Carlos Saura: A tribute to the master Spanish filmmaker

A Potpourri of Vestiges Feature

In the pantheon of filmmakers who can be rightfully described as auteurs, Carlos Saura is a towering figure who was both a trailblazer and a torchbearer of all that's cinema. The legendary Spanish filmmaker during his long and illustrious career that started with documentaries in the 1950s has over the last several decades inspired generations of filmmakers and storytellers and he continues to do so.

Despite being one of the three most important filmmakers from the Spanish world alongside Luis Bunuel and Pedro Almodovar, Saura's films with the exception of Carmen and the Flamenco trilogy at large haven't been accessible to the Indian audiences as opposed to films of say Pedro Almodovar.

That's what makes this six film retrospective very important as it aims to introduce some of Saura's seminal masterworks to the new generation of audiences in India. I am grateful to Instituto Cervantes, Oscar, Marti for bestowing me with this important responsibility to curate and present this unique and one of a kind retrospective on one of world cinema'a most original and influential auteurs.

In order to put things in perspective I just want to quickly highlight Saura's remarkable contribution to not just Spanish cinema but also world cinema and beyond. He started making films at a time when masters like Akira Kurosawa, Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman, Luis Bunuel, Jean Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, Orson Welles, and Alfred Hitchcock were also around and actively making films. If one looks at his early films once gets a sense of neorealistic influence which is but natural but Saura quickly evolved by embracing symbolism as a form of artistic expression to counter the censorship he was facing during the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco's regime. In fact, Saura was the most important filmmaker living and making films in Spain when a lot of the others were forced to go in exile. It was the global popularity of Saura's that somewhat scared Franco and his regime to mess with him but he regularly faced issues with the censors and would often have his say at last.

Saura's international reputation grew quickly with the success of La Caza aka The Hunt which won him the Silver Bear at the 16th Berlin International Film Festival. The great American Filmmaker Sam Peckinpah who gave us films like The Wild Bunch which is said to have revived the Western genre with its revisionist approach and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia was greatly influenced by La Caza. 

At the 1968 Cannes Film Festival that happened at a time when there were widespread student and worker pJrotests happening in Paris when Godard and Truffaut decided to forcibly bring the festival to a  premature end, there was only one film left to be screened that day and it was Saura's Pepperment Frappe. Saura and his leading lady Geraldine Chaplin went on to the stage and pulled the curtains preventing the film's screening and bringing the festival to an end in solidarity with the students and workers which only highlights Saura's humanistic outlook.

About the Carlos Saura Retrospective 

This retrospective aims to be an introduction to Saura's remarkable body of work and so we have chosen films from different phases of his career. We wanted to focus on both his early and later films and mostly films outside of his Flamenco trilogy. There are both feature films and non fiction works on offer and so each week we have something very different for you.

About 'Cria Cuervos'

The first film of the retrospective is Cria Cuervos. The film won Saura a Special Jury Prize at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival. It's really a very special film in his filmography with the wonderful child actor Anna Torrent and Geraldine Chaplin playing pivotal roles. I really don't want to spoil the film for you at all. All I would say is that it offers a rare examination of human trauma and that it is a masterpiece of world cinema with very few equals in terms of its psychological depth and social-political commentary highlighting what it was like for women and particularly girl children to grow up in Spain during Franco's dictatorial regime which looked at women as second class citizens incapable to walking shoulder to shoulder with men.

About 'Elisa, My Life' and Fernando Rey's acting genius

There are good actors and there are great actors and then there is Fernando Rey -- an acting genius par excellence belonging to a very exclusive league that would include only a handful of actors from the last century. And, yet, Rey is not as well known in India outside of his work in Hollywood such as William Friedkin's 'French Connection' and 'French Connection II,' which is regrettable as these are nowhere near Rey's best work, which actually emerged from his legendary collaboration with the master Spanish filmmaker Luis Bunuel in films such as 'That Obscure Object of Desire,' 'Tristana,' 'The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie,' and 'Viridiana.'
Now, the reason why Rey stands out as an actor is not just because he is able to deliver unforgettable performances. For, there are many actors who can deliver unforgettable performances. But, unlike a lot of those performers, Rey can shine in portrayals that are very complex and challenging to pull off. And he is able to do it compellingly and often making us empathize (or at least succeeding in making us see the things from the other side) with his characters' not so noble acts.
When, Rey's widower character forcibly tries to marry his niece (after getting her drugged using his female servant) in 'Viridiana,' we undeniably detest his actions but we are fully aware of the drive behind his actions. We don't see his character as a monster but as a desperate being deserving our pity. In 'That Obscure Object of Desire,' when he throws a bucket of cold water on a young girl who is madly in love with his aging uber-rich Frenchman character, we slowly begin to understand the reason behind his revulsion for the girl whose moods keep changing so fast that Bunuel actually ending up casting two actresses for the part to show the character's two contradicting sides.
In 'Tristana,' Rey plays an evil man who has painted a saintly image in front of the public but in reality he is a hypocrite used to a playboy lifestyle who takes a teenager under his protection, but in reality treats her as his lover, taking advantage of her helpless situation. Later on, when the tables are turned, and it's Tristana's turn to take her revenge we see Rey at his vulnerable best, making us completely forget about the powerful man he once was.
Rey delivers another of his masterful performances in 'Elisa, My Life,' directed by Carlos Saura, for which he won the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival. And that's the film we have for you on the 5th of April as part of the ongoing Carlos Saura Retrospective, which started with 'Cria cuervos' last week. In 'Elisa, My Life,' you will not just witness a rare acting masterclass from Rey but you will also be treated with an equally brilliant performance from Geraldine Chaplin (essaying the part of Rey's estranged daughter) who for some reason always saved her best while collaborating with Saura.

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