15 October 2021

Francisco Rabal

Francisco Rabal (1926-2001) is one of the best-known and most important Spanish film actors. Luis Buñuel’s Nazarín (1959) was his breakthrough in cinema. He also appeared in such classics as Bunuel's Virdidiana (1961) and Belle de Jour (1967), and in Michelangelo Antonioni's L’eclisse/Eclipse (1962). In the 1980s he appeared in such successful Spanish films as Mario Camus' La colmena (1982) and Pedro Almodovar's Atame!/Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down! (1989).

Francisco Rabal
Spanish postcard. Francisco Rabal in Luna de sangre/Blood moon (Francisco Rovira Beleta, 1952).

Francisco Rabal
Spanish postcard by F.A.G. Retail price was 2 pesetas.

A long-lasting friendship with Luis Buñuel

Francisco Rabal, perhaps better known as Paco Rabal, was a Spanish actor born in 1926 in Águilas, a small town in the province of Murcia, Spain. His parents were Benito Rabal and Teresa Valera. In 1936, after the Spanish Civil War broke out, Rabal and his family left Murcia and moved to Madrid.

Young Francisco had to support his family as a street salesboy and worker in a chocolate factory while studying in the nighttime at the Colegio Nuestra Señora del Recuerdo. Later on, he worked as an assistant electrician at the Spanish film studio Estudios Chamartín.

Dámaso Alonso and other people advised him to try his luck with a career in theatre. During the following years, he got some roles in theatre companies such as Lope de Vega or María Guerrero. It was there that he met actress Asunción Balaguer; they married and remained together for the rest of Rabal's life. Their daughter, Teresa Rabal, is also an actress, while his son Benito is a director.

In 1947, Rabal got some regular theatre jobs. He used his full name, Francisco Rabal, as his stage name. However, the people who knew him always called him Paco, the familiar form for Francisco. "Paco Rabal" became his unofficial stage name. Rabal joined the theater company of Isabel Garcés, participating at the editing of 'Diario íntimo de la tía Angélica' (1946) by José María Pemán. Gradually his parts increased, obtaining big success in 1952 with his part in 'Diary of a Salesman' by Arthur Miller.

During the 1940s, Rabal began acting in films as an extra – in 1942 he played his first bit part in La rueda de vida. In 1946, he became a supporting actor in the film La pródiga/The Prodigal Woman (Rafael Gil, 1946). It was not until 1950, however, that Rabal was at first cast in speaking film roles, playing romantic leads and rogues. Slowly his film career would overshadow his stage career, still, Rabal performed memorable stage parts on various occasions at the Festival de Teatro Romano at Mérida: in 1954 in 'Oedipus Rex', in 1955 in 'Julius Caesar', in 1956 'Thyestes', and in 1960 again in 'Oedipus', always under the direction of José Tamayo.

Rabal’s career went more and more towards film and he received his first award. In 1953 he won the Silver Lion at the Festival of Venice for La guerra de Dios/I Was a Parish Priest (Rafael Gil, 1953) and an award for best interpretation at the Festival of San Sebastián for Hay un camino a la derecha/There's a Road on the Right (Francisco Rovira Beleta, 1953). In the following years, he participated in various successful films.

In the later 1950s Rabal played in leads in several Italian films, such as Prigionieri del male/Revelation (Mario Costa, 1955), La grande strada azzurra/The Big Blue Road (Gillo Pontecorvo 1957), Marisa la civetta/Marisa (Mauro Bolognini 1957), and Gerusalemme liberate/Jerusalem Liberated (Carlo Ludovico Bragaglia (1957).

In 1958 Rabal went to Mexico to play in Luis Buñuel’s Nazarín (1959). The two struck a long-lasting friendship. Nazarín was Rabal’s breakthrough as an actor, playing an anticonventional priest. Francisco Rabal starred in three films directed by Luis Buñuel. Rabal’s measured performance, coming from years of stage acting training, made him for decades one of the most important actors in Spanish cinema.

