantastic Spanish cinema produced at the end of the twentieth century, which also witnessed the evolution of special effects with the arrival of digital techniques in the film industry.

Yet, in these films not only is the big city prominent, but also the rural setting, as described in “The Realistic Man: Rural Masculinities.” The representation of space is one of the conditioning factors that help to define the subject. In contrast to the man in urban areas, this chapter considers the different types of masculinities present in the rural setting. The analysis focuses on the last two decades of Spanish non-fiction cinema, all the while bearing in mind some substantial works of the iconographic imaginary of the countryside. Despite the classic association of the rural setting to paralysis and timelessness, there are multiple representations of male characters in these landscapes. The objective of the chapter is to delve into the various imaginary worlds present in Spanish non-fiction cinema, as there are heterogeneous modalities of masculinity present. This chapter outlines a cartography ←11 | 12→of different profiles, roles, and archetypes of masculinity in the Spanish rural setting.

One aspect that is rarely discussed in Spanish cinema is evil. “On Hunters and Prey: The Mise-en-Scène of a Lurking Masculinity” analyzes the perverse behavior of the human being. This chapter addresses the representation and staging of a lurking masculinity in contemporary Spanish cinema. This approach explores man as a controlling and harassing character, in connection with the symbolic figures of the hunter who chases his prey and the victim of his actions, with special attention to the gender relationship established between them. Films produced in the twenty-first century draw a portrait in which masculinity is associated with a dominant, calculating, and obsessive role. More specifically, this chapter proposes a radiography of characters, especially conditioned by their modus operandi; that is to say, by the nature of the processes by which man corners and subjects his victims.

This section devoted to the most recent Spanish cinema closes with “The Man in his Labyrinth: The Modern Theseus Faces the Minotaur.” This chapter revisits the classic myth in a very interesting and novel way. Twenty-first century Spanish cinema, especially in certain genres, is undergoing a transformation that is taking it overseas. Many movies portray men facing key moments of their existence. Love and lack of love, fatherhood, labor issues, existential concerns, or imminent death are recurring themes in current Spanish cinema. All of these issues make man wonder about his place in the world: Where do I come from? Where am I going? Why am I here? At this existential crossroads the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur takes on its full meaning. The contemporary man, just like the Greek hero, shows how the vital preoccupations of the present man have not changed substantially with respect to those of the man of past centuries.

Finally, the fourth segment, “New Masculinities? Continuities and Breaks,” addresses the study of male characters constant on Spanish cinematography throughout the ages, or delves into the analysis of male characters that suppose a great novelty in the panorama of Spanish cinema. This is the case of the chapter “The Bullfighter as an Archetype and Icon of Spanish Masculinity.” Since the end of the nineteenth century, Spanish cinema has rendered a deep-rooted tradition, the art of bullfighting, which in Spain is considered the national holiday. Bullfighting is present in the very emergence of cinema. This is evidenced by the fact that at the end of the nineteenth century, the Lumière brothers filmed a bullfight in Seville. There is no shortage of films that recreate the prelude of bullfights and the intense moment of passionate confrontation that takes place between the bull and the bullfighter. There is a rich cinematographic heritage linked to the masculine world of ←12 | 13→bullfighting in which the bull becomes the metaphor for excellence of masculinity and which presents arguments, characters, symbols, spaces, and times that are typical of this universe. It is a powerful theme that has always been present in film production over time, traditionally linked to the stereotypical image of Spain, although with an extraordinary density and specific features in the representation of men.

The same happens with the athlete as can be corroborated in “Idols, Characters, and Stereotypes of the Athlete.” Spanish cinematography lacks a large list of films directly linked to sports. However, the figure of the male athlete has been represented in Spanish cinema during different periods through specific characters that have been related to the sports world. These are films that have sport as a central issue or are considered significant for the development of their plots. Thus, the figure of the athlete (boxer, football player, or coach) has been a source of inspiration for the creation of a large number of film fictions in which he is represented, both as a main character and as a supporting character. Based on these considerations, this chapter aims to explore what treatment the figure of the male athlete has had in Spanish cinema, as well as to identify its most prominent stereotypes. To do this, a tour is made through different periods, from the Franco period to the present.

The presence of grandparents and elderly people is also recurrent in Spanish cinema. Although with very different meanings, roles and functions as can be seen in “Older People, Grandparents … How Men Age in the Cinema.” Grandparents and older men in the movies have often been represented as secondary characters with canes and false teeth, as misunderstood and incapable. Old age in cinema is under-represented and traditionally associated with negative concepts. The films of this period show many of the difficulties that the passage of time can cause: decadence, loneliness, anguish, or illness. However, the presence of grandparents is also related to wisdom or solidarity. In the last few decades, films have been released that associate old age with fun, eroticism, or dreams.

On the other hand, the presence of the macho and violent man is new in the Spanish cinema as it is shown in “Violently Macho Men: Aggression as a Sign of Masculinity.” Studies on Spanish cinema have shown a minor interest in violent male characters, and even less, during the most recent period of Spanish history, the four decades of democracy. Evidently, some specific studies can be found on the representation of gender-based violence in Spanish cinema or on that of aggressors in the filmography of some significant filmmakers. However, violence is a distinctive feature of many male characters in post-Franco Spanish cinema. This chapter deals with the study of the representation of masculine violence in the films of the time, expressed sometimes ←13 | 14→as psychological domination and at other times in a decidedly explicit way, verbally or physically. Male violence on women or on other men is analyzed, and violence is also studied as a trait of the more traditional Spanish machismo.

The emergence of man who resorts to speech, to the word, to express themselves is also a great novelty in Spanish cinema. This can be seen in “Men of Their Word: From Silence to Screaming.” The female lead actor, Pepa, in Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown), has a nightmare: her husband Iván, with a microphone in hand and with an exquisite eloquence, flatters one by one all of the women he encounters. He has made his voice his profession, he is a dubbing actor, and yet he does not know how to speak to his wife; he even leaves her with a message on the answering machine. This chapter aims to trace the filmic construction of male characters in Spanish cinema who have a unique relationship with the word. Film studies have extensively analyzed masculinity mainly from the point of view of the figure of the hero, always commanded by the action. Here, a different direction is chosen by studying characters who are not characterized by their actions but instead by their words. About cinematographic proposals there is an analysis of the enunciation in the men who speak to seduce, those who make pledges, those who speak only drunkenly or hypnotized, those who stutter or talk through their noses, those who scream, those who listen, those who are armored in silence, and those who display particular reasonings or great delusions.

Lastly, the man on the big screen is complemented with the man on TV, as can be seen in “The Television Man: Beyond the Cinematographic Horizon.” The last few years have witnessed a creative explosion in Spanish television fiction. Television series are beginning to adopt the North American formula of the Quality TV: productions with big budgets, more cinematographic styles, risky plots, and multifaceted characters, who resist the clichés and stereotypes established on television listings. This new wave of television fiction has been supported by the emergence of video-on-demand platforms, which has driven the creation of their own productions. Many of these products are successfully being exported internationally. This chapter aims to analyze the representations of male characters that are offered in these new fictional products on television. What are the male protagonists of these stories? With these notes on the models of man, the intention is to look beyond the horizon of the cinematographic space, towards the construction of stories in the spaces of serial consumption.

The volume closes with a filmography in which all the Spanish films mentioned throughout the book are listed. Spanish films are referenced according to the following procedure: the first time it is mentioned, the title is placed ←14 | 15→in Spanish and then, in parentheses, the title in English, the director, and the year. The title in English only appears when it is referenced in IMDb. The following times that the film is mentioned, the title only appears in Spanish. All other films are left in the original.

I would like to conclude the introduction to this book by thanking all of those who have participated in it, for their academic rigor, their dedication, their effort, their responsibility in meeting deadlines, their flexibility when approaching positions, and their permanent availability to accept suggestions and proposals. I would also like to mention the translator whose scrupulous, rigorous, discreet work has made it possible for this volume to be published in English. Thank you.

Seville, Spring of 2019

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1. Juan Rey, PhD in Communication and in Hispanic Philology, Professor, Faculty of Communication, University of Seville, juanrey@us.es

1. The Man Franco Dreamed of: A Prescriptive and Dictatorial Masculinity

Adrián Huici Módenes1

It is usually a recurrent fact after a revolutionary process or a deep socio-political change that, in the attempt to modify or amend the past, another model of man emerges, usually one that is diametrically opposed to the previous one. The expression ‘new man,’ used by many of the leaders of the Marxist revolutions that occurred during the twentieth century, clearly supports this claim.

In a similar manner, the victors of the Spanish Civil War postulate (and impose using armed forces when they deem it necessary) a new type of man whose physical and spiritual definition is based on exclusively masculine attributes, that is to say, attributes that are not feminine. Therefore, the qualities of this new subject can be synthesized in the concept of ‘virility,’ which establishes a semantic field in which both sexual potency and manhood are included (mainly understood as an expression of courage and of courage in combat); the importance of action over passivity, the latter not only attributed to the universe of women but also to that of intellectuals and artists; the consideration of war and struggle as a manifestation and supreme test of masculinity; the vision of a highly hierarchical society in which authority (always associated with man) is inseparable from obedience; the patriotism and the defense at all costs of the national identity, and the high valuation of the leadership like something innate to the nature of a ‘true’ man.

It is a sexist and patriarchal vision in which a woman can only be subjugated by man, reduced to the role of mother and wife. This view of society and the individual entails a deep contempt for everything that, in fully Darwinian terms, is considered weak, which includes not only women and ←19 | 20→intellectuals, artists, and pacifists, but especially homosexuals who, under fascist regimes, will be persecuted without mercy and, in many cases, directly imprisoned or eliminated.

Likewise, the Francoist man complements the paraphernalia of preponderantly physical qualities with adherence to the spiritual principles of the Church that are manifested mainly in the rejection, often more rhetorical than sincere, of materialism, typical of the great Marxist Satan and his various incarnations. This model of man has endured for almost four decades and profoundly marks the daily life and private and public life and the uses and customs of all (or almost all) Spaniards living in Spain.

Franco and the Francoist Man

In order to redefine the roles that men and women were to carry out in this new Spain, in addition to force and repression, the regime appeals to all means of indoctrination at their disposal, mainly to education, the Church, or sports. Thus, schoolchildren were instructed in a clearly patriarchal and authoritarian model that, in the case of children, induced them to practice sports that rewarded virility, strength and even violence, while girls were encouraged to play games which prepared them for the future as faithful and submissive mothers and wives.

Mass communication emerged as one of the most important tools to carry out the indoctrination process through comics, the lyrics in couplets, radio, and cinema, evidently, which served a double purpose: on the one hand, entertainment and evasion and, on the other, indoctrination and propaganda. Raza (Race, José Luis Sáenz de Heredia), a film produced in 1941, that is to say, at the start of Franco’s dictatorship, belongs to the latter. As Roman Gubern states,1 the film’s mission to the Spanish people “was precisely to make them remember the Civil War, legitimizing before them the Francoist armed uprising against a constitutional regime.”

It is, therefore, one of the most important works of propaganda produced by the Franco regime, to such an extent that in the 1950s, it was relaunched in all Spanish cinemas (not before having been purged of the most explicit fascist elements), with the title of El Espíritu de una raza (The Spirit of a Race).

In addition to the exaltation of the regime and its leader, Raza provides the model of man favored by the Government, not only through narrated history but also through its protagonist actor; in other words, the ‘Francoist man’ (and, in his shadow, always as the negative of a photograph, the woman).

In this regard, it must be said that Franco chose the actor Alfredo Mayo for the screen as his alter ego. Mayo had participated in the war as an air force ←20 | 21→lieutenant on the Francoist side, which turned him, as Roman Gubern stated2 “into the heroic soldier of Francoist cinema, into the uniformed handsome man par excellence, a truly representative character of the cinema of Crusade, a kind of Errol Flynn of paleo-francoist patriotic cinema.”

Raza is based on a script written by Franco himself, which reproduces the Spanish civil conflict within a family, the Churrucas, which belongs to the most ancient military pedigree and seems to breed a hero in each generation. The story revolves around the Churruca siblings: José, Jaime, Isabel, and Pedro. The first three are faithful to the family tradition and the authoritarian and military model imposed by the father, a sailor fallen in the Cuban war. Among them, the most prominent is José, who follows the tradition of arms and is clearly predestined towards heroism and sacrifice for the homeland. Jaime, complementing the spiritual side of the family, enters the priesthood and, naturally, the girl not only will fulfill her destiny as mother and wife, but also as a soldier. Against them is Pedro, who does not follow the military tradition but who has also become involved in politics, aligned on the Republican side.

