The Bilingual Lover

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El Amante Bilingüe
El amante Bilingue, film poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Vicente Aranda
Produced by Andrés Vicente Gómez
Written by Vicente Aranda
Starring Imanol Arias
Ornella Muti
Loles León
Javier Bardem
Music by José Nieto
Cinematography Juan Amorós
Edited by Teresa Font
Distributed by Lola Films
Release dates
  • 1 April 1993 (1993-04-01) (Spain)
  • 8 June 1993 (1993-06-08) (Italy)
Running time
113 minutes
Country Spain
Language Spanish Catalan
Budget P163,969,792

The Bilingual Lover (Spanish: El Amante Bilingüe) is a 1993 Spanish film, written and directed by Vicente Aranda adapted from a novel by Juan Marsé. It stars Imanol Arias, Ornella Muti and Loles León. The film is a grotesque drama with some elements of comedy. Set in Barcelona in the 1980s, El Amante Bilingüe takes an ironic approach to Catalonian linguistic policies, nationalism and eroticism with a pattern of double identity (based on elements from the author's life).


Juan Marés (an anagram of the author's name) is a Catalan man from a humble background, the son of a frustrated zarzuela seamstress and an illusionist known as Fu-Ching, the magician. He grew up in Barcelona during the 1950s, dreaming of leaving his poverty behind. In December 1970, he meets his future wife. He was in a photograph exhibit, when just coincidence involved him with a group who was organizing a hunger strike for four days in protest of the Burgos trial verdict. There, he meets Norma Valenti, the only daughter of a wealthy family of traditional and conservative Catalan background. In spite of big economical, social and cultural differences between them, Juan and Norma get married.

Norma works for the department of linguistics of Generalitat while Juan or Joan, his Catalan name, is overwhelmed by the social position acquired through the marriage. There is little use in Marés’ new life for his skills as ventriloquist or accordion player. After five years, the marriage starts to fall apart, when Norma’s real character comes to the surface. The beautiful Norma is a proud, cold woman with dark sexual tendencies. She has a special attraction for low class men who are “xarnegos”. Norma also has a particular fetish with shoes, the men she sleeps with have to hold a shoe with the sole force of their erection. Juan returns home one evening, earlier than expected. He finds his unfaithful wife having sex with a shoe shiner xarnego. Face with proof of her infidelity, Norma, tired of her husband, just leaves him for good.

Juan keeps the apartment he used to share with his wife but without her support he is reduced to scratch a living from the streets playing the accordion and begging for money in La Rambla. While performing on the streets, he is caught in the middle of a confrontation between a pro-Catalan language group and a Spanish right wing extremists. Juan plays Els Segadors, which makes him a target of the extremists who throw a Molotov cocktail at him, burning him.

Horribly disfigured in the explosion, Juan Marés falls deeper into indigence and schizophrenic hallucinations. His personality is transformed by his misfortune. He is obsessed with the happiness he has lost and with the memory of his wife. He encounters Norma a couple of times, first while he is performing on the streets, but she does not recognize him in his new painful condition. Marés talks to her again during the carnival in Barcelona, under the disguise of the invisible man; only at the end of their small talk, he gives her a clue about his identity. Another day he calls her up at work pretending to need help in the translation of many words from Spanish to Catalan.

His hallucinations increase and a new identity starts to take shape in his mind: the emphatically non-Catalan Juan Faneca (the author's birth name). Faneca has a strong, deep Murcian accent, a pencil mustache, dark complexion, sharp sideburns and eye patch. He is a xarnego from Murcia and childhood friend of Marés, coming back to Barcelona after years living as a worker in Germany.

Juan Marés, now under the disguise of Juan Faneca, tries first his new identity with his lonely neighbor, Griselda, an Andalusian widow who is in the process of embracing everything Catalan to start a new life in Barcelona, whom he seduces, starting an affair. Later with the excuse of looking for Juan Marés, Faneca gets closer to Norma and his dream is fulfilled. They have a one night stand, which leaves both Juan and Norma disappointed. By then Juan Faneca has completely taken over Marés, who is no more. Juan decides to continue his life as a cuckold with Griselda.