Francisco Rabal and Merle Oberon in Todo es posible en Granada (1954)
Spanish postcard. Francisco Rabal and Merle Oberon in Todo es posible en Granada/All Is Possible in Granada (José Luis Sáenz de Heredia, 1954).

Francisco Rabal
Spanish card.

A wonderful actor and even better human being

Among Francisco Rabal's most important roles are that in Viridiana (Luis Buñuel, 1961), which won the Golden Palm in Cannes in 1961; and the intellectual fiancé of Monica Vitti’s Claudia in Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’eclisse/Eclipse (1962). Another outstanding role was that of the father confessor in Jacques Rivette’s Diderot-like film La Religieuse/The Nun (1966). Rabal’s third film with Buñuel was Belle de jour (Luis Buñuel, 1967), starring Catherine Deneuve and Michel Piccoli.

In 1968 Rabal incarnated revolutionary Che Guevara in the film by Paolo Heuchs: El 'Che' Guevara. William Friedkin thought of Rabal as the French villain for his 1971 film The French Connection. However, he could not remember the name of "that Spanish actor". Mistakenly, his staff hired another Spanish actor, Fernando Rey. Friedkin discovered that Rabal did not speak English or French, so he decided to keep Rey. Rabal did, however, work with Friedkin in the much less successful but Academy Award-nominated cult classic Sorcerer (William Friedkin, 1977), a remake of Le salaire de la peur/The Wages of Fear (Henri-Georges Clouzot 1953).

Throughout his career, Rabal worked in France, Italy, and Mexico with (next to the previously mentioned filmmakers) directors such as Luchino Visconti on La strega bruciata viva/The Witches (1966) and Valerio Zurlini on Il deserto dei tartari/The Desert of the Tatars (1976), but also with Florestano Vancini, Giuliano Montaldo, Damiano Damiani, Claude Chabrol, Leopoldo Torre Nilsson, etc.

In 1974 Rabal participated in the resistance against the installation of a nuclear plant in Marina de Cope, near Murcia. In 1977, a tribute to Rabal was given at the film festival of San Sebastián with an exhibition organized by Javier Espada, manager of the Centro Buñuel at Calanda. It is said that Francisco Rabal's best performances came after Francisco Franco's death in 1975. In the 1980s, Rabal starred as the old Azarías in Mario Camus’ social study Los santos inocentes (1984), based on Miguel Delibes’ literary work. Rabal's performance in Camus’ film won him the Award as Best Actor at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival (ex aequo with his compatriot Alfredo Landa).

Other memorable films in the 1980s were La colmena (Mario Camus, 1982) and Camorra (Lina Wertmuller, 1984), while in 1989 Rabal played an old and invalid film director in Pedro Almodovar’s Atame!/Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down! On television, he played Mateo Alemán in Cervantes (Alfonso Ungría, 1981), Francisco de Goya in Los desastres de la guerra (Mario Camus, 1983), San Pedro de Alcántara in the miniseries Teresa de Jesús (Josefina Molina, 1985), and the retired bullfighter Juncal in the exiting series Juncal (Jaime de Armiñán, 1989). In 1989, he was a member of the jury at the 39th Berlin International Film Festival.

In 1993 Rabal received a gold medal from the Spanish film academy. In 1999 he played the character of the old Francisco Goya in Carlos SauraGoya en Burdeos, winning the most prestigious Spanish film award, the Goya Award, for Best Actor. Francisco Rabal is the only Spanish actor to have received an honoris causa doctoral degree from the University of Murcia (1995). In 1996 Rabal gave his voice to the dragon Draco in the film Dragonheart. He was also nominated official taster of the wine of Bullas (Murcia), which earned him a street name named after him in Bullas, and which caused him to promote the wine in the series Truhanes (1993-1994). Rabal's final film was the horror movie Dagon (Stuart Gordon 2001), a film that was dedicated to him right before the credits. The dedication read "Dedicated to Francisco Rabal, a wonderful actor and even better human being."