The story, once the Civil War begins, introduces José as a brave officer who is taken prisoner after a dangerous mission for which he had volunteered. After a summary trial, he is sentenced to death by a firing squad, but he survives miraculously and helped by his fiancée, Marisol, he manages to meet with the Northern Army.

In parallel, the convent in which Jaime professed his religion is assaulted by militiamen who assassinate him, along with his fellow seminarians. Pedro, who holds a high position in the government, is so deeply shaken by the news that he decides to abjure the Republic. Finally, he is shot while he cheers for Spain.

The Construction of a Man

In its attempt to configure the new male model, the propaganda apparatus was neither embarrassed nor was it ashamed to present Franco himself as the archetype of manhood and virility, the essence of all of the virtues of the new man who displayed many manly qualities, in purely genital terms, but in truth very few new ones. In fact, that model was nothing but the translation and adaptation to Spain - via the Spanish FalangE - of the fascist conception of masculinity to which preexisting traditionalist values were added, largely inspired by Carlism, and the most retrograde Catholic morality. In order to complete this image of male heroism, the regime appealed to the great ←21 | 22→warrior myths of the past, such as El Cid, that propaganda associated with Franco himself. As Sonlleva and Torrego point out,

man had to be returned to his traditional values by identifying him with mythical historical figures, such as Pelayo or el Cid, who embodied the patriotic-religious spirit, which the masculine gender of the time mirrored.3

In fact, the male ideal of the regime has very little or nothing to do with the person who posited himself as his ultimate model. Simply put, Franco, the real and not the one displayed on the No-Do (the colloquial name for Noticiarios y Documentales, “News and Documentaries”, a state-controlled series of cinema newsreels produced in Spain from 1943 to 1981 and closely associated with the 1936–1975 dictatorship of General Francisco Franco), hardly gathered in person any of the physical or moral features with which he adorned his creature. As Paul Preston affirms,4 without denying his value in combat, rather than as a great strategist on the battlefield, he stood out for the calculation and the ability to seize power and retain it. For the rest, his short stature, his voice and the absence of charisma, his misanthropy and introversion definitely distance him from the hero that he pretended to be.

Moreover, his renowned cruelty with prisoners of war and the coldness with which he dictated death sentences do not fit in very well with the Christian piety which he so proclaimed. Other constituent elements of the ‘Francoist man’ are his hypocrisy and his ambiguity.

The following outline shows those elements with which this man is erected to then show how they are portrayed in the film Raza.


Fascism, unlike other systems, such as Marxism or liberalism, is a doctrine especially formulated for action and supported by the strength and cult of the male body, the repository of this strength. The inevitable natural consequence of this vision is the positive appreciation of violence (with war as its highest expression) and the scorn for everything that could be deemed weak.

When fascism attributes these characteristics to man, it refers concretely to man and, in part, it does so in opposition to women, who not only lack these characteristics but who are also weak by nature. The fascists despise weakness, exhibited not only in women but also in anyone who shows artistic inclinations or openly expresses sensitivity and emotions, especially homosexuals. A man who supports values that are considered essentially feminine is a weak man and, worse still, a perversion of nature. Indeed, fascism, and also ←22 | 23→Francoism, are deeply homophobic and they show it by boasting and exhibiting their heterosexuality while stigmatizing what they call ‘deviant.’

However, as it often happens, a quality (such as manhood) constantly and boisterously exalted can hide the fear of falling into its opposite, that is to say, into homosexuality. Mary Vincent5 explains it lucidly: “Being a soldier, the quintessential masculine experience at the beginning of the twentieth century, highlighted this paradox: when entering combat, many soldiers described the experience of killing with reference to a sexual experience.” This leads to another truly disturbing issue: an “erotic fascist fascination with death,” synthesized in General Millán Astray’s “Viva la muerte” (Long live death), which, in certain cases, like that of the German SS (Schutzstaffel) reaches dimensions of fascination and pathological worship.

Another delusion of fascism is the recovery of the lost empire. As with The Third Reich of the Nazis and the Roman empire for Mussolini, for Franco it was the Spanish empire of Charles V and Philip II. One of Franco’s most repeated slogans was: “For the Empire towards God.” Obviously, such an empire could only be attained through the enlightened vision of a messianic and charismatic leader who would bring back the lost glory to his nation. Beneath the claim of transforming their countries into empires, lies, in fact, a radical nationalist conception; a clear racism applied both at the personal level (the distinction between superior and inferior races) and at the national level: nations destined to dominate and others to be subjected.

In Spain, as portrayed specifically in Raza, what is exalted is an alleged Spanish race (an absolute chimera from the ethnic point of view) that connects with the concept of ‘old Christian’ used since the fifteenth century as a criterion to distinguish the true Spaniards from the false ones. In Francoist Spain, racism is more ideological than ethnic and is used to stigmatize opponents and leftists, considered straightforwardly as non-Spanish.

Conservatism and Religion

It revolves around an authoritarian and patriarchal vision of social relations, which implies saying a heterosexual vision that is basically male, whose values permeate all areas of life, from politics or work to the family. Such values are strongly supported by the Church that not only rejects any social change but is supported by a puritanical and sickly sexual morality in which pleasure is reserved for man while, for women, everything is reduced to its reproductive role. Moreover, Catholicism also adheres to more traditional nationalism and openly supports the cult of Franco as the leader sent by Divine Providence to save Spain and Christianity. At the same time, and revitalizing the Extra ←23 | 24→Ecclesiam nulla salus, it establishes a clear division between a ‘we,’ that is, the people of order, ascribed to supposedly eternal and immutable values, and a ‘them,’ the reprobates, those favorable to change and social renewal. Catholicism—at least its hierarchy—not only adhered to the rebel movement from the first hour, but also provided ideological sustenance and legitimacy, especially when introducing the concept of the Crusade consecrated by the Spanish cardinals.

A Film for a Man

As it will be seen below, this ideology of masculinity and the imaginary find in Raza one of its most privileged propaganda vehicles for its implantation.

If in the fascist mentality, war is the privileged area for the promotion, forging and manifestation of the virile and strong ‘true man,’ Raza is an abstract of these virtues, which combine manliness, authority and violence, while simultaneously rejecting everything that implies weakness or an open expression of emotions, which is automatically identified with homosexuality.

As a propaganda work, the film shows how those values have to be instilled from childhood. Thus, he introduces the Churrucas - the mother and her four children - welcoming Pedro, the paterfamilias, a captain who returns home from the Philippines and is the living incarnation of authority, rectitude, and power. Besides leading by example (he is and will be a patriot and a true hero), the captain is the one in charge of educating his older children in the basic notions of patriotism, struggle, bravery, courage, and sacrifice while exalting old military deeds. As Teresa González Aja argues,

in Spain there is also a defense of the myth of the perfect man associated to the notion of the body, although the image of the perfect knight, or the ‘soldier monk,’ made of austerity, spirit of sacrifice but also of impassivity before spilled blood will always be closer.6

The captain lectures his children with the heroic story of a sailor who, in the trip from the Philippines, had to sacrifice his life in order to save the ship: “We faced a storm and the country asked us for our bravest. The Virgin took him. The task demanded the best and the bravest man.” This story gives rise to the idea of courage associated with the authentic aristocracy (the best) while allowing the father to make an exaltation of death as something beautiful when it occurs in the act of service and one is received in dress uniform. Then, the father tells the children the story of the Almogavars, “who carried the colors of the flag throughout the Mediterranean,” which, in addition to the glorification of warriors, alludes directly to Franco’s imperial obsession. Little ←24 | 25→José wants to know more about the Almogavars. The captain’s explanations, which place him as an authentic spokesman for the Francoist worldview, are a full combination of fascism and traditionalism, elitism and Spanish nationalist racism:

They were chosen warriors, the most representative of the Spanish race. Only his heroic name was lost, but he will always be the chosen soldier, the volunteer for the difficult undertakings, the shock or assault forces.

The terms chosen and race clearly denote that aristocratic elitism to which reference has been made. In a way, what Captain Churruca does here is to outline the figure of the true Francoist man synthesized in a hybrid of a monk and a soldier, brave and spiritual at the same time. As Ángel Alcalde states, the virtues of that man will constitute “one of the ideals of hegemonic masculinity in the dictatorship […]. In addition, this virile ideal allowed many individuals to recognize themselves in Franco’s masculine myth as a military hero.”

Naturally, a monk-soldier cannot be but fully heterosexual since, for this mentality, the sexes must be strictly differentiated and must be considered as biological essences. This rejects any kind of generic relativism, that is to say, the consideration of sexuality as something fluid and of diffuse limits, or the possibility that gender can be constructed socially and politically. This conception of masculinity, together with contempt for weakness or sensitivity, suggests that its profound repudiation of homosexuality may be due, among other things, to the fact that it implies a permanent reminder of this generic relativity.

Raza deals with making the sexual dichotomy clear and the visceral rejection that a real man must experience in the face of any form of weakness. This is seen very well in the episode in which José, despite being condemned to death, is unshakeable and monolithic in his beliefs which he refuses to renege in order to save his life, as his lawyer suggests. “My blood belongs to Spain,” he says, and he asks to die with his military medals. His girlfriend, Marisol, begs Pedro, José’s brother and now a Republican politician, to intercede for him before the authorities, not so much to save his life as to be able to visit him and bring him his medals. Pedro tells her that this visit can compromise her, but she responds almost as a man would: “It does not matter. Let him die with the consolation of knowing that not everything is cowardice.” At the time of the execution, José not only shows courage but also refuses to be shot with his back to the fire squad and does so by showing his chest with medals and cheering Spain. Obviously, for the Francoist mentality, we are dealing with a real man, a hero who not only confronts death unwaveringly, but who, being so familiar with it, seems to address it on his own terms. Mary Vincent7 ←25 | 26→recalls that this consideration of death as the supreme ordeal of virility is part of the “Legionary creed” that insisted on the idea that dying in combat was the greatest honor and that “the horrible thing was to live like a coward.”

The exaltation of manhood is also embodied in the stigmatization of doubt, the emotional incontinence and the prevailing anguish, which are all present in Luis, Isabel’s husband, who serves in the Northern Army. He expresses his pessimism at the news of a military setback and his defeatism regarding the final victory. To help him cope with it, his captain makes him see that it is just a mere stumble and, to reassure him, he says: “The Generalissimo has come this morning, and he was calm.” In this way, Luis’ weakness and doubtful character are contrasted with the confidence of his captain and the serenity of Franco himself, composed before a mere setback. When Luis leaves, his captain says to him: “If we do not end it soon, he will end up insane or something worse.”

The madness or what is technically called “shell shock” is for the military mentality a sign of cowardice or effeminacy, a term implied in that “something worse” which the captain refers to. Mary Vincent8 argues that, “the nervous breakdown was the most feminine of disorders, in the domain of the weak of will, associated with homosexuality among men.”

But Luis’ “problem” does not end here: his wife is in the still besieged Bilbao and, unable to bear family separation, he decides to defect. Fortunately, José manages to dissuade him from his intentions and says, “Do you think that in Bilbao your wife would have received a deserter?” As noted, as in the case of Marisol, both women are fully imbued with the Francoist vision of man or, seen from a distance, they adhere to the same system which oppresses them. Yet it is a system that they will be responsible for reproducing in the education of their children.

In all these ardent appeals in favor of manhood and in this heterosexual exhibitionism, it is possible to detect, as it has already been noted, a certain insecurity regarding one’s manhood and a latent fear of a homosexuality that, incidentally, is not strange in the homosocial sphere. The army, certainly, is no stranger to it, as history has shown through numerous examples of homosexuality in cultures as warlike as the Spartans or the Romans. As Gema Pérez-Sánchez points out,

the fascist fascination for beauty, strength and youth in the male body, as well as for male companionship hides the possibility of a sort of sliding from purely homosocial acts to purely homosexual acts.9

Paradoxically, the continuous positioning in favor of virility and the constant censorship of homosexuality may be nothing but a symptom of the anguish ←26 | 27→that causes the possibility of falling, in the biblical sense of the term, into it. For Pérez-Sánchez, their constant repression is an indication of “the sexual potential underlying the glorification of the masculine camaraderie typical of fascism.”10

Evidence of this phenomenon can even be seen in Raza, when two soldiers sing to the sound of a guitar, almost whispering in each other’s ears - more as lovers than as comrades - and with a closeness in body far greater than heterosexual proxemics would allow.

