October 21, 2020

If you want to discover Juan Marsé, don’t trust the movies that were made with his books


“All the films that have been made based on my books are very bad”, Marsé sentenced in 2008, the same year that he would receive the Cervantes Prize. He was then working on his most autobiographical novel: Dream calligraphy, which would be published in 2011 and would narrate the life of a young man named Ringo, who discovers in cinema and the exercise of fiction a meaning for his gray life.

Writer Juan Marsé dies at 87

Writer Juan Marsé dies at 87

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The truth is that, like Ringo, Marsé was a film buff recognized not only for the presence of the seventh art in his novels and vice versa, but also for how much he cultivated that taste publicly. His are, for example, books like A walk through the stars, published in 2001 (RBA), which compiled many of his portraits on cinema that appeared throughout the nineties in the newspaper El País, and Unforgettable moments of cinema (Carroggio) in which he traversed the history of celluloid through his favorite scenes and anecdotes.

Perhaps that is why he judged the adaptations of his books on the big screen so severely, that they were not few: his figure was as present in the literature of the second half of the 20th century as in Spanish cinema at the end of the century and early of the XXI. Apart from his work as a screenwriter, eight feature films and a series emerged from his works to dialogue, widely, with his prose.

Aranda and Marsé: a friendship through the screen

Juan Marsé and Vicente Aranda began their respective careers in the mid-sixties in Spain. The writer’s first big hit, Last evenings with Teresa, was published in ’66. A year earlier, Aranda had debuted with two very different titles: Fata Morgana and Bright future. In their respective relationships, one could already glimpse some of the themes that would back their careers: sex as a power relationship mediated by social class.

Of the filmmaker it was said that he was one of the first agitators of the so-called School of Barcelona that, in the literary sphere, had Marsé as a champion, along with authors such as Gil de Biedma, Juan Goytisolo, Terenci Moix, Eduardo Mendoza and Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, close friend of both.

Aranda adapted Marsé for the first time in 79 with the provocative The girl with the gold panties, winner of the Planeta Prize a year earlier. A film that would lay the foundations for much of the filmic imagery associated with Marsé’s work, with Victoria Abril as the face of her stories. A tape that would influence, although Marsé only reluctantly recognized it, in her way of writing and of focusing on the tempo, the rhythm, the ‘montage’ of her novels, as well counted in the program. History of our cinema.

Almost a decade later, Aranda went behind the scenes to adapt If they tell you that I fell, again with Victoria Abril this time accompanied by Jorge Sanz and Antonio Banderas. A film that knew how to capture the harshness of the relationships between the characters in the novel, and that had no intention of eroticizing the sexual encounters between the protagonists, rather showing them crudely. “It has a rigid and complex structure, and it takes at least two viewings for its total understanding,” she wrote. the critic Jordi Batlle in 91.

“It has been agreed to erect If they tell you that I fell as the luckiest adaptation of Marsé, although the writer does not agree very much “, said the critic Alberto Corona in Cinemanía. The truth is that in 93 Aranda would repeat as screenwriter and director adapting a work by the recently deceased writer. It would be with The bilingual lover and the result left the audience and critics rather cold, despite having a luxury cast with Imanol Arias, Javier Bardem, Fernando Guillén, and Julieta Serrano among others.

The filmmaker would repeat for the last time with a work by Marsé in 2007: the adaptation of Love songs at Lolita’s Club. A film of questionable quality, with Eduardo Noriega and Flora Martínez as protagonists. At that time, Aranda counted La Vanguardia, as he has been in charge of remember these days Lluís Bonet, that he had always got along better with authors who were not contemporaries. “I refer to Marsé, who, at least, has been sincere and has personally reproached me for my lack of poetry and tenderness when adapting it. He once said it to a mutual friend, the dear José Luis Guarner, who asked Marsé, with his usual and funny sarcasm: ‘But, Juan, have you read your novel?’ ”

Other adaptations and missed opportunities

Manolo Reyes, better known as the ‘Pijoaparte’, is the protagonist of the novel that in 1965 led Juan Marsé to win the Biblioteca Seve Barix Prize and, with it, begin his consecration as a writer. With Last evenings with TeresaAs we said, Marsé became a chronicler of a Barcelona divided between the marginal and the bourgeois, a contrast represented through its main characters, the Pijoparte, of a marginal class; and Teresa, a university daughter of high-class parents.

The film of the same name was directed by Gonzalo Herralde in 1984 and, although it was a film adaptation of what is probably one of the most important works of Marsé (and for which it took almost 20 years from the publication of the novel), the reality is that its result was not entirely satisfactory. The script had the collaboration of the Catalan author himself, but Ángel Alcázar’s Pijoparte did not captivate the readers of the novel or those who were facing this story for the first time.

Cousin Montse’s dark story It is the fourth novel by Marsé and the first after having achieved fame with Last evenings with Teresa. However, it is also an important work because it represents the author’s transition to a type of literature that was not only limited to being testimonial, but in which he allowed himself to do a satire of power in a time of disenchantment.

The feature film this time was directed by Jordi Cadena in 1977, and it also addressed the cultural and economic clash between the bourgeoisie and the Catalan working class through Montse Claramunt, the cousin of a young man named Paco (Ovidi Montllor). She ended up falling in love with a prisoner whom she had made her protégé, thereby generating a great scandal within a family for whom this type of romance is inconceivable.

It was not the only setting for Marsé. Post-war Barcelona became the recurring space for his novels. The corpses were piled up both in the recesses and in the memory of people like the protagonist of Ronda del Guinardó, that tells the story of a police inspector who, as the title of the story indicates, walks the streets of the Guinardó neighborhood. In this work, Marsé went on to relate the moral wear and tear of a country that had just experienced a Civil War and a Second World War that, although of spectators, also meant the fall from grace of many people.

This novel was adapted by the Italian director Wilma Labate in 2001, but transferring the story to her own country. Claudio Amendola put himself in the shoes of Inspector Sciarra, a policeman who faces his last day of work accompanying a young girl through the streets of Naples to recognize the corpse of a man who has committed suicide. Despite being a film based on the story of Marsé, this film went unnoticed in our country for, among other things, the local adaptation of it.


The Shanghai spell, which earned him the Critics’ Award in 1994, is another example of the post-war setting. In it the protagonist is Daniel, a character who accompanies Captain Blay through the streets and taverns of Barcelona, ​​a republican who goes against the grain of reality and tries to fight against the dominant ideology of Francoism.

The film adaptation of The Shanghai spell in 2002 he was in charge of Fernando Trueba and, despite the fact that the novel had all the necessary ingredients to make his arrival at the seventh art a success, in the end it ended up being a very irregular film. At first it was to be directed by Víctor Erice, but he abandoned the project due to differences with the producer and Trueba even ended up rewriting the script they had prepared for the occasion. The result was conceived as the missed opportunity to bring one of Marsé’s most brilliant texts to the big screen in a dignified way.

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