Times Staff Writer

In the pre-credits sequence of Spanish film maker Eloy de la Iglesia’s impassioned and compelling “Hidden Pleasures” (at the Los Feliz), a handsome, 40ish man pays a young hustler.

The older man (Simon Andreu) would seem to have everything: looks, the directorship of a major Madrid bank, social position. A classic Latin macho type, the banker easily conceals his homosexuality in his social and business world and is content to remain unattached in his private life, picking up street kids for sex.

Consequently, he’s as unprepared for the impact of true love as is the object of his obsession, a poor youth (Tony Fuentes) who believes that the interest Andreu has taken in him is purely platonic.

Made in 1977, “Hidden Pleasures” is the 10th of the 20 features De la Iglesia, now only 40, has made since 1966 and marks the beginning of his ongoing collaboration with writer Gonzalo Goicoecha. One of the first militant Spanish gay films of the post-Franco era, “Hidden Pleasures” anticipates “El Diputado” (“The Deputy,” 1978), the only other De la Iglesia film to be released in the United States.


“Hidden Pleasures” is impressive in its own right as a work of courage, honesty and commitment. (If anything, it rings truer than “Parting Glances” or “My Beautiful Laundrette.”) It shows its age in the wide ties and lapels of the men’s clothes and in some of its heavily didactic gay-lib sentiments, but it is timeless in its grasp of human nature.

Stunned by Andreu’s inevitable declaration of love, Fuentes eventually is able to accept him--but only as a friend. Since they do not, in fact, have sex, Andreu sees no danger to himself or to his beloved in spending so much time with him and his beautiful fiancee (Beatriz Rossat), who realizes that Andreu is in love with Fuentes. But Andreu does not reckon with the impact of his relationship with Fuentes in the boy’s own impoverished and uneducated world, where Andreu has so openly prowled the streets in search of sex.

As critical as De la Iglesia is of homophobic ignorance and hypocrisy at all levels of society, he is hardest on Andreu. With relentless, indisputable logic, De la Iglesia, who is openly gay himself, demonstrates that because of his refusal to come out of his closet, the banker is ultimately responsible for all that happens.

One couldn’t ask for finer performances, which enable one to care what happens to Andreu’s essentially decent banker as well as Fuentes. The sensual Charo Lopez is Fuentes’ erstwhile mistress, and Carman Platero is the banker’s mother who, on her deathbed, conveys in a roundabout way that she knows her son is gay and urges him not to live his life alone.


German Cobos is Andreu’s longtime friend (and former lover), now a militant gay activist. “Hidden Pleasures” (Times-rated Mature for some nudity, adult themes) is not the confident, ambitious allegory that “El Diputado” is, but it’s sustained through occasional heavy-handed moments by its implacable, driving force.