Another interesting element in the Francoist male imaginary is the issue of leadership. Faced with typically female passivity, a ‘real man’ must be able to command and take the initiative, even if this leads to great dangers or even death. In Raza these gifts are José’s attributes, but the model in which he is inspired is Franco himself, which was already evident in the captain’s words to Luis: “The Generalissimo was calm.” As a true leader, Franco does not lose heart in the face of adversity and guides his men to victory, always serene and confident (“Unaffected his expression,” reads the verse of a Francoist anthem). Thus, he is presented as an authentic prophet and guide (“Commander”) of his people, a reflection of the romantic conception of the hero postulated by Thomas Carlyle,11 which inspired Nazism.

Although it is evident that the propitious framework for the heroic cult is war, this does not mean that it disappears in times of peace. In fact, although it softens its most violent or mythological aspects, as Juan Simón12 states, this cult survives especially in the field of sports (which the regime undertook to promote); most of all in those, such as football or hunting, which involve physical effort, a certain dose of violence (reflected in the leitmotif of the “red fury”) and, in all cases, nationalist exaltation. Paraphrasing von Clausewitz,13 one could say that, in Franco’s Spain, sport was the continuation of war by other means.

Francoism also feeds on the traditional right, reinforced by the Catholic Church. The result is an ultraconservative worldview that promoted Puritanism, marked sexuality outside marriage as sin and supported a conception of the family in which women had to serve the man to make more pleasant what Ángel Alcalde calls “the warrior’s rest,” a typical view of Catholic morality that promotes the ideal of the “male impregnator, protector and provider.”14

In this sense, Captain Churruca is a paterfamilias who projects over his house the same authority with which he commands his ship (in fact, he always appears wearing his uniform) and, like a good soldier, spends his time together with his comrades, drinking and smoking cigars, while his wife is raising her four children. In addition, Catholicism had imposed an idea of women as ←27 | 28→guardians of morals and instincts that, being natural in man, should take care to contain. As Jesús Marchamalo remembers, “only the modesty of the girls, their fierce resistance, the numantine defense of their chastity could put out the natural lustful tendencies of the male.”15 Such tendencies were not only considered socially acceptable but even desirable in the male.

In Raza the male-female relationship reaches almost sickly levels of puritanism. Thus, Captain Churruca departs for the war in Cuba - in a mission that will surely not return him alive - and yet he does not even give a last kiss to his wife. The same happens between José and Marisol, a relationship that does not have the slightest bit of eroticism. In fact, after his miraculous ‘resurrection,’ José leaves again to the front, where he could die, but he says goodbye to his girlfriend with a chaste kiss on the forehead, more like brothers than lovers.

Another feature that points to the influence of the Church in the Franco regime is the rejection (often more rhetorical than real) of materialism, identified with Marxism. The film not only insists on the superiority of spiritual values but suggests that those who best safeguard them are the military. In fact, during Isabel’s wedding, someone comments that the military earn little money. The mother, with great dignity, replies: “But they have other assets: the fulfillment of duty and service to the homeland.”

Finally, within the framework of the religious worldview, there is another recurrent theme. Redemption and martyrdom are exemplified, in the first place, with the doctor who helps José to move to Francoist lines and who remains in enemy territory because he wants to redeem a sin of the past, his young republican militancy. Yet, the most stunning example is Pedro’s who, after killing Jaime, finds his way to Damascus and, in an authentic Pauline conversion, redeems his sin with a dignified death.


The regime which emerged from the Civil War imposed a specific type of masculinity that constituted a model, the ‘Franco man,’ which clearly prescribed what a man could and should be. Regarding the masculine virtues, the etymology itself is very clarifying since ‘virtue’ comes from the Latin noun vir, that is, male, with ‘virility’ as one of its derivatives and with characteristics such as physical strength, action, courage, resistance, and capacity for sacrifice to the point of despising one’s own death. The most suitable framework for the male to display all of these attributes is war, and his archetype is embodied in the figure of the monk-warrior, for which he must also be imbued with a certain spirituality in the style of the ancient Knights Templar. The ←28 | 29→prescription of masculinity proper for ‘Franco man’ also includes everything that a man can not and should not be, which contributes, by denial, to its definition. Thus, weakness, artistic sensitivity or expression of emotions are understood as virtues of women (after all, the ‘weaker sex’), but are unacceptable if one wants to be considered a ‘real man’ since they project the shadow of the worst of the stigmas: homosexuality.

The propaganda of the regime presented Franco himself as the distillate of all the virtues of the authentic male and living incarnation of the monk-soldier. For this, Raza presents many parallels between the adventures of José and the dictator. And, in a clearly circular movement that, in a certain way implies the negation of the temporal becoming in front of the idea of eternity, the film ends with the victory parade in Madrid and with a new allusion to the almogávares that is, the fifth essence of manliness and Spanishness, now embodied in Joseph who, saber in hand, parades with his men riding proudly on horseback. And all of this occurs under the proud gaze of the Caudillo who sees in these soldiers the synthesis of an archetype that he himself hardly resembled and would never become: an authentic ‘Franco man.’

1. Adrián Huici Módenes, PhD in Classical Philology, Associate Professor, Faculty of Communication, University of Seville, ahuici@us.es


1 1. Gubern, La guerra, 82.

2 2. Gubern, ibid., 89.

3 3. Sonlleva y Torrego, “A mí no me daban”, 56.

4 4. Preston, Franco.

5 5. Vincent, “La reafirmación”, 140.

6 6. González Aja, Monje y soldado, ibid., 75.

7 7. Vincent, ibid., 147.

8 8. Vincent, ibid., 146.

9 9. Pérez´-Sánchez, “El franquismo”, 30.

10 10. Pérez-Sánchez, ibid., 31.

11 11. Carlyle, Sobre los héroes.

12 12. Simon, “Fútbol”, 70.

13 13. Clausewitz, De la guerra.

14 14. Alcalde, ibid., 4.

15 15. Marchamalo, Bocadillos, 168.


Alcalde, Ángel. “El descanso del guerrero: La transformación de la masculinidad excombatiente franquista (1939-1965)”. Historia y Política, no. 37 (2007): 177–208.

Carlyle, Thomas. Sobre los héroes. Sevilla: Athenaica, 2017.

Clausewitz, Carl von. De la guerra. Madrid: La esfera de los libros, 2005.

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González Aja, Teresa. “Monje y soldado. La imagen masculina durante el franquismo”. Revista Internacional de Ciencias del Deporte, 1, no. I (2005): 64–83.

Gubern, Roman. 1936-1939: La guerra de España en la pantalla. Madrid: Filmoteca Española, 1986.

Marchamalo, Jesús. Bocadillos de delfín. Anuncios y vida cotidiana en la España de posguerra. Barcelona: Grijalbo, 1996.

Pérez-Sánchez, Gema. “El franquismo: un régimen homosexual”. Orientaciones: Revista de homosexualidades, no. 7 (2004): 29–50.

Preston, Paul. Franco, el gran manipulador. Barcelona: Base, 2008.

Simón, Juan Antonio. “Fútbol y cine en el franquismo: la utilización política del héroe deportivo en la España de Franco”. Historia y Comunicación Social, no. 17 (2012): 69–84.

Sonlleva-Velasco, Miriam & Torrego-Egido, Luis. “A mí no me daban besos. Infancia y educación de la masculinidad en la posguerra española”. Masculinities and Social Change, 7, no.1 (2018): 52–81.

Vincent, Mary. “La reafirmación de la masculinidad en la cruzada franquista”. Cuadernos de Historia Contemporánea, no. 28 (2006): 135–151.

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2. Traitors of the Homeland: The Stigmatization of Reds in Falangist Discourse

Lucia Ballesteros-Aguayo1

“Victorious flags will return at the cheerful step of peace and they will bring up five roses: on the arrows of my quiver.” This was how the Blue Division militiamen sang; after having fought against the Communists in Russia, they returned to Madrid in 1942, the postwar city where the cannons of the front still resounded, a city that had suffered human losses, destruction, and starvation, the consequences of a brutal civil confrontation. It was a war that pitted brother against brother, friend against friend, which caused one of the greatest massacres in the recent history of Spain. It is no coincidence that the same day that the “blue” (Franco) troops returned to Madrid, the film Rojo y Negro (Carlos Arévalo, 1942) was released, and neither is the memory of the war and the “fear” of the “red army,” to which Franco always alludes, become essential elements of post-war cinema.

At this time, cinema, like the press and the radio, played an essential role in the consolidation of the image of the new Regime, since it became a powerful propaganda weapon that allowed, on the one hand, justification for the military uprising and, on the other hand, contributed to the exaltation of the Francoist ideology and the “glorious” and “imperial” past of Spain. The civil conflict was an argument that not only was recurrent, but also one that was essential and indispensable towards artistic creations subsidized by the Francoist State and put at the service of its propaganda plans. The war had made clear a deep political, social, and psychological division of the country, which also applied to film productions, which deepened the enormous breach of an irreconcilable society.

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Rojo y Negro is a war film whose argument is the military conflict reinterpreted from the vision of the victors. It is a type of cinema in the service of the new State that aims to defend the action of the rebels (commanded by Franco) as an indispensable act to bring the country back to the “order” prior to the Second Republic, to maintain the state of alert against the enemy, to remember the “atrocities” caused by the “communist danger” and, as one of the most characteristic peculiarities of crusade cinema, to legitimize the authoritarian power of Franco –“anointed by the divinity” –and extol the “glorious past” of the deeds of Spain with characters such as El Cid or the Reyes Católicos. All of this is implemented in the film through resources such as the simplification of the message, the standardization of the plot, the establishment of prototypical models of behavior, the exaltation of heroic and patriotic feelings, and the stigmatization of the enemy. Therefore, the fear of the “Red” constitutes the axis of the plot of a filmic reality that still lives in the midst of war.

At this point the transmission of certain models of masculinity must be established: on the one hand, the soldier who embodies the national virtues and, on the other, the republican who causes the disintegration of Spain. There are two patterns of behavior that are identified with two types of man: the patriot and the traitor. In this context, a number of feature films were released such as Rojo y Negro, El crucero Baleares (Enrique del Campo, 1941), Frente de Madrid (Edgar Neville, 1939), Escuadrilla (Antonio Román, 1941), Porque te vi llorar (Juan de Orduña, 1941), Raza (José Luis Sáenz de Heredia, 1941) or Boda en el infierno (Antonio Román, 1942). The cinema of the 1940s, despite being scarce, became a witness to a historical reality –postwar Spain– marked by two symbolic colors, the red of blood and the black of hatred.

War Films

At this time in the years following the civil war, it is not surprising to note that the civil conflict is the backbone of these films, interpreted as an eschatological struggle between two antagonistic worlds, the one of the victors versus the one of the vanquished, between Good and Evil, as understood from a theological vision of life.

The reference to the red color in the propaganda of the time is not casual either. It constitutes a direct reference to the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army that had fought against the Tsarist power in revolutionary Russia. From the first years of the armed conflict, the term “red” represents the traitor, the archetype that embodies all the evils of Spain, an archetype that Franco ←32 | 33→himself identifies with “the Masonic conspiracy whose origins dated back to the eighteenth century.”1 Therefore, “red” is the soldier of the republican ranks but also the atheist, the communist, the Jew, the Bolshevik, the Russian, the anarchist, the socialist, and many more political identities and heterogeneous movements, fundamentally of the left, which the propaganda discourse reduces to the traitor, the one who fights against the interests of Spain, the one who faces the country and the common project of all Spaniards.

Thus, everything considered anti-Spanish is attributed to the “red” in a process of Manichean representation of reality. This type of war cinema is based on the evocation of a “patriotic” war with idyllic and utopian overtones that delves into the virtues and actions of the victors and stigmatizes the vanquished. That is to say, a partisan interpretation that aims to keep the civil conflict alive, and, with it, the state of alert against the “foreign threat,” while contributing to endorse not only the authoritarian nature of power, but also the very existence of the Regime as guarantor of peace in Spain. In the words of Jean-Claude Seguin,

the [Franco] Regime takes advantage of its own victory to try to promote a cinema that offers the ideological and aesthetic message of the new masters. The warmongering cinema is, then, a genre, at least for a short period of time.2

The fear of the “reds” characterizes, in the first place, the propagandistic film narrative of the nationalist side–a front constituted by the military, the right-wing movements, and the Catholic Church, who revolted against the republican constitutional order; and then, the initial years of the Franco regime. Consequently, such cinematographic representations convey a vision of the enemy associated to a prototype of “abominable” man, a man “without scruples,” guilty of all “the misfortunes of Spain” and to whom the idea of the Judeo-Christian cardinal sin is attributed. That is to say, the “red” is the necessary enemy of a propaganda discourse that is constructed from the opposition with “the other.” In the presence of this man, the patriot rises, the Falangist hero who fights “bravely” in the “crusade against the infidel,” the soldier-believer, bearer of the virtues of historical figures who achieved the most renowned “exploits” of the “glorious” past of “imperial Spain.”

