The opening nighttime scene presents people walking at Jorge Manrique Street in Madrid, and for a moment you may recall Rome and Federico Fellini´s masterpiece Nights of Cabiria, but in a matter of seconds, the women in fur coats scream and run away quickly, the police is coming for them in a raid against transvestites. It’s the early 1980s.
After the credits and the indication the film refers to reality, we watch a group of elegant women gathered at the Crystal Palace, Parque El Retiro. A cocktail of characters drinking and chatting, each one is guapa and nicely dressed for the occasion; one by one they introduce themselves to us, sometimes addressing directly to the camera, everyone discloses that she is a he, says his name and shares his life experience as a transvestite.
Lorenzo Arana Arellano also known as Loren, is the oldest one, he grew up in a small village (the worst place in the world) and left. As a butler, he used to work at parties for dukes, marquesses, counts, countesses…the high society, they were rather corrupt people. Lorenzo likes fur coats, has a comfortable place to live and speaks about what he fears most: seven o´clock, the time to make up and go out to work on the streets to sell his/her body for money. He knew what he had and also knew what men driving their cars wanted. Lorenzo says he is comfortable living alone.
René Amor Hernández, aka Renée, was born in Brussels, he´s 21 years old, has always felt like a woman, and is a hairdresser who works on his body transformation. He has to tell his mother about this process of change but doesn´t know how to do it. He wants to become a woman and live an ordinary life.
José Antonio Sánchez Sánchez was born in Madrid in 1962, he´s 21 years old and is also known as Mayte, we watch her talking about her skills by phone. She gives massages and they vary a lot from one type of massage to another.
Francisco Pérez de los Cobos Ávila aka Eva, was born in Albacete in 1959, he´s 23 years old, a performer, impersonator, and a very chic prostitute.
Juan Muñoz Santiago also known as Tamara, has felt like a girl with a dick since childhood, she is a gypsy attached to her family with whom has a love-and-hate relationship. She does imitations her own way.
José Ruiz Orejón Casado aka Josette, was born in La Solana, Ciudad Real, in 1952. He had a happy childhood and felt he was a woman from an early age. He is an artist and performs, and has good communications with his family Has a brother, Ángel Ruiz Casado, who shares the same preferences.
Happy together they talk, make revelations and give advice to each other. Several refer to acceptance and rejection in their families, and a few remember compulsory military service at the time of General Francisco Franco.
The documentary, from 1983, is a pioneer in Spanish cinema enlightening on the subject matter and far removed from morbid curiosity. For transvestites in Spain nowadays, some things may have changed for the better, and some things may remain the same in other countries more or less similar or against the law.
Pedro Almodovar´s All About My Mother, Bad Education, and other movies of his early filmography have introduced us to sexual diversity and its complexities in Spain, but this diversity is universal and you can find it everywhere. The sisterhood in the film reminded me of Camila Sosa Villada´s Bad Girls, a novel about trans sex workers at Sarmiento Park, Córdoba, Argentina; the book received the Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Prize in 2020 and I highly recommend it.
To fully enjoy this dated and intimate movie, you must speak and understand the Spanish language from Spain, subtitles don´t do justice to the rich and humorous expressions used.
The film written and directed by Antonio Giménez-Rico premiered at San Sebastian Film Festival in 1983 and was nominated for the Gold Hugo at the Chicago International Film Festival in the same year.
P.S. The movie is currently playing in select US movie theaters : for details check https://www.alteredinnocence.net/dressedinblue
Review by José Mayorga , Guatemala, Central America lawyer and notary public, visual artist, and editor of El Azar Cultural, lives and works in Guatemala City. Cinema lover, curious about the possibilities life brings and eager to live the experience.