Part of the magic of cinema is its constant evolution, and to truly notice that evolution, we have to appreciate the change done over the years, like the decade of the eighties in the history of Spanish cinema. The 1980s were a turning point in the history of Spanish cinema; this was the first decade after the darkness of the dictatorship, which ended with Francisco Franco’s death in 1975.
The Spanish films from the eighties showed incredible maturity powered by the artistic freedom that the new generation of filmmakers experienced at that time. The Spanish films from the 1980s were films of the renaissance of the Spanish cinema industry after several years of inhibition. Franco’s death allowed filmmakers to tackle challenging and sensitive themes in their films. That’s why, in a way, the aftermath of Franco’s regime and the Civil War was the real hero of many Spanish films from the eighties.
The 1980s was also a decade in which Pedro Almodóvar reigned supreme, but he wasn’t the only one! Fernando Trueba made his masterpiece Sé Infiel Y No Mires Con Quien, the film Los Santos Inocentes by Mario Camus won the Cannes prize, and, of course, Mujeres Al Borde De Un Ataque De Nervios by Pedro Almodóvar was released.
Speaking of great Spanish talents, it was thanks to the Spanish films from the eighties that we got to know brilliant actors such as Carmen Maura, Antonio Banderas, Antonio Resines, Verónica Forqué, Chus Lampreave and many others.
What are the Best Spanish Films From the Eighties?
The decade of the 1980s was such a rich one in the history of Spanish cinema; in this article, we remember only a few of the best Spanish films from the eighties!
Deprisa, Deprisa by Carlos Saura (1981)
There is no better way to start our list of the best Spanish films from the eighties than with Carlos Saura‘s film Deprisa, Deprisa. This one is a classic Spanish film of the quinqui genre, which was a genre of the kinky cinema of juvenile delinquents that was present in many Spanish films from the eighties.
Deprisa, Deprisa focuses on four friends who put their studies aside and decide to make a living in the easiest and most dastardly way: stealing. The boys start flirting with drugs to the point of taking heroin, the most popular drug of the decade. Soon, petty theft turns into armed robberies with the aim of getting more and more money with each robbery.
Carlos Saura‘s film draws a picture of reality and clarifies the poverty and violence that many young Spanish people faced in the 1980s while criticising the failure of society to provide these young people with what they need to have a better future.
Deprisa, Deprisa won the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival. In addition, it was nominated for many awards, including the Gold Hugo at the Chicago International Film Festival for Best Feature Film.
El Crack by José Luis Garci (1981)
José Luis Garci inaugurated the decade of the 80s, the best of his entire professional career, with one of his most (justly) celebrated films: El Crack, aka one of the top Spanish films from the eighties. The film was such a success that Garci went on to make El Crack II (1983).
Led by a surprising and impeccable performance by Alfredo Landa, the film is a true love letter and a full-fledged tribute to the film noir genre with tons of respect and admiration.
The film is a reinterpretation of the classic detective story following a private detective called Germán Areta, played by Alfredo Landa, who investigates the escape of a minor.
Garci delivered with El Crack, a great classic of Spanish cinema whose only problem is that it makes you want to drink whisky neat and smoke cigars in bars that are about to close as Alfredo did in the film.
Volver a Empezar by José Luis Garci (1982)
As shocking as it may sound, it wasn’t until 1983 that Spanish cinema scored its first Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, thanks to José Luis Garci’s Volver A Empezar.
The film narrates the story of the famous writer Antonio Miguel Albajara, played by Antonio Ferrandis, who has just received the Nobel Prize for literature. Antonio goes back to his hometown, Gijón, looking for the life he once left behind when he was young.
What makes Volver a Empezar one of the best Spanish films from the eighties is not only the Oscar it brought home for the first time but also its well-knit story and how through the protagonist Antonio Albajara, themes of memory, nostalgia, and the passage of time were brilliantly explored. The film received many nominations and awards and was well-received by the audience as well.
EL Sur by Víctor Erice (1983)
Víctor Erice’s El Sur is one of those films with a special aura, an atmosphere, and indescribable magic that makes it such a masterpiece. However, beyond the controversies, it was and still is one of those captivating, hypnotic and beautiful Spanish films that will never be forgotten.
The film is based on a short story by Adelaida García Morales, and it takes place in the 1950s following the story of a young girl named Estrella, who is fascinated by her father, a mysterious man who comes from the south of Spain and has a hidden complex past. As Estrella grows older, she becomes increasingly curious about her father’s past and begins to unravel the secrets that he has kept hidden for so many years.
El Sur is only half of what it was supposed to be. In fact, the film ends before the protagonists go from north to south. But even with such circumstances, the film is a sublime portrait of atmospheres and characters examining the themes of memory, loss, and the passage of time. The film reflected the cultural and political changes that were occurring at that time in Spain.
The film is known for its magnificent photography and moving narrative styling. It achieved great success both in Spain and internationally, sweeping many awards.
Los Santos Inocentes by Mario Camus (1984)
It would be a crime to have a list of the best Spanish films from the eighties and not mention director’s Mario Camus perfect adaptation of Miguel Delibes’ novel of the same name, aka Los Santos Inocentes. This film is one of the most influential Spanish films, as it raised awareness of the social and economic inequalities that existed in Spain at the time.
