- Amenábar, Alejandro
- (1972- )Director Alejandro Amenábar is one of the great mavericks of Spanish cinema. With only a hand-ful of films to his name, he has established himself as an ambitious, original, audience-friendly genius-auteur who can explore an increasingly wider range of genres and still triumph at the box office. Comparisons with Orson Welles are probably excessive, but the name of the director of A Touch of Evil (1958) has been mentioned in numerous columns and reports in connection with Amenábar: Like Welles, he writes and directs his features, composes the music, and has a strong input in editing, but (unlike Welles), he also has a tight grip on every aspect of production and disciplines his talent to be able to complete complex, even risky projects that perform financially well in the marketplace.Amenábar was born in Chile, but moved to Madrid with his family in 1973. He fell in love with the movies when he saw ET (1982) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) for the first time. This is typical of other directors of his generation: the canon had shifted in those years, and now Steven Spielberg's place in the pantheon of great directors is more secure than that of John Ford, Howard Hawks, or Roberto Rossellini; like Álex de la Iglesia, Amenábar is unconcerned with the past and the Civil War, uninterested in costumbrismo as an aesthetic, and fascinated by horror, fantasy, and popular culture (genres that Spanish critics are notoriously reluctant to value), and again this marks him out as a representative of the new wave of Spanish directors of the 1990s.As a teenager, Amenábar started shooting film with a home video camera. He studied communications and journalism at the Universidad Complutense. Growing impatient with uninspiring teachers and the lack of practical work carried out in his degree he never completed his studies. After an attention-grabbing short, Himenóptero (1992), a horror film about students locked in a high school, he wrote a script that was considered good enough for director José Luis Cuerda to offer funds and assistance in production. Tesis (Dissertation), which was presented in February 1996 at the Berlin Film Festival, was a striking first film about a communications student involved in the world of snuff movies. It starred Ana Torrent and two actors who would go on to have strong careers: Eduardo Noriega and Fele Martínez. It was co-written with Mateo Gil, Amenábar's collaborator and personal adviser for most of his work. Although not a box-office hit in its initial release, it went on to win six Goyas, including best film and best new director, which made possible a second and more successful run in cinemas.In 1997, he directed Abre los ojos (Open Your Eyes), which became a certified hit and impressed Tom Cruise, who would produce and star in the Hollywood version Vanilla Sky (Cameron Crowe, 2001). Some of the themes of his previous film are here, in particular the dynamics of the relationship between handsome Noriega and geeky Martínez. Penélope Cruz, whose international career would be launched with the 2001 Hollywood version (Vanilla Sky), also starred. This was a high-budget science fiction film that acknowledged Amenábar's cinephilia and his sources of inspiration (particularly Hitchcock and Spielberg). Cruise also contributed funding to Los otros / The Others (2001), an international production starring Nicole Kidman. It quickly became the highest grossing film of the year and soon became one of the most successful in Spanish film history to date. This was a fantasy story, with strong inspiration from Henry James' Turn of the Screw, but also from The Sixth Sense (M. Night Shyamalan, 1999), about a mother living in an isolated mansion trying to protect her children from ghosts. The theme of life as illusion, already present in Abre los ojos, was also prominent.Amazingly, Amenábar's mastery only seemed to improve in his next project, also coscripted by Mateo Gil. Mar adentro / The Sea Inside (2004). With an impressive, luminous central performance by Javier Bardem, it told the story of a quadriplegic who spent most of his life bed-ridden. Although an unpromising project, Amenábar extracted extraordinary performances not just from Bardem, but also from an engaging supporting cast, including Lola Dueñas, Jose Maria Pou, Belén Rueda, and Tamar Novas, and found a way to articulate a strong narrative around the relationships among a large group of characters and the protagonist. In the Goyas that year, it beat Almodóvar's La mala educación (Bad Education, 2004) in most categories (winning 14 awards out of 15 nominations), and pundits suggested that the crown of Spanish cinema had passed. It also won the Academy Award for best foreign film, and best film at the European Film Awards, along with numerous other prizes at international festivals, including Bangkok, Nantes, Sofia, and the Grand Special Jury Prize for Amenábar at the 2004 Venice Film Festival.Agora (2009), his last film to date, is an expensive historical epic set in Alexandria and starring an international cast led by Rachel Weisz as scientist Hypatia, which had an excellent critical reception and quickly became a box-office hit. As well as a well-crafted spectacle, the film is intended as an indictment on religious fundamen-talism. In the context of A.D. 391 Egypt, it was the Christians who constituted a threat to the status quo of a more relaxed set of beliefs. This political controversial aspect of the film earned the writer-director the enmity of right-wing Catholics, who had already criticized him for his views on euthanasia in The Sea Inside.
Historical dictionary of Spanish cinema. Alberto Mira. 2010.