Rabal died in 2001 from compensatory dilating emphysema, while on an airplane travelling to Bordeaux, when he was coming back from receiving an award at the Montreal Film Festival. He performed in over 200 films. One week after Rabal was supposed to receive an honorary award at the San Sebastian film festival; actor Liberto Rabal, his grandson, took the award on behalf of his grandfather, honoring his name in what was an emotional reunion of all Rabal’s old friends and colleagues. Rabal was buried in his native town, first under an almond thee, later on, reburied at the cemetery, by the wish of his wife and children.

Francisco Rabal
Spanish postcard by F.A.G. The retail price was 2 pesetas.

Francisco Rabal and Jacqueline Pierreux in El canto del gallo (1955)
Spanish postcard, no. 2723. Francisco Rabal and Jacqueline Pierreux in El canto del gallo/The crowing of the rooster (Rafael Gil, 1955).

Sources: Wikipedia (English, Spanish, French, and German), and IMDb.

14 October 2021

Paul Verhoeven: ‘Homosexuality is, of course, controversial’

Paul Verhoeven caused quite a stir during the 2021 Cannes Film Festival with his 'lesbian nun drama' Benedetta (2021). Homosexuality surprisingly often plays a role in Verhoeven's films, but in the past, the LGBTI movement did not thank him for this. What does Paul Verhoeven think about homosexuality and emancipation? In 1996, I did an interview with the director for the Dutch magazine XL. I phoned Hollywood, where Verhoeven had just finished shooting the Science Fiction film Starship Troopers. This article with the title ‘Homosexuality is, of course, controversial’ is still as interesting as it was then, so I translated it for you. The pictures in this post are vintage postcards and press photos from my collection.

Gina Gershon and Elizabeth Berkley in Showgirls (1995)4,
Vintage press photo. Gina Gershon and Elizabeth Berkley in Showgirls (Paul Verhoeven, 1995).

Did everything go well?

“I just got out of production. I filmed for seven months and now it still has to be finished. Things never go well with movies. It is war: it is about overcoming difficulties. If all goes well, something is clearly wrong. Then you take the easy way. a crisis is usually in the film's favour, because then you're walking on tiptoe."

During a survey, it turned out that Floris (1969) is the favourite youth series of our readers

“Oh, I would also have mentioned that series. Also because I don't know any other youth series. The fact that Floris has meant something to many people is evident from the fact that the series - in black and white - has been repeated so many times.”

They had also discovered 'understated eroticism' in the series

“When you let two men hang out, there is always subdued eroticism. Just like in Soldaat van Oranje/Soldier of Orange (1977). Whether that is an eroticism that takes place in the mind of the viewer or in the mind of the director or whether the two actors radiate it to each other, it is never entirely clear. I was more aware of this with Soldaat van Oranje than with Floris, but the situation of two men together offers the possibility of a hidden homosexual relationship.”

Rutger Hauer in Floris (1969)
Dutch postcard by N.A.A., 2000. Photo: Rutger Hauer in Floris (Paul Verhoeven, 1969).

Did you use this in Soldaat van Oranje to suggest something that wasn't made explicit?

“Of course. In Soldaat van Oranje there is that scene, in which the protagonists have to meet again on that steamship after their flight from the Netherlands. Erik (Rutger Hauer) then has to shovel coal in the engine room and finds another man working there, Jeroen Krabbé. Then they fall laughing on the coals, while they are partially uncovered. Basically because of the heat, but there is clearly a second thought involved."


“I do not know. That's how I saw it when we played it. You don't need to know all that about yourself either, it actually doesn't play a major role in the film - and certainly not in Erik Hazelhoff's book. But I felt like it was something that could play into the story.”

Does that also apply to the tango of Rutger Hauer and Derek de Lint?

“That is indeed somewhat identical. It's a tango scene partly influenced by Bernardo Bertolucci's Il Conformista/The Conformist (1970). In it, two women dance the tango, with a clear lesbian component. I believe I saw that film for Soldaat van Oranje. It is also influenced by Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959), in which two men dance the tango. A man is in cross-dressing and has a rose in his mouth. The scene is thus a reference to homosexual elements in other films. Homoeroticism plays a part in the youth group of Soldaat van Oranje. That is also inherent in how people are. In principle, everyone has the opportunity, whether you use it in life or only practice it in your mind.”