Los Santos Inocentes follows the story of a family of labourers who work on a wealthy landowner’s estate. They are treated poorly by the landowner and his family, who see them as animals. Despite the hardship and abuse they endure, they are comforted by their love for each other and their connection to the land.
The film was a box-office success, and it was praised by the critics as well. At the 1984 Cannes Film Festival, actors Francisco Rabal and Alfredo Landa received the Best Actor award for their amazing performances in the film. In addition, the film was nominated to win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
Sé Infiel Y No Mires Con Quién by Fernando Trueba (1985)
Now we come to the work of one of the most iconic directors of the decade, the pioneer Fernando Trueba. For this film, Trueba sought inspiration from the high comedy of classic Hollywood, adapting the British theatrical comedy play Move Over Mrs Markham.
Sé Infiel Y No Mires Con Quién follows Paco and Fernando, whose publishing house is about to go bankrupt. Lucky them, they manage to get a contract with the most successful Spanish writer, Adela Mora.
On the night when the deal is to be signed, Fernando goes out to have dinner with the writer; meanwhile, Paco decides to use Fernando’s house for a date of his own. But Paco’s wife, Carmen, had also asked Fernando’s wife, Rosa, for the house for her own amorous rendezvous!
The film’s plot perfectly reflected the newly found sexual freedom of that time in Spain; to properly contextualise the film, it is important to bear in mind that divorce had only recently become legal in Spain, and adultery had also been decriminalised not many years earlier.
La Vaquilla by Luis García Berlanga (1985)
While some might argue that there is an excess of Spanish films about the Civil War, no one can argue about this masterful comedy by Luis García Berlanga. Mixing comedy with war genres, Berlanga’s La Vaquilla successfully presented a light-hearted and amusing depiction of the Spanish Civil War.
During the Spanish Civil War, in a trench front, the soldiers from the Republican side have their world shattered when a loudspeaker from the National side announces that a festival is to be held in a nearby village with a bull run and some other activities. Angered by the announcement, a group from the Republican side crosses over the enemy’s line to put an end to their party and steal their food. They embark on a wild journey filled with funny incidents.
For this film, Luis García Berlanga teamed up with another brilliant mind, the screenwriter Rafael Azcona. After producing some masterpieces in the sixties and the seventies, the fabulous duo returned to strike again in the eighties with the gem La Vaquilla, a splendid comedy full of great performances, tons of bad blood and dialogue.
The film playfully explored the themes of war from a new angle, showing how at the end of the day, people with so much in common can get trapped in political conflicts.
Tras El Cristal by Agustí Villaronga (1986)
The diversity that Spanish cinema enjoys today did not exist in the 1980s, and to make a film in Spain that went outside urban comedies, literary adaptations, and historical memory simply meant not having an audience, let alone a horror film with homoerotic content about genetic experiments and the torture of children in concentration camps!
However, Agustí Villaronga took the risk with his film Tras El Cristal anyway, and it was only with the passing of time that the unhealthy atmosphere of the film began to be valued.
The disturbing film follows the story of Klaus, the Nazi doctor who tortured and murdered a multitude of children in Nazi concentration camps during and after WWI. As fate would have it, Klaus gets what he deserves, and he ends up being paralysed and connected to an iron lung. To care for him, his wife hires a mysterious young man, unknowing of his plans to make Klaus pay for all his wrongdoings!
While it is definitely not for everyone, Tras El Cristal is one of those Spanish films from the eighties that tackled taboo and controversial subjects in a brave and provocative way. In a way, the film brought a reflection on the horrors of the past and a warning about the dangers of fascism. It presented a ruthless critique of human cruelty and the banality of evil.
Mujeres Al Borde De Un Ataque De Nervios by Pedro Almodóvar (1988)
Saving the best for last, Pedro Almodóvar’s first international hit is still, for many, his best film to date. Mujeres Al Borde De Un Ataque De Nervios is probably the best work to encapsulate the most identifiable features of Pedro’s cinema. A string of essential and wildly believable female characters, passion and heartbreak, a particular sense of humour and just the right dose of crime and tension to make everything soar to infinite entertainment.
This grand comedy by the master of the genre follows the story of a group of girls who struggle with different personal and professional issues.
The different humorous details that had been appearing throughout Pedro’s early works, especially in films like Pepi, Luci, Bom Y Otras Chicas Del Montón and Entre Tinieblas, end up exploding in this gem full of unforgettable dialogues, anthological characters and devilish rhythm that makes the crazy story of the film go by in a heartbeat.
The film beautifully portrays the courage and resilience of female characters in the face of tragedy. Pedro effortlessly presented a comedy with dramatic elements while remaining elegant and introducing subtle important messages.
The film received numerous awards from the very moment of its premiere, making some buzz internationally as well. Mujeres Al Borde De Un Ataque De Nervios is one of those rare examples in which everything: the cast, the script, the direction, the music, and the editing; everything just works perfectly, without a single flaw. It is a work that remains fresh in time, always hilarious and sublime.
It is quite fascinating how much can be changed in a decade, especially in cinema! The 1980s were a challenging time for sure for Spanish cinema, but it was the decade where many of today’s great filmmakers came into the spotlight. The Spanish films from the eighties explored new themes that were off-limits the years before, and that resulted in giving us some cult and classic Spanish films that we are truly grateful for!