Alcaine, José Luis

Alcaine, José Luis
(1938- )
   José Luis Alcaine is one of the most versatile cinematographers in contemporary Spanish cinema, and in a career extending over four decades, he has pushed his range through close associations with filmmakers as varied as Vicente Aranda, Fernando Trueba, and Pedro Almodovar, in each case adapting himself not just to particular visual styles, but also to the needs of plot, mood, and character.
   Alcaine was born in Tangiers, and he was an early lover of films. He ran the local film club as a young man and soon started working in film processing. He came to Spain in 1962, to study at the Official Film School (Escuela Oficial de Cine) while doing small jobs as a still photographer in some Nuevo Cine Español projects, such as Basilio Martín Patino's landmark Nueve cartas a Berta (Nine Letters to Berta, 1966). He trained as a cinematographer with directors like Jaime Chávarri (Los viajes escolares [ School Trips ], 1974) and José Luis Borau (El puente [ The Holiday ], 1977), before establishing a close working relationship with Vicente Aranda. One of his most successful contributions of the 1980s was Demonios en el jardín (Demons in the Garden, 1984), directed by Manuel Gutiérrez Aragón. Like Alcaine, Aragón likes to create specific, distinctive atmospheres to convey emotions, and his lighting in this film perfectly reflects the repressed feelings of the immediate post Civil War period.
   Alcaine first received unanimous critical acclaim for his work in Víctor Erice's El sur (South, 1983). His achievement for this film was indeed remarkable: he created evocative, contrasted lighting between the north that the characters inhabit and the south of their dreams. During that decade, he became Spain's most favored cinematographer. He reinvented Almodóvar's visual style, flooding a studio set with his brightest colors yet in the comedy Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, 1988), and also challenging himself by going for the flat surfaces and floods of shadowless light in the style of American 1950s comedies, in sharp contrast with the three-dimensional atmospheres created for Aragón and Erice. In a similar vein, he contributed to the subtle mood of ¡Átame! (Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, 1990) by suggesting a touch of fantasy with his brightly lit interiors. His work for Vicente Aranda throughout the 1980s and 1990s, including the distinctive color palettes for El lute (1987) and documentary-like images of Libertarias (Freedom Fighters, 1996) are also emblematic of his range. Other distinctive titles with Aranda include Intruso (Intruder, 1991), La pasión turca (Turkish Passion, 1994), and Celos (Jealousy, 1999).
   ¡Ay Carmela! (1990) and El pájaro de la felicidad (Bird of Happiness, 1993) are two exquisite examples of his work in the 1990s, for, respectively, Carlos Saura and Pilar Miró. The latter, mostly set in a house by the sea, features a particularly beautiful use of Mediterranean light. He worked for Almodóvar again in creating flawless and colorful images for La mala educación (Bad Education, 2004) and Volver (2006).
   Also in the 1990s, he established a creative partnership with Bigas Luna, working on the images for his "Iberian trilogy," as well as Son de mar (Sound of the Sea, 2001), which featured an approach to Mediterranean light radically different from the one deployed for Miró. Next in his series of close collaborations with key Spanish auteur-directors was Fernando Trueba. Alcaine won praise and a Goya award for his nostalgic, sun-drenched images in Belle Epoque (1992) and also Two Much (1995). He did some work in Hollywood projects (Blast from the Past, Hugh Wilson, 1999), but it was in Spanish cinema that his work continued to be particularly original and creative. Other films of the last decade include La vida de nadie (Nobody's Life, 2002); Roma (Adolfo Aristarain, 2004); La vida perra de Juanita Narboni (Juanita Narboni's Wretched Life, Farida Belyazid, 2005), in which he photographed his native Tangiers, gorgeously bringing out all her moods and colors; and 13 rosas (13 Roses, 2007), as well as Tirante el blanco (2006), another Aranda collaboration.

Historical dictionary of Spanish cinema. . 2010.

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