Toon Agterberg and Peter Tuinman in Spetters (1980)
Dutch press photo. Toon Agterberg and Peter Tuinman in Spetters (Paul Verhoeven, 1980).

It's also in Spetters (1980)

“Sure, it's in four or five of my films.”

Suppose you could make a remake of Spetters in Hollywood. What would you do differently then?

“The only thing I would do differently is build up the way Eef (Toon Agterberg) handles his sexuality more slowly. It's developing too fast now. It is not possible in a lifetime, certainly not after such an extensive rape, to come to an understanding so quickly. That takes a few years rather than a few weeks."

Would an American producer accept that one of the main characters is gay?

“I think so... well yes, but then there must be something in return. I don't think they would take it easy if it was the main character. Or the only main character. I do think they can accept it in a wider context, like in Spetters. Whether they would like to produce a film like De Vierde Man/The Fourth Man (1983) is highly questionable. Or it should be comical. As long as you don't have to seriously think about it. In itself, thinking about homosexuality is stagnating. There is more and more agitation against things that seemed to be accepted. All kinds of things are reversed. There is clearly a regression to the acceptance of homosexuality in America."

Jeroen Krabbé and Thom Hoffman in De vierde man (1983)
Vintage press photo. Jeroen Krabbé and Thom Hoffman in De Vierde Man/The Fourth Man (Paul Verhoeven, 1983).

Could you’ve added a gay storyline to Starship Troopers (1997)?

“Very difficult. That is also due to the film, which exudes a kind of puritan spirit. a fascist society is outlined. Fascism and homosexuality have of course never been friends. It was outside the theme of the movie unless you had used it as a drama element. It's not about people having inner dramas, but about a fight with giant insects. In America, homosexuality almost never appears in scripts. You can work it in as long as you keep it in the background."

In Flesh + Blood (1985), I thought, it was well done

“That was of course not an American film, but a Dutch film with partly American money. There screenwriter Gerard Soeteman could write whatever he wanted. At that time, in the 1980s, tolerance in America was also higher. It seemed to develop in such a way that homosexuality would become more and more accepted. Clinton, of course, also misjudged this when he wanted to make homosexuality acceptable in the army in the first weeks of his presidency. That was seen by the military as an attack on their sacred statutes. I think it put Clinton years behind. When I use homosexuality in my films, I usually don't want to use it as a theme. In De Vierde Man, it is dramaturgical but not thematic material. In it, you have a different triangle than normal. You get a different dramaturgy when you have a woman with two men, and you discover that those two men actually want each other. That's what I think is the nice and important thing about it: using homosexuality as a dramatic element without worrying about the theme. You're actually saying that it's normal."

Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct (1992)
Spanish postcard by Novograf. Photo: Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct (Paul Verhoeven, 1992).

That also applies to Basic Instinct (1992)

“Precisely. They were even angry about that. Is it morally acceptable? Dirty, crazy, or strange? Those questions are all swept away by considering it purely as dramaturgical material. It also has something more powerful than going to defend it. Everyone here in America is always pro-gay or anti-gay. That Basic Instinct uproar was totally ridiculous because the gay community didn't understand what I meant: 'It's so normal that I don't have to say a word about it.' That only became clear to everyone when the film came out. Then all the protests were immediately over."

Is homosexuality still a taboo in Hollywood?

