Spanish Director Spotlight: Juan Antonio Bardem

The Spanish have a tendency to badmouth their own cinema, but they have so many stellar classics among their bad movies that they overlook. They only see the big budget action flicks and the Oscar movies from the States and are envious of the Hollywood films. They forget about the horrid movies that bomb every week from the US. Spanish Cinema may not be as famous as French or Italian cinema, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. Quite the contrary.

Originally I was going to write about two classic Spanish films this week. Little did I know they had something in common: Juan Antonio Bardem. He was the screenwriter for Bienvenido Mister Marshall! (1953) and directed Calle Mayor (1956).

Juan Antonio Bardem (sometimes credited as J.A. Bardem) was born in Madrid in 1922 and died in 2002. The uncle of Javier Bardem was very critical of the Franco regime and was arrested while filming Calle Mayor in Palencia for his communist views and criticism of Franco. He was later released on the condition that he would not talk about his views during interviews. He also directed La Venganza (Vengeance) and Muerte de una ciclista (Death of a Cyclist), which I still have yet to see.

When finding out I come from the United States, many Spaniards mention Bienvenido Mister Marshall. The small village of Villar del Río is waiting for help from the United States Marshall Plan after the Spanish Civil War and World War II. The town goes out of their way to promote themselves as the best representative of Spain (also mocking how Spain was promoting the Andalusian stereotype of flamenco dancers and matadores as all of Spain at the time). They keep waiting…and waiting…for their rescue (a metaphor of Spain waiting for rescue from Franco’s regime?) . The film is a brilliant critique of Spain (that passed the censors!) and the United States at the same time without being offensive to either.

Calle Mayor is a bit different but still holds up as a classic of Spanish cinema. Two friends are in any pueblo (town/village) in the provinces of Spain (filmed in Palencia, Cuenca and Logroño) where the only thing to do is walk along the Calle Mayor (Main Street) in the evening. They come across Isabel, a “spinster” (at 35? Whatever! Times have changed) who doesn’t believe she’ll ever get married. They decide to play a trick on her and convince her that Juan is in love with her and wants to marry her. You bastard! The film is a social commentary and captures life in the small towns of Spain during the early Franco regime perfectly.

These two classic films offer a bit more insight into Spain’s past, and Juan Antonio Bardem deserves more credit. I’m excited to explore the world of his films…however, it’ll have to wait as I already have plans to delve into the world of another director first…

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