- Saura, Carlos
- (1932- )Saura studied engineering in Madrid before turning to photography. This was his first passion, and in later years his work as a documentary photographer would be exhibited throughout Spain. Documenting reality was at the core of his earliest films, Tarde de domingo (Sunday Afternoon, 1957) and Cuenca (1958). This impulse to record reality merged fruitfully with a highly individual understanding and assimilation of neorealism, and the result was his first feature film, Los golfos (The Lazy Young Men, 1960).Saura only came back to directing in 1963, with Llanto por un bandido (Tears for an Outlaw, 1964), an attempt at a more commercial film with an established star (Francisco Rabal). The film was not without merit, but was a critical and box-office failure. La caza (The Hunt, 1966) was more difficult and artistically ambitious, and far more representative of his work as filmmaker for the next 15 years, as he became firmly established as the epitome of the dissident Franco-period filmmaker. This is a metaphorical story about a group of males who go hunting. The tensions between them, subdued at the beginning, finally explode in a bloody finale. Two elements present in this film recur in his later filmography. First, a self-conscious use of metaphor; second, the centrality of the role of memory and the impact of the past on the present. The authorities distrusted his elusive style, and immediately suspected rebelliousness and dangerous ideas. At the same time, during the late 1960s, he replaced Luis G. Berlanga as Spain's most international director. Because he was less literal than his colleague, it was harder for censors to cut or forbid his films. He was also lucky to be working in the García Escudero years, when artistic films were at least nominally encouraged and supported with extra funds.In 1967, Saura started a professional collaboration with Geraldine Chaplin, who would become his companion, and they made seven films together: the first period of their work together includes Peppermint Frapé (1967), Stress es tres tres (Stress Is Three Three, 1968), and Ana y los lobos (Ana and the Wolves, 1973). Mamá cumple cien años (Mom Is One Hundred), a sequel of sorts to the latter, was made in 1979. These films are increasingly elliptical, and weighed down by symbols. In terms of narrative, they assimilate the lessons of late 1960s European art films, exhibiting a leisurely pace and tending to be densely intellectual.The trend continues in his great films of the 1970s, when he stretches himself thematically and takes advantage of increasing freedom to rework some previous themes: Elisa, Vida mía (Elisa, Life of My Life, 1977), Los ojos vendados (Blindfolded, 1978) and, especially, Cria Cuervos (Raise Ravens, 1976), which became a success in the international festival circuit. This was shot at the very end of Francoism. Without Chaplin and before the end of the Franco period, he made La prima Angélica (Cousin Angelica, 1974), a fascinating play on memory with a great central performance by José Luis López Vázquez playing both a mature man and his younger self in the Civil War years, when he was in love with his cousin. The film is still regarded as his most complex effort, and a perfect balance between art and audience-friendly storytelling.The end of the political Transition cycle eventually left Saura with no further need for obscurity and suggested meanings. Consequently, his films became more accessible, and he explored new venues. His approach changed in ways that would have been difficult to predict during the early 1970s. Deprisa deprisa (Faster, Faster, 1981) was a return to his neorealist roots that was not very well received. However, his first musical trilogy, a series of ballet films on Spanish themes (Bodas de sangre [ Blood Wedding, 1981 ], Carmen [ 1983 ], and El amor brujo [ Love the Magician, 1986 ]) was hugely popular, both in Spain and abroad. He also tried his hand at an expensive, complex international production shot in Costa Rica, El Dorado (1988), about explorer López de Aguirre, which was not a success and some feared could signify the end of his career as filmmaker. But he returned to form and commercial success with ¡Ay Carmela! (1990), an important film in which he collaborated again with Rafael Azcona. It was based on a famous play, and it revisited the Civil War as source of inspiration.In the 1990s, Saura tried different genres: the social thriller in Taxi (1996), sports documentary in Marathon (1992), rural drama in El séptimo día (The Seventh Day, 2004), sentimental comedy in Pajarico (Little Bird, 1997), and artists' biopics in Goya in Burdeos (Goya in Bourdeaux, 1999) and Buñuel y la mesa del rey Salomón (Buñuel and the Table of King Solomon, 2001). He continued exploring a variety of musical styles in films that range from the documentary to autobiographical fiction. His Tango (1998), in some ways a reworking of his earlier Carmen, is a postmodern narrative about a film director, in many ways an alter ego for Saura himself, who lives out the lyrics of the songs in his film projects. He also did documentaries featuring Andalusian songs and dances (Sevillanas, 1992; Flamenco, 1995; Iberia, 2005) and Portuguese popular torch song style (Fado, 2007).
Historical dictionary of Spanish cinema. Alberto Mira. 2010.