Jaume (Josep Maria Pou) is a gay, middle-aged college professor who discovers he's terminally ill. Intent on leaving something important behind him, he becomes obsessed with the idea of adopting a baby. The particular infant he has in mind is the love spawn of David (David Selvas), a gay hustler who also happens to be his prize student, and Alba (Irene Montala), the daughter of his best friend, Pere (Mario Gas). The fact that Jaume is smitten by his student and also harbors a lifelong unrequited love for Pere merely complicates matters.

Set in the dream city of Barcelona, the unsleeping Barcelona of Gaudi and Mirž, this gay Dark Victory story almost outdoes that acclaimed Bette Davis vehicle for noble self-sacrifice and masochism. What sets Beloved/Friend apart is the rigorous intelligence of its performances, script (by Josep M. Benet I Jornet), and direction by Ventura Pons. David's character is a fascinating amalgam of narcissistic insensitivity (which stands him in good stead in his chosen profession) and fierce intellect (he's besotted by the work of Catalan writer Ramon Llul). The scene in which Jaume confesses his secret longing for Pere starts convivially over afternoon cocktails and develops into a revelation of shared male emotion rarely seen in films from any country. The legendary machismo of Spanish culture is nowhere to be found in this instance. Jaume's endless willingness to be a doormat for David's destructive behavior becomes a tad monotonous, reminiscent of another Bette Davis film, Of Human Bondage. David trashes his apartment even more savagely than mean-as-an-adder Davis wrecked poor, put-upon Leslie Howard's digs. Jaume's a rather morose sad sack, determinedly unprepossessing in looks and manner, but your sympathy stays with him, nonetheless. The supremely arrogant, nihilistic David has a blistering encounter with him that's written with such savage truth that it's hard to shake off. ('You have to pay for one will shiver when you come near.') Gas is a handsome, seigniorial presence as Pere, making you believe in his friend's passion for his bluff self-possession. Selvas, in a gay variety of tried-and-true ensembles, ranging from skintight glitter shirts to full leather harness, is both reptilian and mesmerizing as David. Montala has a nice strength as the happily unwed mother-to-be. Rosa Maria Sarda, as her mother, however, provides the true, beating heart of the film. She seems at first blush to have an idyllic life, with her perfect home, yoga, a humorously loving husband and healthy, intimate relationship with her daughter. (Shaking her head over her daughter's strange choice of a lover, she mutters, 'In my day, you fucked with guys or were a lesbian. I don't know...') It's only later that she makes you feel the deep dissatisfaction and sterile emptiness of her existence. The lack of any real delineation of her problem is the script's major weakness, but Sarda is actress enough for you to read volumes into her mournful eyes and mouth, which can go from an impish grin to bewildered sorrow in a mercurial trice.

--David Noh