Iglesia, Eloy de la

(1944-2004)
   Eloy de la Iglesia's work has come to represent the spirit of the Spanish Transition on film. Few directors were so popular among audiences eager to know about the more shocking aspects of society; still fewer substantial directors have ever been so harshly dismissed by critics, who labeled his work sensationalistic, crass, clumsy, cheap, and a bit too homoerotic for their taste. Consequently, his career became increasingly more precarious as audiences sought different thrills. But his films of the period 1975-84 constitute an accurate, intense portrait of the contradictions of the period, brimming with personal insights. De la Iglesia came from a wealthy Baracaldo family, in the Basque country, and always knew film was his vocation. He was also unbendingly Left-wing in a period when this could mean a jail sentence. His films of the 1960s and early 1970s, produced on the margins of the industry, are shocking and sometimes trashy. He leaned toward the horror and suspense that was a trend in European cinema, mixed with a subtle dose of social criticism. Among them, La semana del asesino (The Killer's Week / Cannibal Man, 1972) remains striking and as close to an underground masterpiece as one can imagine. It tells the story of a food factory worker on a killing spree. In a gesture worthy of Sweeney Todd, he puts the limbs and entrails of his rotting victims through the factory machines, mixing human flesh with processed food for retail. Una gota de sangre para morir amando (One Drop of Blood to Go On Loving, 1973), starring Sue Lyon, took inspiration from Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, mixing horror and science fiction. As the Transition approached and possibilities for ex-pression widened, De la Iglesia abandoned symbolism and used more literal approaches to realism. The film that marks a turning point in his career is Juego de amor prohibido (Game of Forbidden Love, 1975). It was almost destroyed by the censors, although one can still see a very unusual story about a Nietzsche-quoting university professor who kidnaps two of his students and takes them to his mansion.
   From then on, de la Iglesia went into a phase characterized by social realism. Such issue-centered films were typical of the late 1970s and early 1980s, but no one was as consistently bold and sympathetic in representing the margins of society, particularly the lives of young delinquents. In many of them, de la Iglesia shows a Pasolini-like fascination for working-class youths, not unlike that of the protagonist of Los placeres ocultos (Hidden Pleasures, 1977), a film on a closet homosexual coming to terms with his tendencies. From that moment on, he tackled, breathlessly, bluntly, and not always tastefully, subjects such as the Church's hypocrisy (El sacerdote [ The Priest ], 1978), class relations (La otra alcoba [ The Other Bedroom ], 1976), bourgeois fear (Miedo a salir de noche [ Fear to Go Out ], 1979), juvenile delinquency (Navajeros [ Knivers ], 1980), homosexuality and politics (El diputado [ The Member of Parliament ], 1978), drugs and terrorism (El pico [ The Fix ] 1983), even bestialism (La criatura [ The Creature ], 1977). As he ran out of issues to dissect, together with changes in audiences, his output became less steady.
   Otra vuelta de tuerca (Turn of the Screw, 1985), the last film before semi-retirement, is a good adaptation of Henry James's novella The Turn of the Screw. Personal problems kept him largely out of the movies for a decade, and de la Iglesia only shot sporadically in the 1990s. La estanquera de Vallecas (The Tobacco Seller of Vallecas, 1987), based on a stage comedy, is probably his most conventional film, but one can still see his empathy and fascination with the lower classes and juvenile delinquents, this time in a costumbrismo key. His last film was Los novios búlgaros (The Bulgarian Boyfriends, 2003), based on a best-selling novel by Eduardo Mendicutti about a middle-aged homosexual and his Bulgarian rentboy lover. The combination was promising, as few directors could understand Mendicutti's background better, and this was after all the boldest Spanish director and the first to deal with homosexuality. But somehow the new gay community did not take to the shrillness and obviousness of his approach, which now seemed oddly old-fashioned. He died in 2004 from a drug-related illness.
   Historical Dictionary of Spanish Cinema by Alberto Mira

Guide to cinema. . 2011.

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