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Banderas wins Cannes ‘best actor’ as Almodovar alter ego

Hollywood actor Antonio Banderas has portrayed Zorro and Pablo Picasso but he is above all the go-to actor of Oscar-winning director Pedro Almodovar, who launched his hugely successful film career in Spain in the early 1980s.

Banderas wins Cannes 'best actor' as Almodovar alter ego
Spanish actor Antonio Banderas holds his Best Actor Prize in Cannes on Sunday. Photo: LOIC VENANCE / AFP
And it was the 58-year-old's nuanced portrayal of Almodovar's alter ego in the director's “Pain & Glory” that won him the best actor award at the Cannes film festival — his first major award.
 
Sporting Almodovar's spiky hair and colourful clothes, he plays the movie's central character, an ageing Spanish director who is plagued by physical and psychological frailty who revisits childhood memories.
 
Almodovar, 69, has repeatedly said Banderas gives the “best performance of his life” in the film, which ran in competition for the Palme d'Or top prize. And on accepting his award, Banderas dedicated it Almodovar, who has cast him in eight films and helped make him a global box office draw.
 
“I respect him, I admire him, I love him, he's my mentor and he's given me so much in my entire life that this award, obviously, has to be dedicated to him,” he said.
 
After decades in the profession, Banderas said it was “mindblowing” to have won his first major award.
 
“After 40 years of being a professional actor, I've been nominated for practically everything except the Oscars, and I never got on the stage,” he said, citing four nominations for the Golden Globes and two for an Emmy among a string of others that never ended with an award. 
 
“So to get up there tonight was not very good news for my cardiologist!” he quipped in a nod to the heart attack he had in 2017 after which he had three operations. 
 
 
'There's pain but also glory'
 
But Almodovar, too, has gone decades without winning the big Cannes.  Over the past 20 years, he has had six films in competition at Cannes but never taken home the Palme d'Or and was conspicuously absent from Saturday night's ceremony, which Banderas said added a note of sadness to his win. 
 
“I would have loved to have Pedro here, that's the truth, but you know, this is the way this profession goes,” he said, pointing again to the theme at the heart of the film: pain and glory. “There is a lot of sacrifice and there is pain behind being an actor or being an actress, but also there are nights of glory, and this is my night of glory.” 
 
When Banderas began his acting career he “was a passionate animal who impressed just by his presence”, Almodovar told Spanish film magazine Fotogramas earlier this year.
 
“But now he has matured (after his health scare) and even though he is full of vitality… I can see in his face the experience of someone who knows that he could be dead”, he said. 
 
Speaking to Spain's Cadena Ser radio, Banderas said he loved the director because he had made him “reflect on a huge number of things throughout my life”.
 
Back in 1987, Almodovar got him to play a gay killer in “Law of Desire” at a time when depicting crime in movies “was morally accepted” while two people sharing a same-sex kiss “was spurned as anathema”, he said. 
 
'A very romantic face'
 
During the summer of 1980, Banderas said goodbye to his teacher mother and policeman father and boarded a train for Madrid where he wanted to “invent” himself. At the time, he was not quite 20. 
 
The following year, Banderas, then an actor at the National Theatre in Madrid, was sitting in a cafe when a man approached and said: “You have a very romantic face, you should make movies.”
 
That man was Almodovar, who went on to give him a small role in his 1982 screwball comedy “Labyrinth of Passion”, which celebrated the hedonistic culture and sexual freedoms that erupted in Madrid following the death of longtime dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.
 
Banderas describes Almodovar as “a genius” who is extremely demanding. Under his direction, he played a frustrated torero in the 1988 film “Matador”, a mental patient who kidnaps a porn actress in the 1990's “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” and a psychopathic doctor in 2011's “The Skin I Live In”.
 
Despite not speaking English, he moved to the United States in the 1990s. His first big success in English was in Jonathan Demme's 1993 film “Philadelphia” in which he played a lover of Tom Hanks' AIDS-infected lawyer.
 
He also starred alongside Tom Cruise in the 1994 film “Interview With the Vampire” and Anthony Hopkins in “The Mask of Zorro” four years later. He got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2005.
 
Own theatre
 
Banderas's love life has been closely followed by the gossip press which said he divorced a Spanish actress in 1996 to start seeing American filmstar Melanie Griffith whom he met on the set of the 1995 romantic comedy “Too Much”.
 
The couple, who have one daughter, divorced in 2015 after 19 years of marriage. Since then, Banderas has been seeing Dutch-German actress Nicole Kimpel whom he reportedly met at the Cannes film festival.
 
Last year, he spent hours in makeup every day to play Picasso in the TV series “Genius”. Like Picasso, Banderas grew up in the southern city of Malaga, where he participates each year in one of its annual Easter processions and where he is very involved in the theatre world with hundreds of students. 
 
Later this year, he will open a theatre there. 
 
By AFP's Hazel Ward
 

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FILM

These were the five stand-out Spanish films of 2019

Dramatic, warlike and familiarly comic – the 231 Spanish films released in 2019 offer a remarkable variety of genres but very few truly memorable moments.

These were the five stand-out Spanish films of 2019
Photo: Sara Robertson/Flickr
Andrej Klemencic chooses his selection of the five stand out films of the year in Spanish cinema.
 
Pain and Glory
 

As he ages, Almodovar as name outgrows Almodovar as filmmaker and he becomes some kind of Spanish Martin Scorsese – revered when reverence is overdue.