Spanish director, Vicente Aranda, became well known in Spain in the 1980s for his cinematographic adaptation of literary works. He fell a close affinity with novelist, Juan Marsé, just few years apart in age; they shared similar experiences in their childhood in their native city, Barcelona. Aranda had previously adapted two of Marsé’s novels to the big screen: La Muchacha de las Bragas de Oro and If They Tell You I Fell. In 1992, Vicente Aranda became interested in making a third adaptation from a novel written by Juan Marse. Vicente Aranda recalled, “ Juan Marse sent me the manuscript of the novel El Amante Bilingüe and I liked it. Andres Vicente Gómez, the producer, was not very eager to take this project, he considered it too regional, very Catalan, in spite of it all, we made the film”.[1] Producer Vicente Andres Gomez says that he and Marse thought that Mario Camús was the most appropriate director to make the film.[1]

The film had a budget of 164 million pesetas and was a co production with Italy.[2] Shot in Barcelona, the movie premiered at the Montreal World Film Festival, where it was well received. El Amante Bilingüe was released in Spain on April 1, 1993.


Imanol Arias was launched to star status in Spain by his work with Vicente Aranda in El Lute, a film that was a critical and commercial success. Arias came to see his role in El Amante Bilingüe as a turning point in his career, a triumph after two years of relative inactivity.[3] There are similarities between his own life and that of his character. He had a first failed marriage with a rich woman and came from modest background. The role in El Amante Bilingüe was an exciting challenge for him, having to play a character with dual personalities and different registers.[3]

El Amante Bilingüe was co-produced with Italian investors and the role of Norma was given to Ornella Muti, an Italian actress famous for her beauty. Ornella Muti first gained attention in the English speaking world as the princess in Flash Gordon (1980). Here, she plays the suggestive role of a wealthy woman with unusual sexual fantasies. Vicente Aranda recalled “ I was very pleased with Ornella, she made as much as she could to adjust to the requirements of the film, but she is extremely beautiful and perhaps another actress, less attractive would have suited better the dark tone of the film”.[4]

In supporting roles are: Javier Bardem, one of Spain’s best known actors, here in one of his first roles and Loles León, who plays a comic character. She has worked for Pedro Almodóvar in Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! and for Vicente Aranda in La Pasión Turca (1994) and Libertarias (1996).


El Amante Bilingüe is a ruthless and ferocious satire on the Catalonia linguistic policies, exacerbated by social and class differences. The film is a painful reflection on the human desire to be another person.

The film is clearly marked by its geographical context. The normalization of the Catalan language and the reestablishment of Catalan as a strong national identity in the context of Spain as a nation.[5] Despite its support from the government of Catalonia, the films frames catalinazation comically, associating popular Catalan culture with racism- anti immigrant sentiment, and the rescue of self-identity excluding others.[5] The film portrays Norma, the woman who is the intellectual driven force behind the Catalonian government policies of linguistic change, as a spoiled, sexually obsessive, cold snob. While Juan Marés disfiguration marked his alignment with the culture most associated with his perfidious wife with whom he wants to get back sexually once more.[5]

The film does not escape the overblown qualities, thin characterization, and inherent simplistic sexual politics of the novel. However, it skillfully points out the layer construction of a second identity, Juan Faneca. The man with the black cloak, wide brimmed hat, wounded scalp and eye patch stand for some of the grotesqueness of a masculine self-image nonstructural notion of sexual predominance and based on outmoded forms of seduction.[3]

What started as a grotesque and unbelievable adventure gradually develops into an ironic criticism of the dual, social and linguistic policies of Catalonia. The film is a dark reflection about personal identity. Aranda’s ability to make the viewer feel like an "other" while treating the same topic in his film is a work of mastery

