Carlos Saura, Spanish filmmaker who drew global acclaim, dies at 91

Carlos Saura, the Spanish screenwriter and director whose films were strongly controversial in the 1960s and 1970s, challenged the myths of national identity under the fascist dictator Francisco Franco and his later work dramatizing folk dance culture, died February 10 at the age of 91.

Spanish Film Academy announced The death occurred the day before Mr. Saura received the Goya Award for excellence in his career.

A philosophical thread has bound Saura’s two cinematic legacies — his fabricated attacks on the Franco regime in works like “The Hunt” (1966), “The Garden of Delights” ( 1970) and “Ana and the Wolves” (1973) ) and his subsequent homage to flamenco, tango and fado in exhilarating dance films — is freedom of expression: art, politics , social and sexual.

In a career spanning more than six decades and starring in nearly 50 films, Mr. Saura considers himself an heir to the filmmaking tradition established by his friend and creative confidant, Luis Buñuel.

“We shared themes of personal suffocation caused by religion, education, Spanish family life,” said Saura, who also wrote most of the films he directed. New York Times. “For me, cinema is a gymnastics of the imagination to escape.”

Under Franco, who ruled the country for four decades until his death in 1975, the Spanish government sought to instill a deeply conservative national identity that embraced family, church and state centered.

Juan Antonio Bardem and Luis Berlanga, brilliant early Spanish directors of the Franco dynasty, traded humor on the gallows but avoided direct confrontation with the regime. Buñuel, a master of surreal images who aimed his sternly irreverent intrigues at bourgeois values, worked mainly in exile.

But Mr. Saura remained in Madrid, using an astonishing combination of technical skill and political savvy at a pivotal time as Spain sought to project a more open and modern image in the country. outside. In the 1960s, the country was desperately lagging behind France and Italy in filmmaking and sought to elevate its cultural status as a way to boost tourism.

A former photographer, Mr. Saura made films with a cinematic quality and dramatic power rarely seen in Spanish studios of the time. He and his producer, Elías Querejeta, have been actively working with the censors to minimize the cuts to their work while appealing to international film festival audiences and judges.

With an elliptical method of storytelling, which often blurs time and memory, Mr. Saura has deftly managed to maintain his artistic integrity. His breakthrough was “The Hunt,” a psychological thriller about three pro-French veterans of the Spanish Civil War, who reunite decades later to hunt rabbits and pit each other against each other. way of killing.

“Saura and Querejeta devised a strategy that allowed them to avoid being marginalized by the censors at home,” said Marvin D’Lugo, author of Films About Carlos Saura.

He “was the first to make a big splash abroad at a time when there was an anti-French audience,” says D’Lugo. “So a film like ‘The Hunt’ can be read abroad as a deft subversion of censorship rules and is just as relevant for middle-class audiences at home as it is essentially a series. hunting films, which are an obsession for the Spaniards.”

Writing in the Times, film critic Bosley Crowther declared the film “so good, so important, and so powerful that it would be a credit to any director in the world.” It won the top prize at the Berlin International Film Festival.

Mr. Saura repeated his success at the Berlin film festival with “Peppermint Frappé” (1967), a psychological drama that marked the beginning of a decades-long romantic relationship and professional collaboration. with Geraldine Chaplin (Charlie’s daughter) and serves as an allegory about political repression in Spain.

Another triumph was the dark satire “The Garden of Delights” (1970), about a Spanish industrialist who lost his memory and his Swiss bank account number. Seeking to revive his mind, his self-interested relatives reconstructed scenes of his life. It was an acid attack by the wealthy businessmen who helped finance the Franco government and the ailing Generalissimo himself.

“Ana and the Wolves,” which was nominated for the top prize at the Cannes film festival, tells Chaplin as a young foreign governess who attracts the coveted attention of her owners, three middle-aged brothers. years living in a dilapidated mansion with their family.

Mr Saura told the Times that the men “to me represent the three monsters of Spain: religious perversion, repressed sexuality and authoritarian spirit, respectively.” Chaplin’s character ends up meeting a terrible fate for leading the men and instilling in their children ideologies that defy the family order.