“I don't believe a movie star can claim to be gay right now. After all, in the cinema, you are dealing with mainstream society. The studios still work with the idea that the stars have to sell a film. That's why they don't want those stars to be placed in any way in a light that repels the conservative part of America. Thus, any homosexual behaviour of an actress or actor is kept out of the public eye. Something else comes to mind. Why I actually project more into the gay relationships in Showgirls (1995) and Basic Instinct than into the heterosexual one is because it's sometimes easier to put emotion and poignancy in controversial situations than in ordinary ones. It is actually the same as the relationship in Soldaat van Oranje between Erik (Rutger Hauer) and his friend Alex (Derek de Lint), which has more warmth than many other relationships. Erik accepts Alex in his different thinking. By bringing two people with different perspectives to each other, you break through barriers. If you break through an extra barrier by letting love resound in a scene between two women or two men, it is more moving. As an artist, you can sometimes work better when things are against the grain. You break expectations. Erik is expected to distance himself from Alex when he joins the SS. Breaking through it gives a kind of emotion that allows you to express yourself more freely. The same goes for all controversial things in life. And homosexuality is - especially in this country - controversial. With Showgirls you expect Nomi (Elizabeth Berkley) to be interested in a man, but no, he is interested in a woman. That actually opens up the audience. That space is there so suddenly that as an artist you get the freedom to project in it."

Elizabeth Berkley and Robert Davi in Showgirls (1995)
Vintage press photo. Elizabeth Berkley and Robert Davi in Showgirls (Paul Verhoeven, 1995).

The American public did not like it that way

“No (laughs). I have no idea what happened to Showgirls. The girl is of course quite aggressive. The breaking of the female pattern was apparently not favourably received. Plus, there was no holding on to a trusted star like Michael Douglas in Basic Instinct. The viewers had to identify with Showgirls with a female protagonist who is aggressive and who exhibits a behaviour that they reject in principle - in all their hypocrisy, of course. So this whole film was basically anti-identification."

Text: Paul van Yperen, 1996.

13 October 2021

De vierde man (1983)

EFSP congratulates 83-years-young Dutch director Paul Verhoeven with his new film, Benedetta (2021) which will be released in Dutch cinemas tomorrow. Benedetta, played by Virginie Efira, is a 17th-century lesbian nun in Italy, who suffers from disturbing religious and erotic visions. Nearly 40 years ago, Verhoeven made a film about a Catholic, bisexual writer who has frequent erotic and religious visions of death, De vierde man/The Fourth Man (1983).

This stylish Dutch erotic thriller and black comedy, starring Jeroen Krabbé, Renée Soutendijk, and Thom Hoffman, is based on a novel by Gerard Reve. The film was a box-office hit in the Netherlands and became the highest-grossing Dutch film of all time in the United States. Like Benedetta, De vierde man/The Fourth Man is frank, sexy and violent, and very interesting. The press photos in this post are vintage. I gathered them when I worked as a freelance film critic during the 1980s.

Jeroen Krabbé in De vierde man (1983)
Dutch press photo. Jeroen Krabbé in De vierde man/The Fourth Man (Paul Verhoeven, 1983).

Jeroen Krabbé in De vierde man (1983)
Dutch press photo. Jeroen Krabbé in De vierde man/The Fourth Man (Paul Verhoeven, 1983).

Renée Soutendijk in De vierde man (1983)
Dutch press photo. Renée Soutendijk in De vierde man/The Fourth Man (Paul Verhoeven, 1983).

Jeroen Krabbé and Renée Soutendijk in De vierde man (1983)
Dutch press photo. Jeroen Krabbé and Renée Soutendijk in De vierde man/The Fourth Man (Paul Verhoeven, 1983).

Finding three film reels with names of men

De vierde man/The Fourth Man follows Gerard (Jeroen Krabbé), a bisexual, alcoholic writer who is invited to give a lecture to the Literary Society of the city of Vlissingen. At the train station, he cruises an attractive young man for sex, but the man embarks on another train.

During his lecture, Gerard is incessantly filmed by a mysterious woman with a handheld camera. Afterward, he is introduced to her. She is Christine Halsslag (Renée Soutendijk), a wealthy widow who owns the Spider beauty shop. The two have sex, after which Gerard has a nightmare in which Christine cuts off his penis with scissors.

In the morning, Christine tells Gerard she is a widow, having lost her husband Johan in an accident. Later, in Christine's salon, Gerard finds a photograph of her attractive German lover, Herman (Thom Hoffman), and realizes he is the same man he encountered in the train station. He urges her to bring Herman to her house to spend a couple of days together, but with the secret intention of seducing the man.

