If Vicente Aranda’s groundbreaking exploration of sexual identity in “Cambio de sexo” made destape (a Spanish ‘Glasnost’ of sorts during and after Dictator Franco’s final years, when censorship was relaxed) purposeful, his next feature, “La muchacha de las bragas de oro” [Eng. Title: Girl with the Golden Panties] with a nuanced articulation of the need for women’s individual freedoms, made destape almost respectable. Films associated with this period were normally seen as little more than skin-flicks keener in disrobing rather than understanding women, not that either of these were entirely a bad thing, of course. It will, ironically, also propel the star of both the films, Victoria Abril, into becoming a household name and international sex symbol for well over a decade.
The film is set in Barcelona, where Luis (Lautaro Murúa), a retired member of the previous Franco regime, is writing his memoirs in the splendid isolation of his spacious villa, with a dog and housekeeper as his only company. He isn’t overly perturbed when his niece Mariana (Victoria Abril) arrives with her photographer friend Elmir (Perla Vonasek) – Mariana after all, is here only to write an article about his forthcoming autobiography for a magazine she works in, and also to help out in typing his manuscript.
But it does turn Luis’s life inside out, because with her visit, his real past – not the one he’d been concocting in his memoirs, returns to haunt him and his conscience. Mariana, who wears no undergarments save the body-painted gold panties that Elmir meticulously paints on her person, is a wild and carefree young woman, openly indulging in drugs and taking lovers from both sexes as she pleases. Before long, Luis also discovers that Elmir is actually a woman, and that she and Mariana are lovers. For a former Falangist, he displays remarkable restraint even when Elmir brazenly gropes Mariana in his presence.
Years ago, Luis used to love and date Mariana’s mother, Mari (Raquel Evans), before a mix-up in a darkened room forced him to marry Mari’s sister Soledad (Isabel Mestres) instead. Mari also went on to marry his best friend José María (Josep M. Lana), but not before a one-night stand with Luis. After pealing away the layers of lies he had hidden behind, Mariana finds the vulnerable Luis desirable, and even succeeds in seducing him. But a secret about Mariana’s real father will come out in the open when an older Mari (Hilda Vera) visits Luis to check up on her daughter. But will the truth really matter to Luis or Mariana any longer..?
The story, based on an award winning novel by fellow Catalan author Juan Marsé, touches upon hitherto taboo topics such as lesbianism and incest, and questions the validity of a conventional family unit in the modern age. They were shocking subjects for their time, and Aranda always excelled in shocking his audience (sometimes I wonder if this is also a Catalan quirk). In the technical department, there is a marked departure for the better from his earlier films despite the tight budget, and the soundtrack is also appealing. The film can be considered a milestone for Vicente Aranda, emerging from a genre-film maker into a mainstream dramatist, and for Victoria Abril, from a talented actress with tomboyish looks to a sex symbol of the eighties; at twenty years old, Ms. Abril was in the prime of her youth in this film. At least for these reasons, the film should be of interest for both the fans and those interested in Spanish culture, even more so after it has been released on Blu-ray.
The Nudity: Victoria Abril, Perla Vonasek, and Raquel Evans
Victoria Abril’s Mariana comes out as a hedonistic, naturist and exhibitionist, and perhaps appears nude onscreen for longer than in any other film in her illustrious filmography – obviously all good reasons to cheer about. Perla Vonasek plays the bisexual and frequently whistle-blowing Elmir/Elmira. South American beauty and destape-queen Raquel Evans appears only briefly nude on a couple of occasions in Mariana’s fertile imagination when Luis opens up about his past.