Spanish film stars slam Gaza ‘genocide’

Husband and wife pair Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz are among around 100 Spanish actors, artists and writers who have published an open letter denouncing what they are describe as 'genocide' in the Gaza Strip.

Spanish film stars slam Gaza 'genocide'
Spanish actress Penélope Cruz and her husband Javier Bardem have signed a letter denouncing Israel's bombing of the Gaza Strip. Photo: Dominique Faget/AFP

Oscar-winning film director Pedro Almodóvar also put his name to the letter in which prominent figures from the arts world called for the European Union to "condemn the bombing by land, sea and air against the Palestinian civilian population in the Gaza Strip".

They echoed UN Security Council calls for demanded an immediate cease fire by the Israeli military, and said Israel must "end the blockade, which the Gaza Strip has suffered for over a decade".

"Gaza is experiencing horror these days, besieged and attacked by land, sea and air. The homes of Palestinians are being destroyed, they are being denied water, electricity [and] free movement to their hospitals, schools and fields while the international community does nothing," the art professionals said. 

They called on Israel to open the borders to allow medical teams and food supplies into the Gaza Strip.

Israel and Palestine must "enter into dialogue" to ensure a "just and lasting peace" to the conflict," the letter's authors added.

Over 1,200 Palestinians have died in the 23-day conflict, with at least 19 people killed when a UN school was bombed in the early hours of Wednesday morning.   

Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz and started dating other in 2007 and married in 2010. The two became an item after co-starring in the Woody Allen comedy Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona.

Bardem is regularly involved in political activism and has campaigned against controversial Spanish plans to drill for oil and gas of Spain's Canary Islands.

He also sparked a diplomatic row in 2013 when he let slip the private remarks of a French diplomat about that country's relationship with Morocco.

He claimed that the ambassador had described Morocco as, "A mistress with whom we sleep every night, even if we are not particularly in love, but whom we must defend. In other words, we turn a blind eye."

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Oscar-winner Javier Bardem struggles to find work in Spain

He is Spain's best-known actor, but Javier Bardem says he has trouble getting work there.

Oscar-winner Javier Bardem struggles to find work in Spain
Photos: Loic Venance/ AFP.

“I work much less in Spain than I would like to,” the Oscar-winning star told AFP.

“I don't get the scripts because people think I live abroad, or that I would be looking for stratospheric money, which is not true,” he added.   

“If a film has a budget of course I want to be paid, but if not, we can find another way,” Bardem said as the Nantes Spanish film festival in western France staged a retrospective of his work.

“I am prepared to be flexible,” said the actor, who tends to alternate between Hollywood blockbusters like the “Pirates of the Caribbean” and edgier independent European and American films.

Bardem, who lives with his wife Penelope Cruz and their two children in a suburb of Madrid, has always been deeply engaged in his homeland.

Activist mother

The son of an activist actress from whom he inherited a passion for leftwing causes, he began his career in the 1990s with directors like Bigas Luna and Pedro Almodovar, who were challenging the country's view of itself after decades of dictatorship.

That taste for revolt has never left him. His family played a key role in organising protests against the Iraq war, and he incurred the wrath of the present leader of the rightwing People's Party Pablo Casado for criticising its dismantling of Spain's social security system when it was in power.

Casado branded Bardem an “imbecile” and said he should be “living in Cuba” rather than in Los Angeles.

Bardem is used to the rough and tumble of politics. He made his name in Luna's “Jamon, Jamon” playing the ultimate Spanish macho man opposite Cruz in 1992.

He insisted that he and Luna were “sending up” the Iberian archetype.   

“Bigas Luna had a great sense of humour,” said the actor, who was an equally chauvinist playboy businessman the following year in “Macho”. 

 Yet a quarter of a century on, the behaviour of the Latin male lampooned in those movies has “not changed much”, he added.

Macho men

“The macho is still very much there, including in Spanish politics,” he said.

“Spanish men still say 'I do it because it comes from my balls', (which means I do that because I'm a man), and 'You don't know who you are talking to!'” when they are challenged.

“Sadly, sexist violence has risen to alarming levels,” he added.   

Bardem, who turned 50 last month, is not tempted to make the transition to the director's chair — though he can see why some of his peers are tempted.   

“Playing a role is an enormous act of trust and generosity,” he said.   

“You offer yourself for someone else to work with and manipulate, and not always for the better. I can see how an actor would say, 'Now I want to direct my own work,'” he added.

“But directing is much more than that, it's an extraordinarily difficult job. I don't feel I would be able to do it well, and more importantly I don't feel the need to.”

Bardem has just started shooting on Denis Villeneuve's “Dune”, the second time the classic science fiction novel has been adapted for the big screen after David Lynch's 1984 version.   Before that he was in British director Sally Potter new film, “Molly”, a family drama where he stars alongside Elle Fanning and Salma Hayek. 

 “It was a challenge,” he admitted, “because it is a complex story, but talking about a film that is still being cut is hard.” 

Bardem, who won his best supporting actor Oscar for the Coen brothers' “No Country for Old Men”, is still very much attached to the “romance” of watching a film in a cinema, “sitting in front of a big screen”.

That said, he would happily work for a streaming platform if the project was right.

“Amazon and Netflix are making the kind of cinema now that the studios refuse to make,” he said, pointing to films like Alfonso Cuaron's Oscar-winning “Roma” or Martin Scorsese's forthcoming film, “The Irishman”.

By AFP's Anna Pelegri 

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