Besides being flushed with nominations and awards when already lacking the something more, whatever, in Almodovar’s case that may have been, both directors have in common that the narrative in their films is delivered in such a way that even with no mastery at play, the experience is always a very filmic one and the viewer is kept entertained at all times.

Almodovar’s latest is no exception as a portrayal of a middle-aged film director, based to a certain point on his own path, who struggles with a colourful palette of obsessions, is dynamic enough and interesting enough to make for reasonably enjoyable viewing. Antonio Banderas performs expectedly well as one who lost touch with creativity and is through humorous and melodramatic circumstances seeing it come back to life.

Colour is vivid, and the supporting actors, including Penelope Cruz, paint a lifelike picture of the post-war Spain of director’s childhood and link it to contemporary Madrid. The lost Spain comes to life so vividly that one could almost recommend the film based on those sequences alone.

Rosalia also features singing beautifully by a river.

While at War

The second major film of the year is “Mientras dure la guerra” by Alejandro Amenabar. As with Almodovar, this director is becoming a household name around the globe. Despite the fact his breakthroughs, in Spain and internationally were colour suspense, Amenabar takes up one of the quintessential topics of contemporary Spain – the Civil War – and turns it into an hour and three quarters of more than passable filmmaking.

The film centers on Miguel de Unamuno,  an intellectual, writer, professor, who at the beginning of the Civil War was the rector of Salamanca University. The film on the one hand explores his inner struggles as he tries not to take sides, and on the other the viewers are shown how Franco emerged as the leader from a group of rebelling generals.

On the first front, the film makes it painfully clear that the Spanish Civil War, in the beginning, a battle between the nuances of grey, some darker and some containing more light, rather that a battle between the unquestionable good and absolute evil. The second interesting insight it provides, is that it attributes Francisco Franco’s ascent to power to a chain of events which seem to be more a fruit of chance rather than of meticulous planning to overthrow the system.

The aged intellectual de Unamuno is in the end forced to take sides, but in his rebellion whose aftermath takes place in a scene in which he is being driven with Franco’s wife in a car, much is said about what lies behind the veil of secrecy that makes so many Spanish ways mysterious to an outsider.

Santi Prego, the actor portraying General Franco is frightfully good and brings the character to screen in a way almost disturbingly real.

Elisa y Marcela

From director Isabel Coixet, considered by some as the leading art-house force of Spanish cinema comes a story of two women Elisa and Marcela who fall in love just before the 20th century begins and live their odyssey from La Coruña, via rural Galicia and Portugal to Argentina.

During one part of their struggle, one of the women takes on a man’s identity so the couple could get married in order for the village voices to leave them alone. Their marriage was never annulled and presented hope for many.

The director shot in black and white. Large landscape stills contrast the emotional and physical intimacy between the women. Some of the ways in which the director chooses to create the dynamics of their first encounters are beautiful and have as backdrop the pure waters of Galician beaches, the forests, mist and frequent but playful rain.

Greta Fernandez is convincing as the only seemingly fragile Marcela while Natalia de Molina does not do as good a job failing repeatedly to move out of the stiff, provincial theatre-like acting, not at all infrequent in Spanish films and on TV. Additionally, as many Spanish film actors for a reason that defies logic, seem not to be taught to enunciate, you will, with Elisa and Marcela, as with a vast majority of films made in Spain, welcome the subtitles even if you are a native speaker.

At some stage in the second part of the film, it becomes quite clear that Coixet is no grand filmmaker as she fails to recognize that some of the staggeringly static moments should never have made the final cut, and this makes the otherwise watchable film not quite easy to recommend wholeheartedly.

Who Would You Take With You on a Deserted Island?

Two couples, a Madrid apartment, a TV film and closeted homosexuality as the main topic. This unpretentious work is the second feature by director Jota Linares and talks about four youngsters moving out of a shared apartment after a decade or so of flatmating.

Different to the bravery of Elisa and Marcela, the same sex relationship between two characters is hidden from the viewers for the large part of this Netfix flick as well as from the remaining two roommates themselves.

Predictably enough, drama ensues as the revelation is made and the relationship between the four takes on a dimension seemingly leading into a tragic crescendo. Yet there is a half twist in the second part making the film not as predictable.

The four actors move between Greek tragedy and a modern urban drama. The interiors are naturalistic, and the direction does not get in the way of the narrative.

As a curiosity, actress Maria Pedraza who until accepting a role in the non-highly-rated series Toy Boy was seen as one of the rising stars of the Spanish cinema, pairs here for the third time with Jaime Lorenta with whom she shared TV screen in series Money Heist (2017) and Elite (2018).

Los Japon

Ocho Apellidos Vascos goes to Japan losing much of its humour along the way.

Since the film from 2014 with English title “Spanish Affair” capitalized on a long list of prejudice the residents of the Basque Country seem to have of Andalusians and vice versa, grossing more than 75 million dollars in box office, Spanish filmmakers have been trying to replicate the successful recipe.

While Ocho Apellidos Vascos was genuinely funny, its first sequel, Ocho Apellidos Catalanes was much less so, and the third attempt at stereotyping, this time moving to international waters, echoes little of the sparkles the original film brought.

This time an Andalusian, a descendant of a Japanese who centuries ago moved to a town close to Seville, turns out to be the only heir to the Japanese throne. He and his family move to Japan and you can pretty much figure out the rest.

Series of jokes, some a bit funny, are based mainly on basic stereotypes and are followed by jokes based on even more basic stereotypes and so on.

If you for some reason find Dani Rovira, the star of Ocho Apellidos Vascos irresistibly funny and you crack at every Andalusian joke you just may be able to get through the film.

 

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