Christine travels to Köln to bring her boyfriend and Gerard stays alone in her house. He drinks whiskey and snoops through her safe, finding three film reels with names of men; he decides to watch the footage and discovers that Christine had married each; all of whom died in tragic accidents.

While he attempts to pursue Herman, Gerard is plagued by a series of disturbing visions suggesting the mysterious Christine may be a Black Widow who has chosen him as her fourth victim.

Jeroen Krabbé and Renee Soutendijk in De vierde man (1983)
Dutch photo: Jeroen Krabbé and Renee Soutendijk in De Vierde Man/The Fourth man (Paul Verhoeven, 1983).

Renée Soutendijk in De vierde man (1983)
Dutch press photo. Renée Soutendijk in De vierde man/The Fourth Man (Paul Verhoeven, 1983).

Jeroen Krabbé and Renée Soutendijk in De vierde man (1983)
Dutch press photo. Jeroen Krabbé and Renée Soutendijk in De vierde man/The Fourth Man (Paul Verhoeven, 1983).

Jeroen Krabbé in De vierde man (1983)
Dutch photo: Jeroen Krabbé in De Vierde Man/The Fourth man (Paul Verhoeven, 1983).

Pulled into Soutendijk's web, like an unsuspecting fly

Robert Firsching writes at AllMovie that De vierde man/The Fourth Man: "gained a cult following for its frank treatment of bisexuality, bizarre visuals, and an extremely sexy performance by Renee Soutendijk as a woman who may or may not have killed her three previous husbands. Jeroen Krabbe is terrific as the intended fourth, a broken-down bisexual writer who is pulled into Soutendijk's web, like an unsuspecting fly.

Bloody and erotic, De Vierde Man will also interest fans of director Paul Verhoeven, who returned to many of the same themes in his smash American hit Basic Instinct."

De vierde man was a box office hit in the Netherlands, gaining 274,699 admissions, but lower than the millions of visitors Verhoeven's previous films had. The film was more successful in the United States, where it received widespread critical acclaim and was the highest-grossing Dutch film of all time with a gross of $1.7 million. The Fourth Man earned the 1983 International Critics' Award at the Toronto International Film Festival and was nominated for the 1983 Gold Hugo for Best Feature Award at the Chicago International Film Festival

At Roger Ebert.com, Peter Sobczynski writes that De vierde man is one of "Verhoeven’s most interesting films. (...) For more than 45 years, director Paul Verhoeven has been shocking and entertaining audiences, both in his homeland of the Netherlands and in Hollywood, with a series of heady cinematic cocktails that mix explicit violence and sexuality, cutting narratives, plenty of social commentary and levels of moral ambiguity rarely seen in contemporary commercial cinema.

Needless to say, his jabs at cinematic propriety have not always found favor with critics and audiences at the time they were released. But to look at them today, divorced from all the controversies that often surrounded them during their initial distributions, one can finally appreciate him as one of the most audacious filmmakers of our time—one of the few whose works could comfortably play in both the toniest of art houses and the sleaziest of grind houses and seem perfectly at home in either one."

Jeroen Krabbé and Renée Soutendijk in De vierde man (1983)
Dutch press photo. Jeroen Krabbé and Renée Soutendijk in De vierde man/The Fourth Man (Paul Verhoeven, 1983).

Jeroen Krabbé and Thom Hoffman in De vierde man (1983)
Dutch press photo. Jeroen Krabbé and Thom Hoffman in De vierde man/The Fourth Man (Paul Verhoeven, 1983).

Geert de Jong in De vierde man (1983)
Dutch press photo. Geert de Jong in De vierde man/The Fourth Man (Paul Verhoeven, 1983).

Thom Hoffman in De vierde man (1983)
Dutch press photo. Thom Hoffman in De vierde man/The Fourth Man (Paul Verhoeven, 1983).

Jeroen Krabbé in De vierde man (1983)
Dutch press photo. Jeroen Krabbé in De vierde man/The Fourth Man (Paul Verhoeven, 1983).

Sources: Peter Sobczynski (Roger Ebert.com), Robert Firsching (AllMovie), Wikipedia, and IMDb.