Sunday, April 7, 2013

Bigas Luna 1946 - 2013

Spanish filmmaker Bigas Luna, who discovered actors Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, has died at age 67 after a private battle with leukemia. The director, writer, producer leaves behind some 20 films, including the classics 'Jamón, Jamón' and 'Las edades de Lulú.' Despite his illness, he worked until the end on his latest project: 'Segundo Origen.'

José Juan Bigas Luna was born on March 19, 1946 in Barcelona, although he later settled in the village of La Riera de Gaia, where he died yesterday. After studying architecture and interior design, Luna started working in film in the 70s. He directed his first feature, 'Tatoo,' in 1976. He initially gained recognition in 1978 for his movie 'Bilbao,' which was selected to compete in the Cannes Film Festival. 

In 1990 the director shot to international fame with the then controversial movie 'Las Edades de Lulu,' adapted from the novel of the same name. Javier Bardem has a small part in the film, one of his first appearances on screen.

In 1992 came 'Jamón, Jamón,' the film which gave Bardem and Penelope Cruz their first starring roles. For this picture Luna was awarded the Jury Award at the San Sebastian International Film Festival and the Silver Lion at the Venice International Film Festival. In 1994 he returned to Venice with 'La Teta y la Luna' and won the Golden Osella for best screenplay. In 1998 he won another prize for his writing, this time a Spanish Academy Award (Goya) for the script of 'La femme de chambre du Titanic.'

Luna gave other actors big breaks, including Elsa Pataky, Jordi Molla, Ariadna Gil, and Veronica Echegui. His most recent films were 'Yo soy la Juani' (2006) and 'Di Di Hollywood' (2010), which starred Echegui and Pataki, respectively.

Besides Spanish and Catalan, Luna made films in English, ('Reborn' 1981 and 'Anguish' 1987), Italian (Bámbola 1996), and French ('La femme de chambre du Titanic 1997').

In addition to being a filmmaker, Luna also achieved notoriety as a painter, designer and a conceptual artist. His works in all mediums typically contained high doses of sensuality, eroticism and references to food, all mixed together in dazzling combinations.

Luna reportedly worked tirelessly to the end. The film he was working on at the time of his death, 'Segundo Origen,' was perhaps his most ambitious project. It is a post-apocalyptic tale filmed in 3D with a budget of about ten million euros. According to Spanish media reports, his family has announced that the film will be finished and will be dedicated to Luna's recently born grandson. 

In keeping with his wishes there will be no public funeral or memorial event. Luna will be buried in Tarragona, Spain.


In today's El País newspaper there are tributes from several people, including Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz. In his article, entitled, 'Papá Bigas' Bardem says:

I do not know what to say, or how. And much less write it. To Bigas I owe a woman I love, two soul mates and a career that I never dreamed I could have. What can I add to the eternal and profound gratitude I feel towards him? Only the immense love I have for someone who was always noble, free, good, loving and light ... That emotional lightness of Bigas that many of us envied! An intelligent man who I remember always choosing a smile, love, and a good piece of ham over drama and anguish in the face of any difficulty. How marvelous that light soul with the body of a bear...*
In 'La Película Que Me Cambío La Vida' (The Film That Changed My Life) Cruz remembers going to the casting call for 'Las Edades de Lulu' at age 14:
A man with a mischievous look came out of a room. He was called Bigas Luna and I (secretly) had already seen some of his films. The first thing Bigas asked me was my age. I said I was 17 and he laughed in my face, as always very gently and without making me feel bad, and said: “Well, you can't make this movie but I'll call you for another when you're older.”
I went home thinking that, of course, he'd never call me, but also pleased by the respect and affection with which this man who looked like a bear had treated me. The big surprise came nearly three years later. The phone rang and I got a call that made me believe in miracles. Bigas remembered me and wanted me for his next film. The film that changed my life.*
* Translations mine.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Viral Agoraphobia Leads to 'The Last Days' in New Spanish Film, 'Los Últimos Días'

What if agoraphobia were contagious -- and lethal? That's the question the Pastor brothers, David and Alex (Carriers, 2009), imagine an answer to in their latest film, Los Últimos Días (The Last Days.)

This apocalyptic story unfolds in present day Barcelona as a worldwide epidemic leaves streets emptied and people trapped in homes, offices, shopping centers, etc. due to a morbid fear of simply stepping outside. Indeed, the adverse reaction to going out is so strong that individuals who do convulse and die after stepping only a few feet out the door. The result: a world in total chaos.

Months after the pandemic strikes, high-tech staff stuck in a powerless high-rise office building are struggling to survive as food and water runs low. They work together in shifts to escape their prison by digging their way into the tunnels of the metro, power and sewage systems below. After successfully breaking through, two very different characters are suddenly thrown together and make an agreement to travel jointly through the bowels of the city as they head for their destinations. 

Marc (Quim Gutiérrez), is a young computer programmer who desperately wants to find the pregnant girlfriend he argued with before leaving for work on the day the virus finally paralyzed the world. Enrique (Jose Coronado), is a cut-throat human resources consultant who had been brought in to clean up the company by forcing Marc and others seen as under-performers to shape-up or ship-out. Exactly who or what Enrique is after is initially a mystery to Marc -- and to the audience.

We follow this odd-couple making their way through dark and dingy passageways with surprises lurking around nearly every curve. As they push forward, they manage to get into a metro station, an apartment building, a mall, a skyscraper and a church, where they come across others who are on journeys like theirs, crowds huddling together in a semblance of community, gangs of criminals, families who are trying to stick together, as well as assorted animals -- big and small.

The movie does not focus on the how or the why of the pandemic. Through flashbacks we catch bits and pieces of news reports about ash from a volcano in Iceland and increasing cases of agoraphobia, panic and suicides, and as things get worse we hear reassurances from the authorities meant to calm the masses. Instead the directors explore how humanity might react to such a tragedy, which in the case of Marc is simply to try to reunite with a loved one, without giving much thought about what he might do after. Enrique is looking for something or someone, too, but in addition he shows signs of thinking ahead to what very basic things they will need to survive.

The special effects are excellent. The eerie scenes of a Barcelona abandoned by its inhabitants and increasingly reclaimed by nature brought to mind the London of 28 Weeks Later and New York of I Am Legend.

The performances are equally impressive. Veteran actor Jose Coronado blends the right amount of ruthlessness and humanity into the character of Enrique. Quim Gutierrez, who jumped from soap operas to the big screen a few years ago, portrays Marc with a sort of naivete and innocence that makes his journey believable.

All in all, a well-made and very entertaining film.