A brief review: “Cambio de Sexo” [1977 Spain]

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One of Vicente Aranda’s lesser known (and until recently, quite rare) films, “Cambio de sexo” [Eng. Title: Forbidden Love] was also the beginning of a collaboration with his life-long muse Victoria Abril. The film, about a hitherto taboo topic concerning gender identity and sex-change, remains a landmark in Spanish mainstream cinema despite any of its technical shortcomings.

Victoria Abril in Cambio de sexo (1977)Seventeen year old José María (Victoria Abril) is a gawky effeminate lad who’s bullied and harassed at school for his looks and inability to fit-in, to the extent that the school even suggests moving him to a different school. Furious at the suggestion and determined to man up his son, José María’s father (Fernando Sancho) sends him away, boot-camp style, to his uncle in the countryside to get used to some hard manual labour. What the father fails, or refuses to understand is that José María actually sees himself as a girl trapped in a boy’s body.

Victoria Abril in Cambio de sexo [1977]Consequently, the father takes José María to a cabaret-brothel to initiate him in  heterosexual sex with the help of Fanny (Rosa Morata), the lead performer and also one of the father’s lovers. Things obviously don’t go as predicted for the father and before long, José María had left home unannounced to begin life anew as María José in glitzy downtown Barcelona.

Victoria Abril and Bibi Andersen in Cambio de sexo (1977)Working as a hairdresser, María José meets and gets acquainted with Bibi Andersen (Bibi Andersen), a star transsexual performer at the cabaret she visited with her father earlier. Bibi introduces María José to the cabaret owner and also becomes her mentor by giving her some much needed worldly advice and encouraging her to train as a cabaret dancer.

Victoria Abril in Cambio de sexo (1977 Spain)As María José’s showbiz career blossoms and adulthood beckons, she goes through the familiar exhilarating, and at times painful journey through rejection, defiance, and camaraderie, and in the process discovers love. The film ends with María José successfully transitioning into a woman after gender reassignment surgery.

Even though the teenage Abril was already a well known name in Spain through TV when the film came out, she had yet to find her feet in cinema, and this film would mark the beginning of Victoria Abril’s stellar career. It goes without saying that apart from her exemplary performance, Victoria Abril is at her adorable best. I couldn’t resist sharing this rather subversive scene from a sequence that’s disturbingly reminiscent of a oh-so-innocent Judy Garland from The Wizard of Oz. The scene is anything but, and is surprisingly also well choreographed.

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Bibi Andersen in Cambio de sexo (1977)A unique product of Spain’s destape, the film succinctly captures the spirit of openness, liberty, and optimism following the end of Spain’s fascist era. While the amazing Bibi Andersen – a transgender in real life, had been a regular in Almodóvar’s twisted classics, she often played the female even when there were transgender characters in the same film; those roles were typically played by women. This is one of the rare films where Bibi Andersen actually plays herself. For followers of Spanish cinema and its evolution, this film is essentially Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon Blu-ray Link [Region 2]

 

The Nudity: Rosa Morata, Maria Elias, Victoria Abril, Bibi Andersen, and others
As one would expect, the film features several scenes of nudity. Rosa Morata and others appear nude on stage during a cabaret. Maria Elias who plays María José’s sister is seen briefly nude while changing. Victoria Abril is nude often, including a couple a scenes on stage, and Bibi Andersen performs a memorable striptease.

Victoria Abril, Bibi Andersen, and others from Vicente Aranda's groundbreaking "Cambio de sexo" [1977, Spain]

Victoria Abril, Bibi Andersen, and others from Vicente Aranda’s groundbreaking
“Cambio de sexo” [1977, Spain]

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