Vicente Aranda – “Cambio de sexo” (“I want to be a woman”)

Victoria Abril boy © Karmafilms

Dazzling Victoria Abril. Who, from the age of 17, could already play and play with masculine and feminine codes, dare to play one of the first trans-identity roles in the cinema in a country where homosexuality itself was still prohibited. Because let us know, it was not Almodovar who discovered and revealed it, but Vicente Aranda (1926-2015), director of this pioneering and subversive film: Cambio de sexo signifies sex change and flaps, in post-Franco Spain, like a revolutionary flag. Unfortunately titled I want to be a woman in France where it was hitherto unpublished, imagined in 1972 by the director after a tragic news item, it finally overcomes Spanish censorship to be released in 1977, a year later History of sexuality by Michel Foucault.

© Karmafilms

Franco has only been dead for two years, Movida has not yet made the streets of Barcelona feverish, and the discovery of a female identity in a young boy comes up against such a wall of violence, school harassment, rejection and humiliation. extremes that the film makes from the outset understand a logic of suicide, especially as a teenager: when life turns out to be worse than death. From the foreground, Cambio de sexo highlights it; after maternal desire and her own, it is the gaze of the other that can assign everyone their sexual identity. Strolling among passers-by, displaying a range of boyish attitudes, the androgynous body of the boy Victoria Abril averts mostly male eyes and expresses with disturbing ambiguity the great misunderstanding that a sex given at birth can be on which family, school, society agree to raise the strangeness.“Constant provocation ” towards “normal children the headmaster of the school will say, reversing the place of the victim, accusing the mother, immediately placing the subject on a political level. All the codes of this patriarchal and macho society can be read on the brutal, even bestial traits of the terrorizing and violent father who will end up issuing death threats precipitating his child’s flight, and his final release. Previously, sadness and grotesque will follow one another, through attempts at violent education and slightly counterproductive sexual initiation with a prostitute in a cabaret where the dazzling Bibi Andersen works. An initiation that will act as a test in both senses of the term, a painful passage but also an almost photographic revelation. Epiphanic. It is true that behind the flights of red veils of Bibi Andersen, a simple movement of the wrist can bring out a male penis in the hollow of a delicate feminine thicket, tracing the royally avant-garde path of a future sexual transformation.

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Victoria Abril, Bibi Andersen © Karmafilms

Before later becoming one of Almodovar’s actresses, Bibi Andersen offers her character all the transgressive energy that made her one of the first claimed and assumed transgender women. She will later find Victoria Abril; cabaret boss Lou Castel will find himself at Wim Wenders, thus testifying to a singularly prescient cast.

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Victoria Abril and the macho © Karmafilms

The aesthetics of the 1970s are very quickly forgotten in the film. There remain the men’s haircuts à la Sacha Distel, their triumphant and quivering mustaches in front of anything that smells of women ten meters away, the unbearable machismo of this era of the prehistory of feminism and even more so of transidentity. Once evacuated in the scenario the heavy determinisms in particular family, printed with an iron fist by a father of a caricatural virility, Sex combo takes us, literally, into the universe of queer tolerance surrounded by above all feminine benevolence which is here the world of the spectacle, but not devoid of passionate dramas.

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Lou Castel, Victoria Abril, Bibi Andersen © Karmafilms

Story of formation and transformation, Cambio de sexo seems to skip none of the steps that can lead to true happiness when he signs the end for some of the misfortune of being born a man, including the explanation, with supporting illustration, of the ingenious surgical operation which digs out a vagina where a penis was, allows access to an orgasm a few months later and gives birth to a woman where a man was. Without firing a shot, without claiming to be militant, skilfully avoiding any cliché, simply by continuing the momentum of tolerance and openness to others that irrigate from start to finish Cambio de sexo.

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Victoria Abril, the bottle dance © Karmafilms

There is an urgent need to discover Cambio de sexoan avant-garde UFO, an exceptional cinematographic object in terms of script, interpretation, casting and editing, not only for its scenes of pure anthology (the fiery, jubilant and moving tango of Bibi Andersen and Victoria Abril, who carries the entire second half of the film or the latter’s dance with the bottle as a penis (to understand, see the film) —but also to restore in its historical truth the anteriority of the LGBT++ film and to remember that the years 70, so corseted, could be crossed by these progressive flashes.

TECHNICAL SHEET

Spain – 1977

Duration of the film: 1 h 48
Director: Vicente Aranda
Screenwriters: Vicente Aranda, Joaquin Jordá
Performers: Victoria Abril, Lou Castel, Fernando Sancho, Rafaela Aparicio, Montserrat Carulla, Bibi Andersen

Cast: Karma Films

Music: Ricard Miralles

Photo: Néstor Almendros

Editing: Maricel Bautista

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Vicente Aranda – “Cambio de sexo” (“I want to be a woman”)