The Tit and the Moon (Bigas Luna, 1994)

Review by Victoria Hillis:

The fight for independence and identity is still on going for the Catalan people. Since the demise of the Franco dictatorship Catalonia has been continuously fighting for its independence from Spain. This Catalan nationalism is derived from the desire for Catalonia to have their own government, borders, free expression of their own language and to maintain their own history and culture. In The Tit and the Moon (Bigas Luna, 1994), the Catalan director, Bigas Luna, adopts a skilful approach in addressing these very current national issues. Made in 1994, this film is the third in a trilogy by this director, which tells the coming of age story of a young boy, Tete, and his search to find the perfect lactating breast. Bigas uses this concept to explore the migration of Catalonia from under the Spanish flag to its desire to combine with Europe. He does so by using nostalgic aspects in the film such as the voice over by Tete.[1] Through using characters as metaphors for different nations, Bigas allows us to see the transition of this budding Catalan nation.

Tete is a nine-year-old boy who is the anxaneta, the small child who climbs to the top of the Catalan castell, a traditional Catalan human tower. He continually falls down before he reaches the top to the annoyance of his father. Tete has a fixation with breasts and breastfeeding. However, after his mother gives birth to his brother he is forced to watch as his new sibling takes the milk he believes to be his. Due to this he asks the moon for some lactating breasts that are his and he goes on a search to find some for him to feed on, which he finds in the arrival of the French ballerina, Estrellita. Tete and his friend Miguel begin a feud for the attention of this foreign beauty, to the dismay of her husband, Maurice. Estrellita and her husband are part of a travelling act where she dances and he entertains the crowd through his flatulence.

The connection between Europe and Catalonia is demonstrated through the visualisation of Catalonia’s national identity. Bigas Luna never uses the national symbols as something pure or stable, which portrays his views on the national identity of Catalonia. In the case of the castell at the beginning of the film it keeps collapsing showing that in a literal sense the nation is unstable. For example, Miguel, Tete’s friend, is part of the foundation of the castell and is called a charnego, which is a derogatory name given to those who have a parent who was not born in Catalonia. Furthermore, the tower continuously falling acts as a metaphor for the struggle of the Catalan nation trying to build itself up despite being without a state.

Although here it seems like Bigas is opposed to the mixing of nationalities, it’s possible to see the friendship between Tete and Miguel as an alliance between Spain and Catalonia. Miguel is Andalusian and Catalan, which gives him a hybrid nationality. This connection between the two boys is an example of transnationalism as shown by the crossing of the borders of the nation from Spain into Catalonia. As Marvin D’Lugo states, “regional, national and transnational forces” are rejuvenating Spanish culture. [2] Transnationalism is also shown in the first scene when the language is swapped from Castilian to Catalan, portraying a plurinational dialogue. This plurinationality is due to the immigration in Catalonia as was stated by Carolina Sanabria, “lo que reafirma el carácter pluriétnico de esta región caracterizada por el alto porcentaje de inmigración, según lo refuerza la presencia europea.” [3] It also allows the director to point out stereotypes as Castilian is used when Tete’s father is shouting and being authoritative like the stereotypical overpowering patriarch. The representation of nationalities among the characters in the film is not subtle, but effective. Bigas Luna uses Tete as a microcosm of Catalonia as a nation; Catalonia is considered a young and immature nation and the naivety of this young character creates a distraction from the political context and it opens up the nation to a relationship with other countries.[4]

The Oedipal narrative is pervasive in Spanish literature and is similarly present in this film. In The Tit and the Moon the rivalry between the Andalusian Miguel and the Catalan Tete is characteristic of that which exists between the real father and Oedipus, as well as the conflict between Catalonia and Spain. Tete has to get rid of the father figure, in this case Miguel, to obtain his desired Estrellita. This freedom, without the typical overpowering Spanish male figure is representative of Catalonia’s freedom.[5] This relationship is representative of Catalonia longing for the elusive Europe and being repressed by its history and past. The Oedipus narrative allows us to see that Catalonia is fighting with its “father” represented by Spain and longing for his “mother”, which is the European aspect.