This typified scheme of masculinities responds, in turn, to the control and tutelage exercised by state authorities over cinema. Román Gubern affirms that the production policy of the 1940s was determined by a “very severe political-military-religious censorship” and by a “system of selective economic subsidies” that allowed shaping the tendencies and genres desired by the State.3 After all, the order of November 2, 1938, established that,

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Given that the cinematographer has an undeniable and enormous influence on the dissemination of thought and on the education of the masses, it is essential that the State always monitor that there is some risk that can divert it from its mission.4

The two agencies in charge of censorship, The Commission of Cinematographic Censorship and The Superior Board of Cinematographic Censorship, were supervised by the army and the church. The crusade cinema, the one that “revolved around a loving intrigue as the backbone of an exaltation of the Crusade,”5 is the result of a partisan interpretation of the war like events, of a “monolithic” reading of historical events, but also a consequence of the censoring exercise that limits thematic variety. So that until 1945, more than ten orders made up a censoring plan that allowed a control over all of the stages of the cinematographic creation. Seguin states that

for the production Spanish films, censorship acts on the script, on the finished work (images, sounds and titles), on the advertising material and also on the system of financial protection of the State that can cover up to 40 percent of the budget.6

One of the features of this cinema is its submission to Francoist authorities. In this sense, the productions of the 1940s spawned in the heat of the State as part of the strategy of state propaganda, that is to say, under the “protectionism of the Administration” and at the service of the “pro-active policy of the State.”7 But it is also an industry that is determined by other constraints of the time such as the lack of resources, technical difficulties, or the complex working conditions of directors and artists. It is an industry in crisis for a country in crisis that builds, in the case of the film Rojo y Negro, a realistic and suggestive film with shades of a documentary, which, nonetheless, does not seem to like all of the families of the Regime.

The reasons for this possible discomfort may respond to the excessive political content of the film against the poor representation of the military, the realism that some sectors of the Franco regime considered to be exacerbated, and the humanization of the enemy in certain passages of the plot, from the clichés of “the good” and “the bad,” the absence of a religious conception of the story, or the lack of an ending that would show in a clairvoyant way the triumph of those who contributed to “safeguarding the homeland.” Nor is there any allusion to Franco, although there are numerous symbolic references to the Falange, to its founders and maximum exponents, as well as its patriotic symbols of historical origin: the flag, the uniform, the representative colors, etc.

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In this sense, a distinction can be drawn between the so-called “crusade cinema” epitomized in the film Raza (Race, José Luis Sáenz de Heredia, 1941) and the one described as “frustrated Falange film” that starts with Rojo y Negro. Although both proposals share elements such as the historical representation of the facts or the hybridization between the historical and the biographical, the particularity of Rojo y Negro resides “in the displacement of the emphasis and the very fabric of the military order to the civil and political order.”8 Hence, it has become “the only film of authentic Falangist conception that has ever been made.”9 It is not surprising that Rojo y Negro is currently considered one of the unique pieces of the postwar cinema not so much for its aesthetic quality, but for its symbolism and transcendence at a key moment for the Franco regime, both for its consolidation and for its exterior image.

Cursed Film

The film premiered on May 25, 1942 at the Capitol cinema in Madrid. It was produced by CEPICSA (Spanish Company of Industrial and Cinematographic Propaganda, P.L.C.) and directed by Carlos Arévalo, who witnessed the repression, hatred and terror of war. Perhaps the film’s theme results from his personal experience as a fifth columnist during the years of the conflict, perhaps because he experienced first-hand the fatal consequences of a fratricidal war that pitted two Spains.

The main plot, which centers on the love between a young Falangist (Luisa) and a young Communist (Miguel), portrays a divided Madrid, a city in conflict, where fear and terror are commonplace. All of this is contextualized in a symbolic reality that recreates a traditional society and values, together with a strong militarization of the social and the use of patriotic symbols of historical character (the yoke and the arrows or the imperial eagle) and ideological nature (the red and blue colors of FET y de las JONS, Falangist formations).

The film only showed on the billboard for three weeks. Since then, it was never shown again publicly and even all copies disappeared until its recovery in 1994 by the Spanish Film Library. Its disappearance at a key moment in the process of the Falange’s “taming” of society invites us to think that it was an uncomfortable film for certain sectors of power, if not “cursed.”10 According to Elena Díaz,

Rojo y negro meant a serious political risk to the nationalist-syndicalist revolution that had inspired the writing, acts and images of national film propaganda until 1941, but which was already swimming against the current.11

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Its recent discovery has made it possible to view “some of the most unique scenes of postwar cinema”;12 namely, Rojo y Negro represents one of the few testimonies of Falangist cinema that reflects with great realism the clandestine resistance of the fifth column in a besieged Madrid.

The film’s atmosphere is tragic and reflects the most degrading aspects of human nature: kidnappings, rapes, and murders. An element of great expressiveness is the soundtrack composed by Juan Tellería, author of the Falangist anthem Cara al sol (Facing the sun). It also has the artistic direction of José María Alfaro Polanco, Deputy Secretary of Press and Propaganda. All of them were militant Falangists.

Additionally, the use of innovative editing techniques as collages, newspaper clippings, temporary ellipses through symbolic elements, etc., make it a “very modern film for its time, situated between Italian neorealism and the cinema of the Soviet vanguard, with symbolic surrealist overtones.”13 Already the title is a prelude to the ideological nature of the story, the colors of the flag of the single party represented by red (blood) and black (hate).

Given its characters with guns, tortures, raids, etc., Arévalo’s discourse leaves nothing to chance. Even the tragic end is full of symbolism, as both protagonists die full of injustice and despair. A good example of this hatred is in the dialogues: “That is the spirit of the revolution: destruction, seizing property and suppressing the enemies of the people,” says a militiaman. Later, another says, “If we do not kill them, they will kill us. Choose!”

If anything characterizes the film, it is that it highlights the horrors of war. Pain, death, and tragedy are united in a plot that presents two opposing and conflicting ideologies: the Madrid of the “Falangist heroes” who fight for their ideals, even exposing their life to the communist repression, and the terror exercised by “the enemy.” The film reflects a collective trauma that affected all Spaniards and a war experience that will scar the lives of several generations. This confrontation is also manifested in the title crawl announcing the film, “History of a Spanish Day”:

The back-and-forth of selfishness, weaknesses and mistakes that changed epic conquests, amazed the world, by battles lost gloriously brought days in which even this compensation of the weak vanished in an air of betrayals and national disintegration.

Egoism, violence, and betrayal are present as part of a process of catharsis in the recent history of Spain. That is to say, the filmic reality shows characters marked by anguish and despair, probably the same as those suffered by some of their creators.

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The country’s disintegration appears in Rojo y Negro through the representation of a chaotic Madrid governed by fear, in which searches and arrests are commonplace, quarrels and settling of scores, and also, in a city where the relationship of two characters of opposite ideologies develops. It involves two exclusive world views carried out by antagonistic typified behaviors. The message of the film seeks to assert the Falangist ideology and the “heroic” performance of the men of the Falange during the civil conflict, first, in opposition to the traitor and guilty of all the evils of the Nation and, second, through the exaltation of the values of their ideology: national syndicalism.

Next to the communist and republican enemy, the Falangist project also places parliamentarism and capitalism among the “great burdens of Spain,” making a criticism of “the capitalists devoted to their businesses and luxury society parties.” All this is a novelty with respect to the cinema of the time. Sánchez-Biosca expresses it as follows:

Perhaps, the reiteration of images of religious desecration contributes to cover up the no less furious attack against capitalism and the upper classes that contain the last planes and that inspire the revolutionary doctrine of the Falange.14

The result is the creation of collective identities that seek to perpetuate themselves throughout the dictatorship. It did not happen that way in the case of Falangism, because its prominence was about to come to an end when in 1945 the world wide conflict ended. In the words of Raymon Carr,

the legitimacy of that system was changing over time. The simple post-war Manichaean division between victors and losers never disappeared, which, as Churchill observed, excluded half of Spain from public life. ‘The struggle between Good and Evil,’ declared Franco in 1959, when the works of the huge basilica and the cross of the Valley of the Fallen were finished, ‘never ends, no matter how great the victory has been.’15

The Danger of Communism

The allusion to the “red” danger and the foreign threat is a constant reference in Francoist propaganda. The repeated appearance of the enemy–more symbolic than real–takes place as part of a discursive strategy aimed, first, at justifying coercive actions such as censorship and, second, at institutionalizing certain measures such as the closing of borders, the imprisonment of opponents, or the state of alert.

The post-war film reality is born around two types of men that are built from a Manichaean conception of Spanish society. One of the best examples of this dichotomy is the image of the traitor, portrayed as ignorant and cruel, ←37 | 38→against the Falangist “comrade,” rendered as brave and patriotic. An iconic-symbolic analysis may clarify the attributes acquired by the “red” during the Civil War, portrayed as a cardinal sinner in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Hence, the civil conflict is presented as a “crusade” against the “infidel,” the enemy of the homeland.

The narrative, which unfolds in a tragic night where the fifth column moves clandestinely in the Madrid of the Republic, reflects the Falangist resistance as a symbol of heroism. Luisa, the young protagonist, embodies the virtues as a prototype of “being Falangist.” In opposition to her is Miguel, the other protagonist, a young man convinced of his communist ideals, who is not presented as a despicable being nonetheless. Perhaps this is one of the differences of Arévalo’s film compared to other films of the times: the humanization of the figure of the enemy. And perhaps it is also the reason why it has been labeled as “cursed movie”: for its capacity to construct a reality that, despite evidencing the atrocities of the enemy, also shows a certain human weakness and contradiction in its actions.

The relationship of the couple represents two irreconcilable political positions. The prevalence of party interests over personal interests means that Miguel indirectly takes part in Luisa’s murder. Finally both die in the meadow, a tragic ending for two young hostages of their time. They are two patterns of behavior that, more than symbolize human characters; they represent opposing ideological schemas. This is what the film anticipates from its first frames in which this duality is expressed allegorically in the structure of the story: morning, day, and night. As one can be read in “History of a Spanish Day”:

Figures that are symbols, symbols with warmth of humanity follow one another in this History of a Spanish Day. The Morning, the Day, end with the parade of their hours full of fears and hopes, in the Night, red with blood and black of Hate, that breaks, at last with a triumphant Dawn.

Then, it is not surprising that the traitorisem bodied in the unscrupulous communist, the violent murderer, and vicious characters marked by a tragic destiny–in short, arche types of evil. The scene in which a militiaman prepares to commit a rape is especially descriptive:

After a depraved party celebrated by the anarchist militia, in which smoke and alcohol permeate the environment unhealthily, the dirty and bearded face of a drunkard, with his eyes lost, stops before the camera.16

Violence is an element that runs throughout the film. It is observed, for example, in the dialogues in which Miguel argues that “you have to sweep ←38 | 39→away a lot of people at once,” or in the lively harangues of communist leaders who call “to destroy the current system” and go “to the assault of power.”

But the stigmatization of the enemy is not only limited to its identification with an opposite political program, but the “red” designation is also defined by a way of dressing and a way of speaking. As for clothing, “red” is associated with disheveled men, unkempt, unshaven, with a tendency to vices such as alcohol and tobacco, etc. Also, the use of a vulgar lexicon contributes to create the identity of this masculinity.

In this sense, the dialogues of the republicans are expressive: “We must win the revolution in the front and in the rearguard. To this end, you have to have a strong hand, the one who reeks of Church, must take the walk (code name for an execution).” Another militiaman says: “What we need to do here is to put an end to all the fascists, with all the right-wingers.” The presence of death and collective killings in the hands of the enemy follow one another throughout the entire film. This can be seen in another fragment of the film: “Must Fascism die? Yes, then every fascist, man or woman, must die.”


The night in the Madrid of the Civil War is tinged with hatred and blood in Rojo y Negro. Through the iconic-symbolic analysis of the plot, the attributes that “red” acquiresare identified as responsible for all of Spain’s misfortunes. So the filmic reality makes sense by antagonizing an enemy against a hero. It is a narrative world that revolves around two types of opposing masculinities that represent a Manichaean vision of Spanish society.

In Rojo y Negro the recreation of the civil conflict is presented as a “crusade” against the “infidel,” a type of man who gives life to a blend of characters shifting from the republican to the Jew, the anarchist, the Bolshevik, who is the great threat that comes from abroad and the cause of the greatest crimes against the homeland. A man, in short, who is embodied in the figure of the “traitor” as an indispensable subject in a fratricidal conflict. Yet, this enemy is not only defined by his despicable behavior, cinema, also, physically caricatures him as a disheveled, obese, ugly character, accompanied by an expression filled with resentment.

