- Rabal, Francisco
- (1926-2001)Like so many actors of his generation, Francisco Rabal had to become a star in a series of popular films before he could follow a more personal career in international film, one that grew in depth and versatility during the post-Franco period. He started as an electrician in the CIFESA film studios and was discovered by producer Vicente Escrivá, who signed him to an exclusive contract. His earliest roles are as earnest army men, priests, and bullfighters. Indeed, during the 1950s, he was selected by the regime's most prominent directors to become the embodiment of dignified masculinity in a number of bombastic films, including La guerra de Dios (God's War, Rafael Gil, 1953), Hay un camino a la derecha (There's a Road to the Right, Francisco Rovira Beleta, 1953), El beso de Judas (Judas' Kiss, Rafael Gil, 1954), Todo es posible en Granada (Everything's Possible in Granada, José Luis Sáenz de Heredia, 1954), and Murió hace quince años (He Died Fifteen Years Ago, Rafael Gil, 1954). He contributed to these a sense of dignity and a quiet masculinity very much in keeping with the stories.But Rabal had come from a staunchly Republican family background, and as he became more established, it became clear that he was not another docile actor in the mould of Alfredo Mayo. He became increasingly more vocal in the expression of a libertarian ideology and more uncomfortable with the roles he was called on to play. It was Luis Bunuel who discovered depths in his character that made him ideal for the angst-ridden priest of Nazarín (1959). Buñuel used Rabal twice more: as the cynical illegitimate son in Viridiana (1961) and as one of the customers, a racketeer from Murcia, in Belle de jour (1967). This launched a prolific international career. He worked extensively in France and Italy, with roles ranging from the laconic husband in Antonioni's The Eclipse (1962) to supporting parts in Jacques Rivette's La religieuse (The Nun, Jacques Rivette, 1966) and in the Luchino Visconti segment of Le Streghe (The Witches, 1967).Rabal's roles in Spanish cinema were varied and included the outlaws of José María Forqué's Amanecer en puerta oscura (Dawn at Dark Gate, 1957) and Carlos Saura's elegy for legendary bandit hero José María "El Tempranillo" Llanto por un bandido (Tears for an Outlaw, 1964) and the bullfighters in Los clarines del miedo (Bugles of Fear, Antonio Román, 1958) and the 1960s version of the classic Currito de la cruz (Rafael Gil, 1965), which reinforced a specifically Spanish persona. In the late 1960s, his career in Spain settled into conventional parts in comedies and thrillers, but this changed at the end of the Transition period.By that time, Rabal had become an icon of anti-Franco dissidence, which echoed in some of his 1980s performances. The latter and more accomplished part of his career starts with Mario Camus's La colmena (The Beehive, 1982), in which he played a writer, and a second wave of international recognition arrived with his award-winning Azarías, the fool in Los Santos Inocentes (The Holy Innocents, Mario Camus, 1984). He went on to play strong, hot-blooded patriarchs, including the father who rapes his daughter in Tiempo de silencio (A Time of Silence, Vicente Aranda, 1986). His wounded brother to Fernando Rey's cardinal in Padre Nuestro (Our Father, Francisco Regueiro, 1985) showed his versatility. In Pedro Almodóvar's ¡Átame! (Tie Me Up!, Tie Me Down!, 1990), he played a despotic film director in love with a drug-addicted actress. Other substantial parts in his late career include one of the most important male parts in Spanish theater, in Valle Inclán's adaptation Luces de Bohemia (Lights of Bohemia, Miguel Ángel Díez, 1985), as well as in La vieja música (Old Music, Mario Camus, 1985), Divinas palabras (Divine Words, José Luis García Sánchez, 1987), and Así en el cielo como en la tierra (In Heaven as in Earth, José Luis Cuerda, 1995). The last substantial role of his career was the painter Francisco de Goya in his last collaboration with Carlos Saura, the reflective Goya in Burdeos (Goya in Bordeaux, 1999).
Historical dictionary of Spanish cinema. Alberto Mira. 2010.