Victoria Abril in the gender confusion of Barcelona nights

José Maria (Victoria Abril) in “I want to be a woman” (1977), by Vicente Aranda.


The vision, it must be admitted, rather fragmented that we have of Spanish cinema in France resembles a road where a peloton of artists, of a marvelous singularity, have gotten so far ahead that they seem to be racing in lonely. We will recognize in this cinephilic avant-garde a Luis Buñuel, a Victor Erice, a Albert Serra or, needless to say, a Pedro Almodovar. The latter, seen from here, will have come to personify the cinema of the post-Franco democratic transition, eying from the top of his half-century of aesthetic extravagance all contemporary Spanish production. The situation is obviously richer, more complex. The distributor Karmafilms gives us today the opportunity to judge it, by revealing this film unpublished in France which is Cambio de sexo (I want to be a woman), by Vicente Aranda (1926-2015).

A self-taught director, from a generation prior to that of Almodovar, Vicente Aranda was part of the Barcelona school, which, alongside the new Spanish cinema, embodied notably in Madrid by Carlos Saura, blossomed in the 1960s under the influence of the French New Wave. Invested, unlike its Madrid counterpart of realistic inspiration, in the exploration of the imagination, the Barcelona school finds in Vicente Aranda a fertile pioneer of the fantastic genre and the sexual thing. Cambio de sexo (1977), a project hatched in 1972 but banned by Franco’s censorship, then relaunched upon the death of Caudillo in 1975, is one of the very first films in the history of cinema to feature a character transgender.

We are here three years before the first distributed feature film of Pedro Almodóvar, Pepi, Luci, Bom and other neighborhood girlsmade in 1980and Vicente Aranda inaugurates a long-term collaboration with the very young Victoria Abril, who will only become the Almodovarian actress that we know much later.

transvestite act

This is indeed revealed by sex cambio, at the same time as Bibi Andersen – born Manuel Fernandez Chica – who would also become one of Almodovar’s muses. The bizarre dandy Lou Castel (actor with Marco Bellocchio, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Philippe Garrel) completes the cast of this scandalous film without seeming too much, and which deserves, just for this sleight of hand, ample detour .

Vicente Aranda invites us to a true story of formation, under the sign of sexual liberation, the primacy of desire and the love of music.

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