Bigas Luna links the relationship between Catalonia and Europe through the representation of the female form. [6] In England, the body of the woman ‘Britannia’ represents our nation and in France the female body ‘Marianne’ represents the revolution. The body of a woman has been used as a metaphor for justice or freedom. To relate with these European countries it is important for Catalonia to use a female body to show their identity in the film. The entirety of the film is about the body, mainly the female body, breasts and maternity. Both Miguel and Tete are fighting over Estrellita, the female figure of freedom and of integration through immigration. The connection between Europe and Catalonia is depicted through desire. The desire for the woman, Estrellita, is a representation of the desire Catalan feels to be part of Europe, and not to remain under the cloak of Spain. The castell paints a phallic image for the viewer and this masculine image is the Catalan sense of identity, which is contrasted with the “enticingly feminized Europe embodied by Estrella.”[7] Bigas conveys more links between femininity and the relationship between the countries through the symbolism of the moon. The images shown of the moon are also symbols of femininity due to its relation with the female cycle and fertility. In one of Tete’s dreams he sees himself as a Catalan astronaut placing the Catalan and EU flag on the moon. The film was made at a time of hope for Catalan independence and they believed it would be achieved in the near future. With hindsight we can see this was a naïve hope for the future for the Catalan people connecting it to other countries.

Obviously when referring to the relationship between Catalonia and Europe a major aspect of this is immigration shown in the film through the French couple Estrellita and Maurice. At the time the film came out Marsha Kinder reported that some Spanish critics called it “the great European culture revolution.” [8] The European stereotypes are in abundance in the film. The French frog being one of them as this is what Maurice is constantly referred to as, along with gabacho the derogatory Catalan term for a Frenchman. [9] Even Tete, who hates Maurice, has a pet frog, the symbol of the French and an indication of Catalan people accepting other nationalities. Symbols of Catalan identity are used as a parody to show the immaturity and naivety of this new nation trying to connect with Europe. Visually you are flooded with the colours of the Catalan flag and there is an abundance of red in the film. For example, the red barretina cap that the baby is wearing, the tomato on the traditional Catalan meal and the red underwear that Miguel steals from Estrellita. This form of parody allows “a broader cultural scenario in which Catalonia functions synecdochically for a more expansive Iberian scenario.” [10]

As Bigas uses Catalonia as a synecdoche, we see the young Tete struggling with growing up as he tries to reject the immatureness of the red flag everywhere. Tete seems to reject any symbol of Catalan identity so he can explore his desire for European Estrellita. However, there is also the comedic factor to the film in the sense that Bigas makes the French Maurice impotent and Miguel is the only one who is able to pleasure Estrellita. Bigas further mocks the French by making their French symbol of the baguette into a phallic reference and Maurice forces Estrellita to use it in a sexual way. Furthermore, Maurice’s obsession with cleaning the French flag as it hangs in Catalonia is symbolic of keeping your identity free of other nationalities. He wants to maintain a pure identity that is impermeable. Throughout the film we hear the contrast of the French love song by Edith Piaf “Les mots d’amour” and the traditional Andalusian flamenco singing by Miguel. Estrellita is represented as accepting of Spanish and Catalan culture. Whereas Maurice rejects it by putting Catalonia and Spain as the same thing, which shows that he has no sensitivity for the Catalan nation. The French male is portrayed as not being receptive at all.

Additionally, the ability for Catalonia to accept immigrants so easily is down to its social permeability. The borders of a region must be permeable. [11]The leakiness and permeability of the borders is demonstrated through the constant references to liquids in the film. Examples of these are the obsession of Tete with milk, the waterbed that Estrellita has and the Mediterranean Sea, which is where Miguel tries to kill himself. The exploding of the waterbed signifies the breaking of the barriers as the water floods out it is symbolic of the permeable borders and immigration. The transition between the cultures is shown in three stages. The first is the castell with which Tete wants to distance himself, as he doesn’t feel masculine enough due to the pressure from his father who represents the Spanish overbearing aspect. The second stage is Estrellita’s breast as a fountain of milk feeding Tete. This shows the European woman feeding the Catalan boy, as if she is helping him to grow and mature. The final stage is how Tete’s mother representing the “maternal Spanish figure” has now changed into “the seductive European dancer” that is Estrellita. According to Bigas this transition “links this sexual spectacle with a refiguration of national identity.”[12] At the end of the film the permeability and acceptance of Catalans is obvious when we see the uniting of the Catalan and the French when Miguel joins their performance.

