By John Hopewell
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He was working to the last. Five days before his latest work, “Lorca by Saura,” opened at Madrid’s Infanta Isabel Theater – in what he saw as a new phase of theatre-based creativity – Carlos Saura died on Feb. 10 at his Collado Mediano home in the lap of the Guadarrama mountains, north of Madrid. