English Title: Bilbao

Original Title: Bilbao

Country of Origin: Spain

Studio: Fígaro Films

Director: Juan José Bigas Luna

Producer(s): José Luis Corominas Farrey

Screenplay: Juan José Bigas Luna

Cinematographer: Pedro Aznar

Editor: Anastasi Rinos

Runtime: 86 minutes

Genre: Crime and Thriller

Language: Spanish

Starring/Cast: Ángel Jové, María Martín, Isabel Pisano

Year: 1978

Volume: Spanish / Portuguese


Leo suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder because of Bilbao, a stripper and prostitute in the Chinatown district, Barcelona. Leo designs a thorough plan to include Bilbao in his collection of erotic articles. Hidden behind his sunglasses, as a detective, Leo follows Bilbao around the city. He chases Bilbao up to her house, he takes pictures of her, he keeps the newspaper cuttings in which she appears and he acquires any object related to her.

However, Leo lives with María. She is a few years older than him and she feels strongly sexually attracted to him. But he rejects her because of his delirious passion for Bilbao. Prepared to carry out his plan, Leo drugs and kidnaps Bilbao in order to take her to a house. She is sodomized by Leo and, by chance, she suffers an accident and dies. Finally, Leo overwhelmed by fear turns to María. Together with the help of the main character’s uncle, they get rid of the corpse.



Bilbao is a film produced in the heat of explicit eroticism during the relaxation of sexual censorship after Franco’s death. The film is, then, another Spanish film production defined by political and, above all, sexual transitions. Although Bilbao could be defined as an erotic film, the sophistication of its images points to the eroticism as an intellectual act. Thus Bilbao – within Bigas Luna’s filmography could be designated as a film of intellectual sensuality, as with other productions directed by the same film-maker like Caniche (1979) and Anguish (1987).

In Bilbao, Bigas Luna influenced by an avant-garde and experimental genre – tries to follow in the footsteps of independent American cinema and Andy Warhol. Also, the conception of the photography manages to create an atmosphere of blurred and claustrophobic eroticism: the suburban aesthetics and the use of light are presented as outstanding elements in order to emphasize the atmosphere of the story. His fascination for consumer society’s typical objects inspired by Warholian pop comes together with Bigas’ past life as interior designer. This is shown throughout the narration, for example, demonstrated in the scene with the hairdryer where the director’s fetishism becomes specific.

Bilbao belongs to the phase in which Bigas Luna was immersed in his search for his own way of expression. From this film, the director starts to outline the guidelines that will define his main characters’ psychological profile: voyeurism, obsessive temperament and fetishism. Elements such as Leo’s sunglasses, he wears them even in closed spaces and during the night, his use of raincoats with turned-up collars, and the way he takes pictures of Bilbao, are all of them the legacy of distinguished voyeurs like James Stewart in the film Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954). Besides taking part in a strategy to see without being seen, these elements represent an intellectual erotic act. In this way, Bigas Luna makes clear his passion for looking through the voyeur’s intellectual erotic act. Moreover Leo’s appearance and behaviour are elements that strengthen and describe the main character’s psychological impenetrability. The ritual that Leo carries out before going in search of Bilbao shows that he lives in an unreal world. The mental disorder he suffers from is also shown by the magic value that he gives to objects.

Furthermore, in Bigas Luna’s films, a character’s reaction or the presence of an object gives significance to a scene or a whole sequence. Here, the representation of food is not gratuitous: the fish and the sausage or the milk spilt over María or Bilbao’s body have a religious symbolism and a ludic and erotic meaning. Both sequences suggest a metaphorical image that defines Bigas Luna’s cinematographic imagination. Bilbao turns, in some sense, into a cathartic exercise in which the author tries to free himself from his inner ’I’. However in a Spain that has just come out of forty years of moral and political repression during Franco’s regime, Bilbao can also be considered as a symbol of how individual freedom can choose many ways. 

Author of this review: Francisco Marcos Martin