The relationship shown between Catalonia and Europe is likened to that of a parent, Europe, and a flourishing child, Catalonia. This is done so through comparison to the Oedipal narrative explaining the constant rivalry between Spain and Catalonia. The young Tete’s migration from the maternal breast symbolises Catalonia’s movement towards Europe, as he yearns for the French breast of Estrellita.[13] Bigas Luna chose to use film to express his feelings towards immigration, the malleability of nationalism and Catalonia’s connection to Europe, so that his message could reach as many people as possible. As Anthony Smith said, “the nation possesses a unique power, pathos and epic grandeur, qualities which film, perhaps even more than painting or sculpture, can vividly convey.” [14] The film relies on “global mass media to redefine cultural boundaries, yet it will not eradicate nationalism.”[15] The sexual narrative used through the character of Estrellita not only grabs the audience’s attention but also demonstrates the strong desire of Catalonia to be connected with Europe and Bigas Luna emulates this perfectly.

 

 

Bibliografía

 

D’LUGO, Marvin: La teta i la lluna: The Form of Transnational Cinema in Spain, en Refiguring Spain: Cinema/Media/Representation por Marsha Kinder (pp. 196-214), Durham y Londres: Duke University Press, 1997.

HIGSON, Andrew: The Limiting Imagination of National Cinema, en Cinema and nation por Matte Hjort y Scott MacKenzie (pp. 57-69), Routledge, Londres, 2000.

KEOWN, Dominic: Burning Darkness: A Half Century of Spanish Cinema, SUNY Press, Nueva York, 2008.

KINDER, Marsha: Blood Cinema, The Reconstruction of National Identity in Spain . University of California Press, Londres, 1993.

SANABRIA, Carolina: La teta y la luna (1994): Cojones de Edipo, Revista Comunicación, 17 (1), 51-52, Costa Rica, 2008.

SMITH, Anthony: Images of the Nation en Cinema and Nation por Mette Hjort y Scott MacKenzie (pp. 41-55), Psychology Press, Londres, 2000

 

Victoria Hillis, 2015



[1] D’LUGO, Marvin: La teta i la lluna: The Form of Transnational Cinema in Spain en Marsha Kinder, Refiguring Spain: Cinema/Media/Representation, Duke University Press, Londres, 1997, Pág. 203

[2] D’LUGO, Marvin: La teta i la lluna: 1997, Pág. 196.

[3] SANABRIA, Carolina: La teta y la luna (1994): Cojones de Edipo, Revista Comunicación , 17 (1), Costa Rica, 2008, Pág. 51-52.

[4] D’LUGO, Marvin: La teta i la lluna: 1997, Pág. 208.

[5] KINDER, Marsha: Blood Cinema, The Reconstruction of National Identity in Spain, University of California Press, Londres, 1993, Pág. 198.

[6] KEOWN, Dominic: Burning Darkness: A Half Century of Spanish Cinema, SUNY Press, Nueva York, 2008, Pág. 171.

[7] D’LUGO, Marvin: La teta i la lluna: 1997, Pág. 207.

[8] KINDER, Marsha: Blood Cinema, 1993, Pág. 390.

[9] D’LUGO, Marvin: La teta i la lluna: 1997, Pág. 209.

[10] D’LUGO, Marvin: La teta i la lluna: 1997, Pág. 198.

[11] HIGSON, Andrew:. The Limiting Imagination of National Cinema en Cinema and nation por Matte Hjort y Scott MacKenzie, Routledge, Londres, 2000, Pág. 67.

[12] D’LUGO, Marvin: La teta i la lluna: 1997, Pág. 211.

[13] D’LUGO, Marvin: La teta i la lluna: 1997, Pág. 210.

[14] SMITH, Anthony: Images of the Nation en Cinema and Nation por Mette Hjort y Scott MacKenzie, Psychology Press, Londres, 2000, Pág. 50.

[15] KINDER, Marsha: Blood Cinema, 1993, Pág. 391.

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