In short, the creation of this unscrupulous man who orders murders and generates hatred between brothers becomes, together with the traumatic experience of war, the backbone of postwar filmmaking, in general, and of Rojo y Negro, in particular.

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1. Lucia Ballesteros-Aguayo, PhD in Journalism, Associate Professor, Faculty of Communication, University of Seville, lballesteros@us.es


1 1. Tusell, La España, 15.

2 2. Seguin, Historia, 32.

3 3. Gubern, 19361939, 81.

4 4. BOE, no. 128.

5 5. Gubern, ibid., 69.

6 6. Seguin, ibid., 31.

7 7. Caparrós Lera, Historia crítica, 77–78.

8 8. Sánchez-Biosca, Cine, 128.

9 9. Fernández Cuenca, La guerra, 168.

10 10. Elena Díaz, ¿Quién prohibió, 168–169.

11 11. Sánchez-Biosca, ibid., 116.

12 12. Ríos Carratalá, El enigma.

13 13. Pérez Reverte, La película.

14 14. Sánchez-Biosca, ibid., 132.

15 15. Carr, España, 223.

16 16. Sánchez-Biosca, ibid., 137.


BOE, 5 November 1938, no. 128, 2222–2223. 21January 2020 https://www.boe.es/datos/pdfs/BOE/1938/128/A02222-02223.pdf

Caparrós Lera, José María. Historia crítica del cine español. Desde 1897 hasta hoy. Barcelona: Ariel, 1999.

Carr, Raymond. España, de la Restauración a la democracia, 1875–1980. Barcelona: Ariel, 1999.

Elena Díaz, Alberto. “¿Quién prohibió Rojo y Negro?” In El espíritu del caos. Representación y recepción de las imágenes durante el franquismo, edited by Gómez Vaquero, L. and Sánchez Salas, D., 143–174. Madrid: Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, 2009.

Fernández Cuenca, Carlos. La guerra de España y el cine. Madrid: Editora Nacional, 1972.

Gubern, Román. 1936–1939: la guerra de España en la pantalla. De la propaganda a la historia. Madrid: Filmoteca Española, 1986.

Pérez-Reverte, Arturo. “La película maldita”. XLSemanal, 18 March 2010.

Ríos Carratalá, Juan Antonio. “El enigma de Carlos Arévalo”. Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes. 21January 2020. Accessed 11/02/2019. Available in: http://www.cervantesvirtual.com/obra-visor/el-enigma-de-carlos-arvalo-0/html/01dd1078-82b2-11df-acc7-002185ce6064_2.html

Sánchez-Biosca, Vicente. Cine y guerra civil española: del mito a la memoria. Madrid: Alianza, 2006.

Seguin, Jean-Claude. Historia del cine español. Madrid: Acento, 1995.

Tusell, Javier. La España de Franco. Madrid: Historia 16, 1989.

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3. Masculinities of the Past as a Re-writing of the Present

Mónica Barrientos-Bueno1

The historical genre in cinema is as old as cinema itself. From its origins, dozens of reconstructions of the past appear on the screen that, far from historical accuracy, are a manifestation of ideals or contemporary events at the moment of their production. Paradoxically, more than any other genre, historical cinema is the child of its time. It is a form of representation of historical facts and characters that is based more on cinematographic verisimilitude than on historical accuracy.1 Without a doubt, historical films are not made for historians but for an audience that demands the show.2 Therefore, the historical genre frequently turns to history as much as to other forms of representation of the past, including novels, theater, music, and the arts, with painting and architecture as primary resources for historical reconstruction.

The structures of political power have used cinema to advance their own interests, by weaving their propaganda in a deliberate discourse. In this light, historical cinema rewrites the past, manipulates it, and conveys a new inclined vision of the historical event that, at times, ends up imposing itself in the popular imagination, as it happened with the historical film series produced in Spain during the initial years of the Franco regime, in the 1940s and 1950s. In order to legitimize the new regime through ideological considerations, the Franco government sought to rewrite history so that it worked “as an element of national identification, a balm to close the never healed wounds that occurred in that rare and volatile political-ideological mixture that constituted the winning block of the civil war.”3

Historical cinema was a very suitable narrative and production model for the Franco’s propagandistic plans after the Spanish Civil War, as “the return ←41 | 42→to historical models, and the rejection of foreign avant-garde influences was seen as a way of restoring religion, the family, patriotism, order, and authority through a construction of Spanishness.”4 In these films, cinematography and ideology are mixed with patriotic, religious proclamations and an exaltation of the greatness of the Spanish race in order to establish a model of society based on the values of national-Catholicism. In this context, effective already at the outcome of the civil conflict, “the impact of its conservative Catholic attitudes not only determined a narrow range of film subjects on overtly religious themes, but also meant that even the patterns of secular narratives were vetted those same values.”5 Franco’s dictatorship built a national cinema with these elements that responded to the needs of legitimation and ideological consolidation of the new regime, spreading a “simplistic dichotomy of two Spains. One is the true, Catholic Spain, while the other Spain is unfaithful to its historical destiny, infected and corrupted by the virus of the French Revolution and by all the later ideologies of modernity.”6 This affects the construction of the characters, as well as the model of Spanishness that each side represents.

In the final glory days of the historical genre, between 1947 and 1951, a series of historical mega blockbusters, that lingered the most in popular memory, were produced7 to become references of the cinema of the autocracy. It is a cinema of historical evocation more than of faithful reconstruction of the facts, whereby “these films encourage an exceptionalist reading of Spanish history, defined by its ‘difference’ from that of Northern Europe (especially France representing Enlightenment values).”8 In these films, melodrama sustains the passions of the characters, while various elements of an ideological nature are intertwined, such as the concepts of Spanishness, patriotism and national-Catholicism that the regime took over in its first stage.

As Juan-Navarro summarizes, the historical films of this era are characterized by

1) an exemplary and allegorical historical will, 2) a dramatic stiffness of its images and characters in consonance with the ideological stagnation that inspires it, 3) a predominance of the political over the economic and 4) the mythical over the historical, and 5) a teleological and providentialist conception of history.9

The four most iconic films of this period, all directed by Juan de Orduña, respond to this consolidated narrative and visual model. They were produced by CIFESA, one of the most emblematic film production companies at the time which addressed the great historicist project. The group of films consists of Locura de amor (Fool for Love, 1948), Agustina de Aragón (The Siege, 1950), Alba de América (Dawn of America, 1951) and La leona de Castilla ←42 | 43→(The Lioness of Castile, 1951). The choice of the time in which their plots unfold responds not only to a narrative model but to an ideological program, the imperial period as a general historical framework, with the exception of Agustina de Aragón.

Alba de América portrays not only the Columbus’ project but also magnifies the figure of the Catholic Monarchs, especially that of Isabel of Castile who sees in Columbus’ proposal an evangelizing possibility. Locura de amor features the daughter of the Catholic Monarchs, Queen Joanna I of Castile, in the leading role, in order to focus on the relationship with her unfaithful husband Philip the Handsome and the palace intrigues that seek to displace her from the throne and the public sphere, for her attacks of jealousy, maliciously interpreted as signs of madness. La Leona de Castilla recalls the revolt of the Communards against the Emperor Charles I, son of Joanna of Castile and Philip the Handsome, and the resistance of Toledo with Maria de Padilla in charge after being widowed. Agustina de Aragón shows the era of the War of Independence as an exaltation of the heroic values of the Spanish people, in a struggle against Napoleon’s troops and their liberal ideals.

In these films, the imperial period extends from the Catholic Monarchs, the Reconquest and the discovery of the Americas to the reign of Emperor Charles I, their grandson. For the Franco regime, this period is the political and ideological core in which Spain is shaped as a nation, with a strong Catholic foundation. In his desire to reissue that imperial past as a means of political legitimation, it is not surprising that the perspective of Francoist historical cinema hearkens back to and rewrites mainly these times. In the words of Christian Franco:

The viewer is shown as a legitimate successor of the epoch of greatest historical relevance in the country, which is achieved through continuous more or less veiled references, in an ideological message that fits perfectly with the legitimizing pretensions of the new government. At the same time, the audience is presented with a reinterpretation of the progressive international ostracism to which the country is subjected after the end of World War II that links these facts with a supposed international plot that, throughout history, has conspired against Spain.10

The four films portray male leading and supporting roles, such as Philip the Handsome, Christopher Columbus, Juan Bravo, Juan de Padilla and his son Pedro, Manrique, Ramiro de Ávalos and Pedro de Guzmán, among others. However, the absolute spotlight falls on a strong female character in three of the four films mentioned, which resort to the forms of a biopic with exemplary value. And they are not exceptions. These strong female characters differentiate Francoist historical cinema from the historical genre as it is conceived ←43 | 44→in Europe and Hollywood at the time.11 These are female characters infused with values associated with masculinity “and being Castilian, therefore positive values such as loyalty, rebelliousness and leadership; as well as roles associated with the feminine, such as omnipresent motherhood and faithfulness.”12 Through these feature films, with the perspective of Francoist historical cinema, different masculinities are analyzed, such as that of the hero, the traitor or the visionary.

The Positive Hero

All of the historical cinema of the Francoist regime is crossed by a same guiding thread, “an overvaluation of the individual-hero, a consolidation of the myth of the warrior and the ‘cult for the boss’ (fetishism of power) as signs of the imperialist ideology proposed by the State.”13 Undoubtedly, it is the cinematographic transfer of the cult to Franco to its fullest extent.

Dependent on honor, heroes exercise authority on the battlefield and also at home, as heads of the family, such as Juan de Padilla in La leona de Castilla. He is a father, a devoted and ardent husband, a captain, a commoner, and he is honorable, respected and followed by his own family.

The historical heroes of Francoist cinema, still subordinated to main characters, exercise their heroism individually, “yet they are always fair and idealistic, and convey values that are clearly identified with those proposed by the Franco regime.”14 They remain always ready to sacrifice themselves for the common good, in which even martyrdom is an option. This is Juan de Padilla, devoted to his cause—the communal revolt against the monarch —who does not abandon his people in the field of Villalar camp, despite having the chance to do so. It is precisely that commitment that sentences him to the gallows.

Juan Bravo, in Agustina de Aragón, is the quintessential historic Francoist hero. He is a young anti-Napoleonic peasant who commands a guerrilla group; he is a courageous, virile, chivalrous, loving son, a defender of the homeland, who is admired by all and not a bit misogynistic. In fact, he relies on the capacities of women to collaborate in the fight against the army invader. Actually he works as an aide to Agustina, who incarnates a heroine of traditionally masculinized values who turn her into the absolute symbol of Spanish independence against the French advance.

As a strongly instrumentalized film by pro-Franco propaganda, Agustina de Aragón shows how “domesticity and socializing may be admissible to the lesser man, but for the regime’s elite, constructed by an ideology sympathetic to Nietzsche’s concept of the higher man, the distinguishing feature of heroic ←44 | 45→masculinity is independence.”15 Juan, as hero and fighter, meets his demise at the Battle of Tudela. The particular journey of the hero ends with his marriage to Agustina during the siege of Saragossa in the presence of the Virgin of Pilar sculpture, followed by his death in his wife’s arms. This is followed by the most emblematic image of the film, “the one that is perpetuated in the popular imagination […], Agustina the warrior, phallic, opening fire with the cannon.”16 Juan’s depth as a hero is complemented by a deliberate sexualization and eroticization of the character through costume and visual narrative: “the open shirts […], and even the tightly-hosed crotches of the foppish males, are likely to have been a source of pleasure, both sexes in various ways, but the expense of feminizing the male by making him, through soft-focus close-ups, an erotic object.”17

In brief,

the hero is a mixture of soldier and monk, ready to abandon everyday life and ready to immolate himself on the altar of a country always in danger, always harassed. This hero exhibits univocal behavior, is often authoritarian and rigid in his positions, uncompromising in the defense of his ideals.18

There is a similar character in La Leona de Castilla: Manrique. He is loyal to the Padillas, a faithful servant of Mary and defender of his honor, gentlemanly in his manners and treatment, as well as in his way of acting and thinking. He died, injured from behind by Tovar, one of the traitors who surround the widow of Padilla, as he was completing a mission entrusted by her. Manrique embodies the figure of the heroic guardian.

