Auteur Carlos Saura’s oeuvre remains rooted in Spanish life.
This year’s IFFK Lifetime Achievement Award will be presented to the Spanish filmmaker Carlos Saura. “I don’t believe in schools as such in cinema. My aim was to reflect life as it was, Spanish reality as it was and to express the reality of Spanish society,” he once remarked.
Saura is one of the last among the greatest auteurs of European cinema. In a very creative and prolific career that spans almost six decades, he has experimented with various genres, but always remained firmly rooted in Spanish culture, politics and society. In a career that began during the Franco regime of fascist surveillance and censorship, and extends to the digital, unipolar present, he produced haunting film narratives that run parallel to and resonates with the most turbulent decades in the history of Europe.
Born in 1932 in Huesca in a family of artists, he was drawn to photography from childhood. After obtaining his diploma in film direction in Madrid in 1957, he made his first film Cuena.
His debut in fiction was with Los Golfos (The Delinquents, 1962), a film on street kids who become bullfighters to fight poverty, which was made with non-professional actors and was the first Spanish film to be shot entirely on location. It was noted for its sociological insight and neorealist idiom. His second feature film was Lament For A Bandit (1964). It was about a nineteenth-century Andalusian bandit’s rise to power that drew from the work of Goya for its visual compositions.
His next film The Hunt (1965) was a powerful psychological thriller in the background of Franco regime and the rise of fascist ideology. This film won international acclaim including the prestigious Silver Bear at Berlin Film Festival. In 1968, he made Peppermint Frappé that won the Silver Bear Award, which was a dark exploration about desire and repression that probes into the dilemmas and conflicts of lives that are torn between rigid, conservative ways of life and the disorienting allure of modernity, and the repressive and monstrous expressions it forces people into.
It was followed by a series of films – Stress Is Three (1968), Honeycomb (1969), The Garden Of Delights (1970), Anna And The Wolves (1973), Cousin Angelica (1974), Raising Ravens (1976), Elisa, My Life (1977) and so on, which explored human conflicts at various levels.
In these films, Saura grappled with Spanish life, reality and dreams, analysing, critiquing and celebrating them in all their rich details, graphically portraying searing experiences, and always spinning narratives that map the tortuous terrains of Spanish national identity.
According to him: “Nothing in my films is casual…The most minimal detail has a sense”. His characters were always complex with multiple motives and orientations that run deep into the past and the present. Sometimes they lead to sexual repressions that trigger jealousy (Stress Is Three), or fantasy, fetishism or role-playing (Peppermint Frappe, Ana And The Wolves), and other times they lead to emotional turbulence (Cousin Angelica) or Oedipal conflicts (The Den, The Garden Of Delights).
The Franco era came to an end in 1975 with his death, and the newfound freedom steered Saura’s imagination in another direction. The next decade saw Saura delving deep into another aspect of Spanish national tradition: flamenco dance. His ‘flamenco trilogy’ Blood Wedding, Carmen, and A Love Bewitched (1986) broke new grounds in capturing the spirit of both dance and its spiritual, aesthetic, emotional and national ethos.
These films are visual celebrations in movement, colour, emotions, gestures and music. They all featured the work of legendary Spanish flamenco dancer and choreographer Cristina Hoyos. He further pursued the dance theme with his documentary Flamenco (1995), the docudrama Tango (1998), and Fados (2007).
His deep fascination for Spanishness and romance with Freud makes Saura close to the surrealist master Luis Bunuel, whom he admired. It was through the films of Bunuel that he rediscovered cinema. “I saw the cinema of Bunuel, El and Subida al cielo. It offered a fantastic solution for me. On the one hand it connected with a whole pre-Franco historical and cultural process; on the other, there was a man who worked on reality and a Spanish reality at that. Thirdly, and above all, he had a personal world to express and a critical sense, even a moral sense… of looking at things.”
Saura considers his film on Buñuel, Buñuel And The Table Of King Solomon (2001) to be his favourite cinematic work. “That’s the greatest film I’ve ever made. I’m sure Buñuel would have loved this film. But perhaps only he would have loved it. Everything you see in the film is actually based on conversations I had with him.”
Throughout his career, he remained prolific and vibrant as a filmmaker, always a conscientious witness to his times and people, and a creator of magnificent narratives that grapple with the predicament of his people in all its complexities. Mama Turns 100