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Film

Carlos Saura: revered Spanish director going strong at 85

He can look back on a remarkable career: several Berlin bears, the Grand Prize of the jury in Cannes, the European film prize for his life's work. But even at 85, Carlos Saura is yet to contemplate retirement.

'Who rests, rusts' is his motto. "I am shooting films to stay alive," Carlos Saura once stated in the Spanish newspaper, "El País." Born in Huesca, Spain on January 4, 1932, the feted director wants to make more music films, among others, in Russia and India. And a very large project could - according to rumors - start production in the coming months after initial difficulties: a film of the life of Spanish painter Pablo Picasso and his famous anti-war painting "Guernica," with Antonio Banderas in the lead role. In this regard, Carlos Saura's 85th birthday celebration will perhaps be only a short break from his busy work schedule.

Breakthrough with dance films

"I always have something in mind, and if there is nothing, I invent something," said Saura. His latest film, the documentary musical "La Jota" (Beyond Flamenco), premiered last October and is a tribute to the jota dance of his native Aragón region. It was Saura's 45th film, another of the director's many music and dance films made since 1955 that feature flamenco, tango or fado dance culture.
 

Carlos Saura's Carmen (picture alliance/United Archives)

Scene from Carlos Saura's 'Carmen' from 1983, with Laura del Sol in the role of Carmen


Saura had his first big commercial success with a flamenco film trilogy that started with "Bodas de sangre" (Blood Wedding) of 1981, made in collaboration with the dancer and choreographer Antonio Gades and adapted from a play by García Lorca. The 1983 follow-up was the massively successful ballet film "Carmen," which won the Best Artistic Contribution award at the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards. 

Social criticism and Franco period films

But despite these relatively successful commercial breakthroughs, Sauer is well known for his critical social documentaries and feature films. He was inspired and influenced by communist and political Spanish filmmakers like Juan Bardem (uncle of actor Javier Bardem), and Luis Buñuel, with whom he became a friend, along with Sergei Eisenstein, German Expressionists and Italian neorealists. Although it was not Saura's intention to make political films, he constantly struggled with censorship during the Franco regime in Spain. 

"La caza" (The Hunt) from 1966 was a critical account of the self-destructive tendencies of the Spanish bourgeoisie that won Saura the Silver Bear for Best Director at the 16th Berlinale. "Peppermint Frappé" (1967), a study of a deadly love triangle, was also awarded the Silver Bear for best director at the Berlin International Film Festival. In the film, the Spaniard collaborated with the actress Geraldine Chaplin, with whom he lived until 1979. 

The new millennium

In addition to his prolific and outstanding directorial work, Saura is also known for his photography. The 85-year-old has a collection of more than 600 cameras, is said to take at least one photo every day, and regularly exhibits his award-winning photo collections.

Carlos Saura Filmfestspiele in Berlin 1969 (picture-alliance/dpa/J. Barfknecht)

Carlos Saura and Geraldine Chaplin (right) at Tempelhof Airport in Berlin 1969

Saura has written three novels and has directed the opera "Carmen" several times on the stage, including a celebrated debut in Stuttgart in 1991. But for now, the indefatigable director is focused on his latest film project, a biopic about Pablo Picasso which, if successful, will give him more reason to celebrate.  

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