Some of the heroes present positive values in relation to sexual promiscuity, understood as an indication of manhood. In this way, “emphasis is placed on a hyper genitalization, which considers sexual practices and the accumulation of experiences with different women as a way of affirming their virility. Being a womanizer is considered almost an art.”19 Pedro de Guzmán, Duke of Medina Sidonia, is presented in such light when he goes as a predisposed seducer to María de Padilla’s bedroom at the inn, while she conceals her true identity in La leona de Castilla. With the reputation of an honorable and good knight, he aspires to the love of María, despite being an imperialist, on the side that represses the communards, even after discovering who she really is: the widow of Juan de Padilla, whom he admires for his dignity and convictions on the gallows. It is a contained passion that will endure as a respectful and chaste courteous love until, at the end of his days and plunged into ruin, he pays for the burial of the lady. Together with Manrique, he also acts as the heroic guardian of María, whom he saves by taking her out of Toledo.

←45 | 46→

Alvar de Estúñiga is also in love, although in this case in secret, with Queen Joanna in Locura de Amor. His profile corresponds exactly to the prototype of hero characteristic of this genre. He is a knight, a captain, a faithful Castilian and a servant of his queen. His chastity, despite unleashing the passion in the young Aldara, manifests itself as faithfulness to his impossible love, which takes on almost monastic attributes. Profoundly religious and Catholic, he reproaches Aldara after saving him from having taken the life of a man, something that is an attribute of God.

The male heroic model, strongly virilized and heterosexualized, is presented as the model that Padilla’s son, Pedro, must follow. He is a young man longing for war, yet he is reproached by his father for letting his tears fall upon departure. He is, however, driven by very visceral impulses, such as revenge, which leads him to a useless early death.

A Traitor without Duplicity

Against the courage and honesty of the positive hero, the villains portrayed as traitors resort to pretense and trickery in order to achieve their goals. In the same way, that the hero has been an archetype of good, they are archetypal representations of evil, with distinctive physical marks like the scar on Tovar’s face in La Leona de Castilla.

As a standard, the traitor also displays a relaxed moral, subject to their interest, including its ascription to the opposing side of the hero. This is the case of Ramiro de Ávalos in La Leona de Castilla, who negotiates with the imperialists and conspires against María de Padilla, going so far as to slander her in order to provoke the wrath of the people of Toledo against her with an edict—issued with trickery—that licenses the looting of the treasures of the cathedral.

From a personal point of view, relaxed morality is reflected in sexual promiscuity and adulterous relationships. This is the case of Philip the Handsome in Locura de Amor, who incurs dozens of infidelities that provoke a jealous rage due to his wife’s obsessive love for him. He wants to be free for his love affairs and ambitions. The film discourse also uses his love of hunting as a metaphor for the love conquest. At times, it is pure lasciviousness and depicts desire for another man’s wife, usually the hero, such as Ramiro de Ávalos in his greed for the favors of María de Padilla in La Leona de Castilla.

A secondary character in Agustina de Aragón, a French soldier, is portrayed as a murderer and abuser. He moves by sexual impulses that lead him first to try to seduce Agustina in a carriage in a very inelegant way, when she leaves Barcelona, and later tries to rape her.

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On many occasions, foreigners are antagonists, villains, or enemies of the hero and the nation, as well as of the hero’s religious and moral values. Determined to put an end to the foundations of the Spanish nation, they pose the international isolation subtext that Spain lived in the stage of autocracy. In Alba de América, Isaac, the Jewish banker, and Gaston, the Frenchman, conspire against Columbus’ enterprise, either by trying to boycott the sailors so that they do not embark on the ships or by trying to get hold of the document that Columbus receives from the king of Portugal. Both characters “embody the Judeo-Masonic conspiracy that both Franco and Carrero feared.”20

In Locura de Amor, the bipolar division of the factions is also clearly exposed in the face of a question of State, the supposed madness and incapacity of Queen Joanna to exercise her position. The characters are clearly divided into two groups: the Castilians loyal to the queen and the Castilian traitors who line up with the Flemish, with the intriguing Filiberto de Vere in front, Philip the Handsome’s best friend. The monarch is motivated not by patriotic but by personal ambition. He thinks of his land, Flanders, before he thinks of Castile, which causes the clash of interests with his wife Joanna. It is she who describes him as “the most fake of all men.”

That same dichotomy is found in Agustina de Aragón:

the French are ruthless enemies, with the Napoleonic troops burning buildings, raping and massacring Spaniards. These emotive images serve not only to provoke anti-Gallic feeling, but also to recall the events of the civil war in Spain, with the French here (as revolutionaries, appropriate symbols of Franco´s Republican opponents) doubly vilified as figures of both internal and external otherness.21

Finally, some of the antagonists get one last chance for redemption, which implies their ascription to the Spanish side through love, as it happens to Philip the Handsome before dying in Locura de Amor. Only when he is agonizing, next to his wife, does he recognize her love and the lost possibility for their happiness, and finally asks her for forgiveness. The same kind of redemption is experienced by the frenchified Luis Montana, the female protagonist’s former fiancé in Agustina de Aragón, who goes from being a traitor who supports the French to supporting the side of the Spanish resistance. The break with Agustina is caused because she sees him as an enemy; she even hits him. In order to recover the confidence of the young woman, he reveals to her the plans of the French to eliminate Palafox, general captain of the Spanish troops during the siege of Saragossa. This redeems him before the national cause and before Agustina, too. In fact, he rescues her in the rubble of the ←47 | 48→bombed-out hospital, only to end up giving up his life in the fight against the French troops.

The Stubborn Enlightened Male

Christopher Columbus in Alba de América alone represents a male model characteristic of the Franco’s government’s strongly instrumentalized cinema as an ideological and propagandistic tool. Columbus is characterized as an enlightened one, a visionary who follows a divine design, solidying as a messianic hero, although never a fully patriotic one. Although God appears in his dialogues, for example when he comments with Martín Alonso Pinzón that the feat is “to arrive in the Indies with the help of Our Lord,” his motivation has little divine value. Columbus continually fantasizes about the wealth and infinite treasures that he will find in the Indies, representing “men with ambitions who are not always healthy or morally pertinent.”22 His motivations are clear from the start; he has a desire for wealth, for achieving social status, for being appointed admiral and viceroy of the conquered territories, while Isabella the Catholic only thinks of souls to add to the Catholic faith.

The enlightened character presents a flat character without nuances with whom the viewer can hardly identify. He is simply ambitious and stubborn. Far from the behavior of a seafarer, “he is a creation on the edge of several readings of man, but it never becomes a filmic protagonist in the classical sense.”23 The suspicion of a dark past looms over him, as he holds debts with Genoese bankers and has even simulated his death in a shipwreck to escape them.

Stubborn in his enterprise to reach the Indies by the western route, Columbus is as obsessive and ambitious as much as he is not generous. He has a strong conviction of his mission and of what lies beyond the ocean, although he does not provide documentary proof of his claims when the experts refute them. He jealously guards what he calls his secret, which he finally reveals to Fray Juan before leaving the monastery of La Rábida; he has a map of Toscarelli hanging around his neck with the exact distance and route to reach the Indies. Inexplicably, he has not shown it when the experts have given on two occasions a negative report to the Catholic Monarchs.

Meanwhile, Columbus also develops a romantic facet, as flat as the character himself, which needs be understood as the protagonist of an allegorical film of the Francoist state. He acts as a knight who rescues a lady in distress, Beatriz, with whom he immediately establishes a relationship without courting.

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The Francoist historical cinema is a true reflection of its time, both in its functioning as a propaganda vehicle for the ideology of the regime and in the transmission and definition of a model of masculinity that fits the sociocultural context of the period. Above all, the figure of the hero is privileged, omnipresent in the films that make up the genre in its heyday, at the end of the forties and early fifties. There are several characters cataloged as such: Juan de Padilla and Manrique in La Leona de Castilla, Juan Bravo in Agustina de Aragón, and Pedro de Guzmán and Alvar de Estúñiga in Locura de Amor. All of them convey values that are clearly identified with those proposed by the Franco regime from an individual view of the hero: the warrior, the patriot, the virile and sometimes seductive man, and the Catholic, someone who is capable of sacrificing himself for the common good, bound to account before God or history which forge their destinies. Certain touches of eroticization and sexualization of the hero that complement his manhood are not excluded.

All of these archetypal heroes have their reverse in the traitors to the homeland, characters associated with negative values: conspirators, slanderers, sexually promiscuous and greedy men, murderers, and rapists. Sometimes they are foreigners, like Filiberto de Vere in Locura de Amor or the French military man who pursues the protagonist when fleeing from Barcelona in Agustina de Aragón. Although finally, through death, some achieve their redemption, as Philip the Handsome in Locura de Amor and Luis Montana in Agustina de Aragón.

Yet, another male archetype that stands on its own, somewhat unclassifiable because he does not become the prototypical positive hero, is Christopher Columbus in Alba de America. Due to the strong allegorical and propagandistic nature of the film, the protagonist has almost messianic qualities that make him a visionary; yet he is truly driven by his desire for wealth.

The historical cinema of autocracy becomes the portrait of an era and a society. It rewrites the feats, the characters and historical episodes that, by the characteristics with which they are covered, contribute to legitimize the Francoist government as part of a perfectly drawn ideological strategy.

1. Mónica Barrientos-Bueno, PhD in Audiovisual Communication, Associate Professor, Faculty of Communication, University of Seville, mbarrientos@us.es


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1 1. Sorlin, “El cine”.

2 2. Montero, “Fotogramas”, 34.

3 3. Torreiro, “Por el Imperio”, 54.

4 4. Dent, “Constructing”, 223.

5 5. Evans, “Cifesa”, 215.

6 6. Amador, “La sexualidad”, 5.

7 7. Fanés, El cas CIFESA, 238.

8 8. Labanyi, “Costume”, 34.

9 9. Juan-Navarro, “El cine”, 3.

10 10. Franco, “Matizar”, 556.

11 11. Font, Del azul, 83.

12 12. Ibid., 82.

13 13. Pérez, “El cine”, 6.

14 14. Rosón, “Historia”, 11.

15 15. Evans, ibid., 218.

16 16. Labanyi, “Historia”, 53.

17 17. Labanyi, ibid., 49.

18 18. Torreiro, ibid., 63.

19 19. Amador, ibid., 13.

20 20. Juan-Navarro, ibid., 5.

21 21. Evans, ibid., 217.

22 22. Mira, “Al cine”, 136.

23 23. Ibid., 133.


Amador Carretero, Pilar. “La sexualidad en el cine español durante el primer franquismo.” Fotocinema. Revista Científica de Cine y Fotografía no. 1 (2010): 3–22. http://www.revistafotocinema.com/index.php?journal=fotocinema&page=article&op= view&path%5B%5D=51

Dent Coad, Emma. “Constructing the Nation: Francoist Architecture.” In Spanish Cultural Studies. An Introduction. The Struggle for Modernity, edited by Helen Graham and Jo Labanyi, 223–225. Oxford: University Press, 1995.

Evans, Peter. “Cifesa: Cinema and Authoritarian Aesthethics.” In Spanish Cultural Studies. An Introduction. The Struggle for Modernity, edited by Helen Graham and Jo Labanyi, 215–222. Oxford: University Press, 1995.

Fanés. Félix. El cas CIFESA: Vint anys de cine Espanyol (1932–1951). Valencia: Filmoteca Valenciana, 1989.

Font, Domènec. Del azul al verde. El cine español durante el franquismo. Barcelona: Avance, 1976.

Franco, Christian. “Matizar el pasado: El cine histórico de la autarquía.” In I Congreso Internacional de Historia y Cine, edited by Gloria Camarero, 552–568. Getafe: Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, Instituto de Cultura y Tecnología, 2008.

Juan-Navarro, Santiago. “El cine como alegoría nacional: La construcción del Estado franquista en Alba de América, de Juan de Orduña.” Film Historia no. 12:1–2 (2002): 1–16. http://revistes.ub.edu/index.php/filmhistoria/article/view/12434

Labanyi, Jo. “Historia y mujer en el cine del primer franquismo.” Secuencias no. 15 (2002): 42–59. https://revistas.uam.es/secuencias/article/viewFile/4250/4577

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Labanyi, Jo. “Costume, Identity and Spectator Pleasure in Historical Films of the Early Franco Period.” In Gender and Spanish Cinema, edited by Steven Marsh and Parvati Nair, 33–51. New York: Berg, 2004.

Mira Nouselles, Alberto. “Al cine por razón de Estado: Estética y política en Alba de América.” Bulletin of Hispanic Studies no. 76:1 (1999): 123–138. http://doi.org/10.1080/00074909960003102

Montero, Julio. “Fotogramas de papel y libros de celuloide: el cine y los historiadores. Algunas consideraciones.” Historia Contemporánea no. 22 (2001): 29–66. http://www.ehu.eus/ojs/index.php/HC/article/view/15814/13728

Pérez Cipritia, Agustín. “El cine histórico de Juan de Orduña y el franquismo.” Revista Claseshistoria. Publicación digital de Historia y Ciencias Sociales no. 66 (2010): 2–10. http://www.claseshistoria.com/revista/2010/articulos/perez-orduna-cine.html

Rosón Villena, María. “Historia e identidad: Heroínas en el cine histórico español de los años cuarenta.” In Actas del I Congreso Internacional de Historia y cine, edited by Gloria Camarero, 1–14. Getafe: Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, Instituto de Cultura y Tecnología.