“Cousin Angelica” (1974) was one of the first Spanish films to deal with the civil war with a sympathetic, even magnanimous look on the losing side. Protesters threw stink bombs at the theater where the film was premiered in Madrid, and the right-wing press condemned the photo. But the film, about an emotionally stunted businessman trapped in the memories of his growing up among pro-French relatives, won the Jury Prize at Cannes.

Two years later, Mr. Saura received the same award for “Breeding Ravens” (also widely known by its Spanish title “Cría Cuervos”), a depiction of a troubled childhood with a sutra performance. Queen of Ana Torrent as a girl who believes she holds the right to life and death over her family.

Franco’s death largely freed Mr. Saura from his cherished cloak. His comic book sequel “Ana and the Wolves” — “Mama Turns 100” (1979) — was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

He won Spain’s highest film title with “¡Ay, Carmela!” (1990), about a troupe of apolitical artists who fell to the fascists during the civil war. “Goya in Bordeaux” (1999), starring Francisco Rabal as an 18th-century Spanish painter in his final years in exile, speaks to the power of creativity in adversity.

These are the politically tinged exceptions of Mr. Saura’s post-French production. For the most part, he makes dance films in which art and artist – fantasy and reality – blend into a visually striking melodrama.

“Blood Wedding” (1981), adapted from a play by Federico García Lorca, marked the beginning of a trilogy featuring Anthony Gades, Spain’s leading flamenco dancer and choreographer. The two sequels were “Carmen” (1983), which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and “El amor brujo” (1986), sometimes translated as “Love, the Magician.”

Mr. Saura also received a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards for “Tango” (1998), about a dancer and his deadly attraction to a gangster thug. His later works include the dance documentary “Fados” (2007), “Flamenco Flamenco” (2010) and “Jota de Saura” (2016), the last film celebrating the music of the Aragón countryside your scent.

Carlos Saura Atarés was born in Huesca on January 4, 1932. His father was a lawyer and government tax official, and his mother was a pianist. An older brother, Antonio, became a highly regarded abstract expressionist painter.

Mr. Saura was 3 when his family moved to Madrid. Civil War began the following year, pitting Franco’s Nationalist forces against the elected moderate liberal coalition government known as the Second Republic.

He was immortalized in “Cousin Angelica”, his memory of a classmate being hit by flying glass during a bombing and mentioned in “The Hunt” where corpses and belongings are kept. a room in the basement of a high school run by Augustinian.

With his brother’s encouragement, Saura entered the Instituto de Investigaciones y Experiencias Cinematográficas in Madrid. Raised on a diet of propaganda and censorship-approved escapism, he is energized by the sombre and poetic masterpieces of Italian neo-realist filmmakers such as Vittorio De Sica.

At the institute, he made a number of short films that pushed the boundaries of socially acceptable criticism. One, “Sunday Afternoon,” about a maid’s plight on her day off, qualified him to graduate in 1957. After some of his early drawings were cut off by censors, Mr. Saura vowed never to lose control of a painting again.

In 1957, he married Adela Medrano, with whom he had two sons, Carlos and Antonio, before their divorce. Saura and Chaplin had a son, Shane, before splitting after the filmmaker had an affair with the boy’s nanny.

He later married his caretaker, Mercedes Pérez, and they had three sons – Manuel, Adrián and Diego – before divorcing. He has a daughter, Ana, with actress Eulalia Ramón, whom he dated for 15 years before marrying in 2006. A list of survivors was not immediately available.

One of Mr. Saura’s most powerful personal works is “33 Days,” which remains unreleased after years of production. The film depicts the intense effort of Picasso (played by Antonio Banderas) to complete his monumental anti-war mural. “Guernica,” about the Nazi carpet bombing of a Basque town in 1937.

“My brother always said that the most difficult moment for an artist is standing in front of a blank canvas,” Saura told the Times in 2012, when he started making films, “that was also the problem that I encountered. many times as a film director and that was certainly what Picasso was facing until the news of the Guernica bombing made him really want to get to work.”

For Picasso, all relationships are secondary to his art, says Mr. Saura, the same is true of him. “Of course Picasso loved women, but above all he was a tireless worker who lived for his paintings,” he said. “I think if he hadn’t been so egotistical, he simply wouldn’t have produced the work that he did.”


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