Vicente Aranda became well known as a film director skillful in handling erotic scenes. In El Amante Bilingüe, the director self parodies his famous erotic screen scenes, in a take in which Faneca and Norma end up turning and levitating as expression of sexual ecstasy.[4]


El Amante Bilingüe did not enjoy commercial or critical success. According to Vicente Aranda, “The film suffered the lack of enthusiasm from the producer of which I was aware and tried to resolve.[4] The producer of the film, Andres Vicente Gómez, explained, “El Amante Bilingüe was liked neither by the public nor the novelist or even by the actors who made it, I did not like it either. I also think, Aranda was not very happy with the film, nevertheless we went on to make another movie together”.[6]

Vicente Aranda explained: “ I think I did not exaggerate enough. I should have used a cruder brush. I am not defending above all my own mistakes. I would have been more satisfied with the film if I would have employed an uglier and more extreme style.[4] It was a mistake to center the plot of the film in dialectic between two languages that were so close Catalan and Spanish. I stated often that the dialectic should have established between English and Spanish which would have made the film more universal. The plot could have remained the same, just changing the scenery from Barcelona to Los Angeles or New York and instead of a charnego some other type of foreigner, the rest working the same.[4]

El Amante Bilingüe & other Films[edit]

Vicente Aranda often encodes his films with literary references rather than cinematographic ones. He explained: "For once I wanted to make cinematographic references to the Invisible Man and the Phantom of the Opera, but with more subtle quotations of those film through the use of the right photography in an expressionist style, but that idea had to be sacrificed to photograph Ornella Muti, beautifully.[4] Nevertheless he remembers “ My intention was to make a contemporary film, but with Ramón del Valle-Inclán on mind and I almost made it. I should have taken things more to the extreme, but I have a tendency to moderation.[4]

In its baroque and twisted elements, El Amante Bilingue is similar to the adaptations Vicente Aranda made of two of Juan Marse’s novels : La Muchacha de las Bragas de Oro and Si Te Dicen Que Cai. In its pattern of double identities, El Amante Bilingue, resembles two Aranda’s films : Cambio de Sexo and La Pasión Turca. In Cambio de Sexo, a young man with sexual identity problems is driven for his desire to become a woman. In La Pasión Turca, a housewife with a placid life, leaves her former identity behind in pursue of a new one in the arms of her Turkish lover.

Awards and nominations[edit]

  • Nominated to one Goya Awards: Best Adapted Screenplay (Vicente Aranda) (1994)

Home media release[edit]

El Amante Bilingüe is available in Region 2 DVD. The film is in Spanish with English subtitles. The extras include: press conference at the Montreal Film Festival, making of and cast and crew galleries.


  1. ^ a b Cánovás Belchí, Joaquín (ed.), : Miradas Sobre el Cine de Vicente Aranda, Murcia: Universidad de Murcia, 2000, p. 69
  2. ^ Cánovás Belchí, Joaquín (ed.), : Miradas Sobre el Cine de Vicente Aranda, Murcia: Universidad de Murcia, 2000, p. 70
  3. ^ a b c Perriam, Christopher, : Stars and Masculinities in Spanish Cinema: From banderas to Bardem, Oxford University Press, 2003, p. 31
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Vicente Aranda, 2006 Declaración de Intenciones
  5. ^ a b c Perriam, Christopher, : Stars and Masculinities in Spanish Cinema: From banderas to Bardem, Oxford University Press, 2003, p. 30
  6. ^ Cánovás Belchí, Joaquín (ed.), : Miradas Sobre el Cine de Vicente Aranda, Murcia: Universidad de Murcia, 2000, p. 709


  • Cánovás Belchí, Joaquín (ed.), Varios Autores (2000). Miradas sobre el cine de Vicente Aranda. Murcia: Universidad de Murcia. ISBN 84-607-0463-7
  • Colmena, Enrique (1996). Vicente Aranda. Madrid: Cátedra. ISBN 84-376-1431-7
  • Perriam, Christopher (2003). Stars and Masculinities in Spanish Cinema: From Banderas to Bardem. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-815996-X

External links[edit]