Sorlin, Pierre. “El cine, como protagonista de la historia.” In El cine cambia la historia, edited by Julio Montero and Araceli Rodríguez, 31–46. Madrid: Rialp, 2005.

Torreiro, Casimiro. “Por el Imperio hacia Dios. El cine histórico de la autarquía.” In Ficciones históricas, edited by José Enrique Monterde, 53–64. Madrid: Academia de las Artes y las Ciencias Cinematográficas de España, 1999.

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4. Excessively Comical, Even Grotesque Men

Lorena López-Font, Cristina González-Oñate and Carlos Fanjul-Peyró1

Spanish cinema in the Franco era has been studied more as a popular spectacle than as a period of exploration of new languages and film formats. However, in this period, one can find hybrid and suggestive productions that have served as a school for later Spanish cinema. In this chapter we observe and analyze excessively comic male characters, born from one of the most creative couples of Spanish filmmakers, director Luis García Berlanga and screenwriter Rafael Azcona. The aim of this chapter is to look for the ironic, dissonant, and rebellious meanings of several characters in this kind of cinema of the mid-Franco dictatorship in order to find other dimensions hidden in humor.

This chapter will focus on certain actors such as Pepe Isbert, José Luis López Vázquez or Fernando Fernán Gómez, whom Berlanga characterizes as gut actors that become repositories of criticism of the Spanish society of the times.1 The result is a humor not designed to make people smile, but to contrast starkly with reality, to express a sense of claustrophobia in characters who are trapped in moments or circumstances contrary to their will.

Luis García Berlanga belongs to the first wave of film graduates from the Madrid film school, the Institute of Cinematic Investigation and Experience (IIEC), which he joined in 1947. From his first film Esa pareja feliz (That Happy Couple, Berlanga, 1951) his narrative is committed to stories about the stark precariousness of some social classes against others, told in the style of black comedy. In the creation of this grotesque style of cinema, Berlanga partners with Marco Ferreri and Rafael Azcona, director and screenwriter respectively of El Pisito (The Little Apartment, Ferreri, 1959), both artists, ←53 | 54→novelists and comedians with whom Berlanga explores themes that call into question customs, rituals, and liturgies of Spanish society during the height of the Franco era.

For much of the writing on contemporary Spanish cinema, Berlanga and Azcona form a master formula of the testimony of Spain during the second half of the twentieth century. Through some of his masterpieces, in addition to those cited previously, such as Plácido (Berlanga, 1961) or El Verdugo (The Executioner, Berlanga, 1963), it is one of the objectives of this text to show how these filmmakers extract unique nuances in acting from a certain generation of actors who, beyond showing different masculine personas of the moment, created a style of histrionic and hyperbolic performance known as “the Spanish characteristic school,”2 that Spain, unfortunately, could not export abroad or did not know how to. It is a dissident cinema that was not constituted as a current or a solid style, but some directors and screenwriters like those cited in this text worked individually but with great intensity. The films analyzed in this chapter had high international recognition and, if only for that reason, censorship gave way to their distribution.

Laughing in the Midst of the Regime’s Darkness

Before Berlanga, at the beginning of the post-civil war in Spain, the major Spanish film successes came in the form of comedy. Juan Antonio Bardem and José Luis García Berlanga, students of the first wave of the Institute of Cinematic Investigations and Experiences (IIEC), saw and drew from the films of previous directors such as Rafael Gil, Juan de Orduña or José Luis Sáenz de Heredia.

In the late nineteen fifties and sixties in Spain, the socio-political sphere and a film’s timeline determine to a greater or lesser degree the possibility that the films discussed in this chapter had a great impact and can still be said to be representative of Spanish cinema.

From 1950, the dark age of needing ration stamps for food during the Franco regime ended and the first echoes of general strikes and student demonstrations begin. Spanish migration to Europe begins while Spain starts to consolidate itself as a holiday resort for tourists from the same northern European destinations that admitted Spanish emigrants in need of labor. There is also a generation of university students who demand new cultural and ethical rights, and one of the last architectural-fascist monuments is inaugurated, the Valley of the Fallen. In this context, the Spanish film industry at the time, depends on the Ministry of Information and Tourism, specifically the Dirección General de Cinematografía y Teatro (General Directorate of ←54 | 55→Cinematography and Theater), with considerable problems in these years to guide its style of management due to its dual and schizophrenic purpose. On the one hand, at home, it had to repress any concerns that ran contrary to the regime, and, on the other hand, facing abroad, it had to uphold a message of a new modern Spain.3

The comedians of the 1950s assumed the stance of using humor as evasion in light of a bleak situation. The way to interpret that bleakness was to caricature reality courageously in a way that had nothing to do with the cinema of the previous decade. Thus, the laughter sought with the cinema of the 1950s is far from the laughter provoked in the 1940s. The one-act farce and the picaresque novel result in a form of realism with a complex intention that Berlanga and Azcona will alter in the 1960s.

Men of letters such as Ignacio Aldecoa, Camilo José Cela, Blas de Otero or Buero Vallejo, or filmmakers such as Frank Capra or René Clair could converge, for example, on the choice of an actor, Fernando Fernán Gómez, for the role of Juan in Esa pareja feliz. It is probably no coincidence that a year before, the same actor played Fernando in El último caballo (Edgar Neville, 1950). The fact that Berlanga and Bardem thought of Fernando Fernán Gómez for Juan’s character has to do with the fact that both characters are very close to each other.

The film historian Carlos Aguilar speaks in these terms about the interpretive quality of the comic actors of the Spanish cinema of the 1950s and part of the 1960s like Fernando Fernán Gómez, José Luis López Vázquez, and José Isbert:

The time has now come to state clearly that the cast who starred in those films are part of that cinema with such an extreme closeness and consubstantiality, that it can be reasonably argued that these archetypal films are inconceivable with other actors. The Spanish comedies of the time relied on interpreters of rare talent so that they round off the nature of the films from their perspective, nuanced on the emotional level, with their cadence, their climate, and participating actively in the work of the staging itself, with professional authority but without artistic temperament.4

After the works of Berlanga in the 1960s, José María Forqué is probably the last example of grotesque comedy with Un millón en la basura (1967). The intention of distorting reality through a particular form of realism, which began in the 1950s, was castrated because humor decided to take other more straightforward shortcuts and turned its back on the grotesque comedy, which not even Las conversaciones de Salamanca (Salamanca Conversations) in 1955 could save.

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In May of 1955 in Salamanca, different film professionals, directors, critics, writers and journalists aired their views in what is known as the Salamanca conversations. Many of them gathered such as José María García Escudero, Luis García Berlanga, Juan Antonio Bardem, Ricardo Muños Suay, Fernando Vizcaíno Casas, Basilio Martín Patino, and Carlos Saura, among others. Their intention was solely to settle the desire to change reality through critically acclaimed and quality films, which reflected social realities. In spite of its repercussion, Berlanga claimed that the approach resulting from the conversations was a failure, as they did not know how to transfer their conclusions to the rest of the cinematographic sector, and that it practically amounted to nothing. However, Basilio Martín Patino claims in the documentary De Salamanca a ninguna parte (Salamanca to Nowhere, Chema de la Peña, 2002) that Las conversaciones de Salamanca did have a deep repercussion; yet the calling for violent rupture was not fulfilled, which was what was intended.5

It seems that the kind of humor found in apparently modern romance (light love stories combined with a false sense of economic relief), the humor in the folkloric cinema (with great social impact and box office success), and the humor linked to the new children’s stars (the so-called prodigy children) made its way. All of them turned out to be great financial successes; they were conceived to have a musical and comedic bent.

Men against Men through Grotesque Comedy

Notwithstanding the above, the three films analyzed below, shot in black and white, have transcended the passage of time, and fortunately continue to dazzle the new generations who discover them. Even today, they reveal new nuances, and this is undoubtedly due to the intelligent humor with which they were conceived, and to the discovery of a star system of comic actors who were trained in reliable theater companies, and who became essential thereafter.

El Pisito. The stark literature of Rafael Azcona finds in his fourth novel, El Pisito, the great symbol of a ruthless difference in social classes. The problem of housing in the Spain of the 1950s is expressed with anger and with aversion. Azcona dramatizes to the extreme an untenable situation for the protagonist who will be doomed to marry an octogenarian old woman in order to be entitled to be a tenant in a rent controlled apartment. The already long relationship with his girlfriend and the inability to find housing pressure him to the point of deciding that marrying the old woman will solve their problems.

←56 | 57→

Azcona invites the viewer not to dwell in the risqué black humor, but to explore the exaggeration, the deformation, and the social scourge, in order to fully understand the situation of the main characters in El pisito. Therefore, the physical and mental disability, the ugly, and the boring are exaggerated to make it as corrosive as possible. Although it may seem like a contradiction, it is more about exaggerating than being realistic, but with the objective of portraying the reality in which people live. Luis Deltell says about El pisito that everything in the movie is farcical, while simultaneously, everything is dramatically real.6

Plácido. In the 1960s Berlanga was considered a confrontational director who was often hauled up before the censors, until the arrival of Plácido, written with Rafael Azcona, whom he recruited because El pisito seemed to him like a masterpiece. Since then, the best of Berlanga cannot be conceived without the work of Azcona. Plácido was nominated to the Oscars in 1961 and achieved great international reknown, among other things, for the surprising debut of actor Castro Sendra, whom Berlanga chose because he could not count on the emblematic Spanish humorist Gila. From this newcomer, Casto Sendra, the director states that he chose him because he found in him a rare humanity.7 In the words of Berlanga, Plácido is his most comprehensive work and best film.8

The plot was inspired by the pseudo Christmas solidarity of the Franco campaign, “Sit a poor man at your table,” which urged families to share their Christmas Eve dinner with different types of poor people. In Plácido, the campaign alludes to the slogan, “Come and meet a poor man,” and is led by certain wealthy ladies who hire Don Gabino Quintanilla to organize an event among the poor, artists, and rich families, with a sponsor included. This false charity exhibition disregards the real problem of poverty.

Just as in El Pisito, the starkness of class inequality is observed in the different absurd Christmas Eve dinners, in which rich families invite a poor person and an artist to their table, for whom they have bid in a previous auction. As the local banker clarifies: “Here we have all asked for a poor person; now we have to fraternize.” Ironically, it is the same banker who mistreats his employees and systematically insults the town’s children.

Plácido, on the other hand, attends to don Gabino’s requests to announce the event throughout town with his three-wheeler, but, at the same time, he must pay for a monthly installment of the three-wheeler if he does not want to lose it. Throughout the story, Plácido is desperately trying to do anything to pay up to the last cent of the debt.

Azcona’s outstanding script spotlights different plot lines in the story, allowing the viewer to follow the different experiences of several characters in ←57 | 58→an ensemble. The non-existence of absolute characters does not prevent each of them from being portrayed individually, while they are all unified under the same overarching theme, the lack of communication. The dissonance and the coexistence between poverty and wealth, solidarity and selfishness, are constantly given to deform and reveal both extremes simultaneously. Then, as a misunderstanding, the ensemble cast of the film manages to highlight the loneliness of each character. The more conversation, the more misunderstanding, all of it sugar-coated in grotesque and overloaded atmospheres, where different types of music and noises help to ridicule the situation, and the framing seems to always be in motion.

Class struggle is presented in Plácido in a deeply aesthetic way. Through the exaggeration of situations, Berlanga explains to the spectator that he suffers from the disease of solitary confinement and, that instead of looking for a cure for this social evil, his characters opt for a ridiculous charity of fiction, which helps them to avoid such communication. In Plácido, everything is hypocrisy and everything is useless, except the naked truth of Placido’s character.

El verdugo. Two years after Plácido, Berlanga again dares to confront new mystifications about Spain.9 On the one hand, he lays out a young man’s expectations for career advancement (José Luis), who, very much in spite of himself, will be forced to inherit the work of his father-in-law (the executioner Amadeo), to cover minimally for basic needs: to have a flat and comfortable access to certain basic needs. Old Amadeo, who is about to retire, feels proud of how he has carried out his work, with resignation and without issuing value judgments, and he tries to get his son-in-law to undertake the same tough profession in the same manner. But, Amadeo is not ready to see that, in the name of helping his daughter, he is letting José Luis trapped in the unbearable machinery of the death penalty.

