the little thugs of Eloy de la Iglesia

“Colegas” (1982), by Eloy de la Iglesia.

Editions Artus Films, tirelessly exploring the gems of bis and exploitation cinema, are enriching their catalog with a remarkable box set dedicated to the Spanish director Eloy de la Iglesia (1944-2006). Active mainly in the 1970s-1980s, in a period of post-Franco transition marked by a relaxation of censorship, the filmmaker remains as little known in France as the commercial cinema in which he worked was poorly distributed, i.e. a whole section of Iberian production still remains to be discovered.

The three films brought together here – Colegas (1982), Drug addict’s helle (El pico1983) and Drug Hell 2 (El pico 21984) – offer so many flagships of “quinqui” cinema, featuring juvenile delinquents in their struggles with , a vein which boomed between 1977 and 1988. Coming from gypsy slang, the term refers to basis the quincallerosthe “scrap dealers”, and, by slippage, ended up including outlaws and small thugs populating the films of the same name.

Like what the Filipino did Lino Brocka (1939-1991) with melodrama or Paul Verhoeven within the Dutch Sex Wave of the 1970s, Eloy de la Iglesia was a strategist of impurity, infiltrating popular genres (fantasy, thriller, urban chronicle) to better convert them into social testimony, into political striking force. The “quinqui” first sets an urban scene: wasteland or slippery ground, a slope down which one falls.

Colegas thus takes as its setting the suburbs of Madrid and a bar of buildings which obstruct the horizon. Two young next-door neighbors struggle to find the money needed for a clandestine abortion – one’s sister is pregnant with the other – and end up playing mules for a cocaine trafficker. El pico opens, for its part, in the gloomy grayness of Bilbao, a Basque city under the double lead of ETA terrorism and hard drug trafficking. The film traces the fall of a high school student, the son of a good military family, into the spiral of no return from heroin: consumption calls for easy money, and therefore the deal, but also lack, and then crime. The second part follows the same hero during his stay in prison, strewn with violence, then his desperate flight into hiding.

silent irony

Eloy de la Iglesia operates directly at the heart of the convention: the action, the adventures, the incessant reversals refer by contact to a social environment (everything is filmed in situ, in the streets of the cities), and draw an insolent way, without -embarrment, to expose its turpitudes. Through the relentless sequence of the story, its dry, tough slaughter, the filmmaker reveals mechanisms, structures.

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