Episode 03 - Belle Epoque
Belle Epoque (1992)
This was a quirky Spanish film that promised a story about a man , Fernando, who falls in love with four sisters in 1931 during the Spanish Civil War. Sounds promising?
He deserts and then befriends a free-thinking artist named Monolo who has four luscious adult daughters still living at home. Each one attempts to seduce Fernando, who immediately proclaims his love and desire to marry after each encounter. The three oldest daughters aren't actually interested in him, they all have ulterior motives when seducing him. But the youngest has an actual crush on him and is heartbroken as, time and again, his trysts with her older sisters are discovered and he yet again chooses one of them over her. Finally, with no more sisters left, Fernando turns to the youngest and proclaims his love and desire to marry which is finally accepted.
This wasn't poly at all. But it was amusing, as the story is told in sort of a charming bedroom-farce kind of way. If you aren't familiar with that term, a bedroom farce is the kind of comedy where people are running in and out of doors trying to either catch someone or not get caught and it's often shown as a long hallway with doors opening and closing across from each other, and in some of the more absurd movies, some characters exiting through doors they didn't enter. It's silly, and although bedroom farces usually imply cheating or lying, this movie didn't so I found it amusing. But, as I said, it wasn't poly.
What WAS valuable, however, were the subplots.
When we first meet the family, the mother, Amalia, is nowhere to be seen. Monolo is alone in the house with his daughters, is an agnostic/atheist, and is quite adamant about Spain becoming a Republic. One of his daughters, Violetta, is quite the tomboy. And, for 1930's Spain, I was shocked to find her tomboyishness accepted. She was encouraged to follow a career in veterinary medicine, she dresses in masculine clothing, she chops wood, her hair is short, she has a deep voice and is oh-so-fucking-hot, if you're into that girls-dressing-as-young-boys thing. When everyone dresses up in costume to go to Carnival, she dresses as a soldier and she and her sisters gang up on Fernando to make him dress as a French Maid. She finds him "beautiful" and proceeds to take the very masculine role of persual, complete with leading him in a very seductive Tango (which was recently outlawed). And when I say "leading", I mean in the traditional ballroom sense - she takes the male stance, does the male steps, and behaves quite aggressively in moving him around the dance floor, including dipping him and grabbing his leg in a very sexy female move that wraps the leg around the male partner's waist, or in this case, wraps Fernando's leg around Violetta's waist.
When she has sex with him, she gets on top and refuses to allow him to touch her breasts. She controls the entire encounter. When Fernando announces his intention to marry her to Monolo, the father merely shakes his head and says "no, not that one!". Fernando is confused, but when Monolo suggests that he ask Violetta her opinion, Fernando is shocked to hear Violetta tell him that their encounter meant nothing and she will not marry him.
Later, when we do meet the Amalia, she has all the girls gathered around her on the bed and is discussing how their lives have been going while she was away. She is encouraging one of her daughters to find a husband, but then she turns to Violetta and says "but not for you, my love. You need to find yourself a good wife, someone who loves you and understands you and will take care of you and keep house for you," while Violetta smiles, clearly pleased that her mother understands her.
Violetta's gender identity, while perhaps looked on as a bit odd, is completely accepted by her entire family, but strongly encouraged by her parents, even down to having her dress in sailor suits as a child while the other girls were forced to dress "pretty" for attendance at church.
But, for as interesting as that character development is, it's not really poly either.
The really interesting part, from the standpoint of a poly reviewer, was the parents themselves.
Amalia shows up one day. Turns out she's a Spanish Opera singer who has been traveling the Americas on tour. Standing slightly behind her appears to be her manager. Through the course of the breakfast conversation (she's arrived early enough to wake the household), as she regales her family with her tales, we get the impression that she and her manager have more than a business relationship. But just as I accept that husband and wife are "separated" and she has started an affair (Monolo earlier admits total impotence to Fernando in a completely unrelated conversation), eventually, she leaves the breakfast table with her husband, explicitly for a "conjugal visit".
Her manager breaks down crying.
Fernando is confused because 1) he thought Monolo was impotent, 2) doesn't understand they're going upstairs to have sex now and 3) he didn't pick up on the fact that Amalia was having an affair with her manager, and asks the sisters what the problem is. The youngest, sitting next to the manager, says "can't you tell? He's mother's lover!" Everyone looks on the manager with sympathy except Fernando, who looks slightly appalled and mostly confused. The manager eventually runs upstairs to ask how much longer she's going to be. Amalia explains that she'll be down in a while and just wait, she wants to be reacquainted with her husband. The parents look at each other bemusedly and eventually get down to business.
Later (I don't remember if it's the same day or another day), the manager has a private talk with Monolo about his fears that he will lose Amalia to her husband. Monolo reassures him that Amalia loves him and besides, Monolo is the cuckold here, not the manager. The manager, thus reassured, goes on with the rest of the visit. Eventually Amalia decides to go back on tour and Monolo and the manager share a warm hug of brothers goodbye.
Now THIS is a poly story. The husband and wife very clearly have an open arrangement and the husband welcomes his wife's lover as another member of the family, right on down to reassuring him that his wife loves him.
It was cute and entertaining, but if you're anything like me, the story of the sisters and Fernando will be a little bit frustrating because you'll be shouting at the screen saying "Hello! Just share him! Especially in this family where they don't seem to care that Mother has a lover and the guy each daughter seduces has just fucked her sister the night before!"
Or, maybe that's just me.
I wouldn't say this is a must-see poly movie, but it was lighthearted and silly and should be included in a list of movies with poly-ish characters and/or subplots.