El verdugo shows, in a positive and hopeful sense, Berlanga’s bet on the new generation of young Spaniards of the moment. A divide in values, desires, and needs is evident between the young executioner and the main executioner. And again Berlanga saw that distance, first, hitting full with the actor chosen for the old Amadeo (José Isbert) and, second, getting a character, executioner by profession, to be construed from the perspective of sweetness, naivety, conciliation, and love to family.

Berlanga’s own corrosion lies in the emotional price that the new executioner will have to pay when he finally has to perform an execution. José Luis is required to kill an inmate in a city full of foreign tourists, Mallorca. Once again, the grotesque comedy explodes before the spectator. The supportive family accompanies José Luis to Mallorca, displaying, pretending to have a ←58 | 59→very performative vacation on the island. Everyone is convinced that they are on vacation until the terrible moment in which the civil guard requires the executioner to execute a person. It seems that everyone omitted or did not want to see the real reason why they are there, living a kind of self-deception until the climax sequence. The film historian Vicente Benet describes this moment of the film as follows:

The execution works metaphorically, with the beginner executioner being dragged to carry out his work until leaving the spectator before a space, the courtyard of the prison, restlessly empty. This image is as sinister and as close as that of the old man, the retired hangman Amadeo, who hides behind his beloved appearance, a proven mastery in his deadly craft. In the conjunction of the developmentalist fantasies of the sixties and the tourist imaginary, the most incisive cinema of the moment knew how to show a very unkind aspect of idealized progress.10

This sequence alone can explain the power of Berlanga’s auteur cinema, and is considered the great symbol and the origin of why the sequence shots have been named “berlanguianos” (understood as “own Berlanga style”), a term that has transcended the artistic field to settle in the field of everyday life. And there is, without a doubt, in the Spanish language, the circumstance of characterizing a situation as “berlanguiana,” even when the person who uses it may have never seen a film by the filmmaker.


Berlanga’s men (both the film characters and the actual actors) of the 1960s keep under their pragmatic estrangement from the dictatorial politics of the times, a sordid criticism of the Franco’s regime, very strongly diluted in grotesque characters who come close to the esperpento style of Valle- Inclan. Berlanga is rightly acknowledged for his genius by managing to evade the Classification and Censorship Board of Spanish cinema that lasted until 1975. Although it should be noted that Berlanga, Azcona, or Ferreri amassed many projects butchered by that Board, which never saw the light.

These characters exemplify the premise of man being a wolf to man, of man as a destroyer, but above all of man adrift,11 who, not only does not find his place, but exudes an unbearable claustrophobia within each story. However, at the same time, Berlanga, Ferreri, and Azcona pity the viewer and offer a glimpse of hope at the end of each film.

The fall of the savings account passbook, coming from a hiding place behind a painting, on the body of Dona Martina, helps Rodolfo and Petrita look to the future with a certain degree of positivity for the future in El pisito, ←59 | 60→although the perception remains that Rodolfo will continue to be dominated by Petrita.

The inescapable true and unconditional support that Placido receives from his family; neither apparent nor fake as happens with the rest of the characters, denotes Berlanga’s commitment for the strength and personality of the lowest Spanish social classes in Plácido.

Finally, in El verdugo, the physical and psychological exhaustion of the young executioner (José Luis), when he has to execute the inmate, clashes head-on with the naive tenderness of the elderly executioner (Amadeo), who, on leaving Mallorca, warmly greets foreign tourists from the boat that takes them back home, and probably to resume a life in which José Luis will not have to kill anyone.

Somehow, the three protagonists get their prize, and the three stories end with the hope that possibly a grotesque and realistic ingenuity may triumph over the harsh present. The long sequence shots, full of secondary characters, who do not seem to stop in their unending activities, repeat in all three films. People go from one place to another in a continuous coming and going. In so doing, all three films manage to emphasize the general deformation of the plot, the situations, the personality of the characters, even the film sets. Berlanga’s long sequence shots are mythical, in which all the social strata, that Berlanga’s is interested in capturing, come and go. These sequence long shots extol Berlanga as the architect of the viewer’s attention to the lead and to the supporting actors evenly.

Spanish cinema historians such as Luis Deltell, Carlos Heredero, or Julio Pérez Perucha explain that there is not so much connection or aesthetic influence in Ferreri, Azcona, and Berlanga from Italian neorealism, as was affirmed at the end of the last century; rather, these authors created a new, experimental and more radical conception of cinematographic realism. Furthermore, they built their own language in detail, born of a homegrown humor that has become today a master class of selection, direction and interpretation of unique actors, especially Spanish comedians. Maybe the writer José Manuel Alonso Ibarrola is right when he says about Berlanga:

The best humor always flourishes under dictatorships. And when the dictatorship ends, democracy comes and with it freedom, that form of expression disappears, languishes, or degrades. Dictatorships are a challenge for the creator because, to express himself, he has to resort to humor. There is always the connection between dictatorship and humor […] Freedom came late to Berlanga. But the best of him, fortunately, expressed it from repression and from censorship.12

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1. Lorena López-Font, Cristina González-Oñate and Carlos Fanjul-Peyró, PhD’s in Advertising and Public Relations, Professors, Faculty of Human&Social Sciences, Universitat Jaume I, lfont@uji.es, onate@uji.es, fanjul@uji.es


1 1. Labanyi, “Lo popular”, 90.

2 2. Ibid.

3 3. Aguilar, “La comedia”, 29.

4 4. Ibid., 35.

5 5. Aguilar, “La comedia”, 29.

6 6. Deltell, “El cine”, 8.

7 7. Garci, “Berlanga”, 179.

8 8. Ibid., 113.

9 9. Benet, El cine, 319.

10 10. Ibid., 321.

11 11. Deltell, ibid., 2.

12 12. Alonso, “Berlanga”, 201.


Aguilar, Carlos. “La comedia española de los años cincuenta”. In NickelOdeon. Revista Trimestral de Cine, no. 5 (1996): 29–40.

Alonso Ibarrola, José Manuel. “Berlanga y el humor”. In NickelOdeon. Revista Trimestral de Cine, no. 3 (1996): 198–201.

Benet, Vicente J. El cine español. Una historia cultural. Barcelona: Paidós, 2012.

De la Peña, Chema. (2002). De Salamanca a ninguna parte. España: Artimaña Producciones.

Deltell, Luis. “El cine de Rafael Azcona y Marco Ferreri”. In Marco Ferreri y Rafael Azcona: Encuentros y desencuentros (2010): 2. UCM, Curso de Verano de El Escorial, 2010.

Garci, José Luis. “Berlanga: Perversiones de un soñador”. In NickelOdeon. Revista Trimestral de Cine, no. 3 (1996): 37–150.

Labanyi, Jo and Zunzunegui, Santos. “Lo popular en el cine español durante el franquismo.” In Desacuerdos, no. 5 (2009): 83–115.

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5. The Man in Destape films: Rascals, Braggarts, Sexually Repressed Men …

Milagros Expósito Barea1

Cinema tends to be a clear reflection of the society in which it is inserted and represented; that is why we tend to talk about a film as a social activity. There is no cinematographic trend, thematic approach or way of making films that can be separated somehow from the environment in which it develops.1 Therefore, in order to talk about the man of the Destape, it is essential to understand the social, political, and economic situation that Spain was experiencing which resulted in a series of cultural changes that affected the cinema of the Late Francoist period and, by extension, the representation of man.

Between 1966 and 1975, Late Francoism coincides with the emergence of the Destape films in Spain (1969–1978). From the institutional point of view, the Francoist dictatorship was fully configured since the end of 1966, but it was in 1969 that the first symptoms of Franco’s political weakness began to show. In general, in the mid-1960s, the dictatorship was characterized by a certain controlled opening and an attempt to move away from post-war self-sufficiency in pursuit of economic and social modernization. The so-called Developmentalism, the new consumerism and tourism begin to be recurring elements in the films of this period, at least in those understood as “cinema of sub-genres.” But before the idea of a more modern society, what remains is the perpetuation of a model of old-fashioned and stale man, as seen in films such as El turismo es un gran invento (Pedro Lazaga, 1968) or Turistas y bribones (Fernando Merino, 1969). Developmentalism became a plot that showed two sides of the same coin: what society wanted to be and what it really was. It was the constant confrontation between the traditional, the customs inculcated during years of dictatorship, and modernity in ←65 | 66→a new changing context, transforming too quickly in the eyes of the average Spaniard. These tensions between the new and the old are often expressed in the country/city duality. As stated by Huerta Floriano,

The village and the city are two of the favorite sites for the popular cinema of the Late Francoism. Through them, an image of the Spanishness is established as a combination of rural essences, linked to deep-rooted customs and ways of life with little variability. The agrarian society with its cattle and folklore that a high number of films portray coexists, however, with the representation of a developed Spain, linked to the big city, in the process of expansion and permeable to professional opportunities and unprecedented cultural and leisure habits.2

But this pairing is also observed in the role of the Spanish women who should contribute to the perpetuation of the expected moral behavior vis-à-vis that of their husbands who saw, in the erotic myth of the Swedish women,3 the importance of the opening towards the outside of the country, a pro-European Spain.

The prevailing National-Catholicism also helped create a feeling of guilt. The moral imposed for so many years made a dent in the average Spaniard who was always portrayed as a repressed subject. He was the indispensable character in most of the Destape movies. The man became the guardian of feminine decency, especially that of his wife, sister or daughter, but his virile and Celtiberian attributes were quickly set in motion before the foreigner, an object of desire within the Spanish male collective imagination.

After the celebration of the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) and its distant position with undemocratic political regimes, censorship was relatively minimized and gave way to more spicy contents and less women’s clothing.4 As Torreiro states, “the most commercial subgenre continued to be […] the sexy Celtiberian comedy, which […] used advances in census matters to become more and more sexually explicit.”5

The Destape was, in addition to gratifying for the public, a kind of symbol of recovery of some freedoms lost under Franco. The typical ingredients for this type of films were three: sex, which appears rather simulated, humor, and a script without too many pretensions, because nothing was sought beyond a typical comedy. These films would add an actor like Alfredo Landa, the most representative interpreter of this subgenre, who was nothing more than the archetype of the average Spaniard, who, in the words of Torreiro, was “smarter than smart, perennially pressured by his overflowing sexual appetite and a certain complex of guilt in their relationship with others, which he would overcome through shamelessness.”6 Despite using the term Landismo to describe this subgenre, a name that originates from this very actor, it should be noted that he did not always star in these films.

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The King of Underwear

Alfredo Landa said that the Landismo was nothing more than “appearing a lot on the scene in underwear chasing girls,” so he became the king of underwear of the Spanish screens. It was the quick way to define this subgenre of cinema that always had as protagonist the Spanish of a fledgling middle class, the result of developmentalism. As Bugallo writes,

The male protagonist of these comedies must respond to the image of seducer and passionate lover. Its internationally known attributes are hidden under the Iberian prototype: short, dark and always with eyes out of orbit before so much flesh at their disposal.7

These films sought to boost the genre of comedy, without apparent pretensions and with a bit of eroticism. They showed comically the problems and concerns that could be found within Spanish society during the last years of the Franco regime. They were an attempt to represent the everyday Spanish man of the times: a macho, a braggart, a rogue, a joker, but at the same time, a repressed man. Part of the success of Landismo was in that machinery of collective authorship that was able to synthesize the wishes and fears of the mass public in regard to emotional or erotic relationships, fundamental pieces when it comes to seeing the struggle between the old and the new.8

As a character, this man was shown excited and with a certain fear of the benefits of sexual liberation, a mission he wanted to devote himself full time, but to which he succeeded very rarely. Hence his frustrations that were exemplified with large doses of humor. Usually, at the end of the movies, the man represented in Destape films came home with his wife, who was represented as dominant and/or antiquated. The macho braggart was actually a repressed male who was corseted by morality but did not stop in his attempt to take advantage of the sexual openness, although he would always end up clashing with the most conservative traditionalism. It was accepted that foreign females could be scantily clad, but Spanish women should perpetuate the family honor and represent decency, since the husband was, most typically, the one who tried to deceive his wife, learning his particular final lesson, even when it never got out of hand with female foreigners or lovers. Del Amo synthesizes it very well:


VIII, 306
ISBN (Book)
Publication date
2020 (April)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2020. VIII, 306 pp.

Biographical notes

Juan Rey (Volume editor)

Juan Rey is Professor in the Audiovisual Communication and Advertising Department of the University of Seville (Spain). He holds PhDs in communication and Hispanic philology. His past publications include numerous articles, as well as The Male Body as Advertisement and Masculinities in Hispanic Media (2015) and  All About Almodóvar's Men (2017) .


Title: Men on the Screen