Divas They Be
Manuel Gómez Pereira’s Reinas (Queens) makes the current US wrangling over same sex marriage look awfully provincial. Refreshingly breezy, it imagines the first day of legal same-sex marriage in Spain (which would actually occur a few months after the film’s release in April 2005), and follows three gay male couples in preparation for a civil ceremony, along with 20 other couples.
Their travails en route to the ceremony are familiar. Oscar (Daniel Hendler) and Miguel (Unax Ugalde) must deal with clashing in-laws-to-be, whose differences make them question their relationship. Miguel’s career-driven, hotel magnate mother Magda (the fabulous Carmen Maura) butts heads with Oscar’s passive-aggressive Argentine mother Ofelia (Betiana Blum), who insists on bringing her pain in the ass dog Marilinda to Spain with her. Another couple, working-class Jonas (Hugo Silva) and privileged Rafa (Raúl Jiménez), witness class tensions between Jonas’ gardener father Jacinto (Lluís Homar) and Rafa’s famous actress mother Reyes (Marisa Paredes). Hugo (Gustavo Salmerón) and Narciso (Paco León) deal with questions of commitment and infidelity, on both their parts. These are the tropes of countless heterosexual wedding comedies, though their very “straightness” paradoxically makes Queens politically pointed, at least for viewers in the US. Sputters and jitters on the road to matrimony are the same for everyone.
The film’s most confrontational politics—which surely signify differently in socialist Spain than they do in the States—has to do with labor. This story circles around the Myerling Hotel, owned by Magda. It caters to a primarily gay clientele and will host the post-wedding celebration for the couples. It’s obviously a marketing coup for the hotel. Sensing an opportunity, head chef Cesar (Jorge Perrugorría) organizes a strike, demanding salary increases for the staff, all working class, many of them immigrants. He accuses Magda of caring “more about the gay men who can pay 500 Euros a night” than the workers who keep the hotel running.
The labor unrest is tidily wrapped up by film’s end. And even if some viewers find here an oblique critique of Western-style, class-privileged GLBT “activism” and consumerism, Pereira’s point is clear. Piddling over the social “propriety” of gayness or same-sex marriage obfuscates more urgent political concerns.
But Queens isn’t primarily about gayness or same-sex marriage. Here gayness simply is, and same-sex marriage is a civil right. Despite the film’s title, its central queens aren’t who we might expect. The idiomatic usage of “queen” to refer to male homosexuals translates in both Spanish and English, but the primary queens are the gay boys’ diva mothers. And divas they be. Verónica Forqué, Carmen Maura, Marisa Paredes, Mercedes Sampietro, and Betiana Blum are beloved Spanish actresses. This stunt casting is the Spanish cinematic equivalent of the first VH1 Divas Live concert. It’s a pleasure to see them working off each other, and they all exude joy in performing together.
As the mothers negotiate their sons’ lives, sexuality, and impending marriage, the film suggests that debates over same-sex marriage arise between generations. While the women aren’t exactly intolerant of their sons or their marriages, some do have reservations. Helena (Sampietro), Hugo’s mother and the judge assigned to marry the couples, thinks the private should be kept private, and doesn’t understand why all this gay “happening” must be so public. Reyes is the perfectly and overtly tolerant mother, who averts her eyes, uncomfortable and a bit repulsed, when her son and his partner greet each other with a chaste kiss. The mothers’ varying comfort levels with gayness are their own problems, and they must make their own peace.
The women have other problems of their own, most centering on their sexual desires and desirability. Helena is reserved, even while she flirts with her ex-husband (Fernando Valverde), and Nuria (Verónica Forqué) is a sexaholic, who has sex with anonymous men in the most inopportune places, including one on the train whom she later runs into at a restaurant with her family-to-be. But these are comedic exaggerations, the point being that diva mothers of a certain age still have desires and are desired.
It’s refreshing to see the sex lives of 50-something women given such passion and embodiment. Here’s another place where Queens demonstrates its difference (and superiority) to similar Hollywood fare. While Queens rather quietly demonstrates the “normalcy” of gayness and same-sex marriage, it more raucously asserts the women’s fleshy sensuality.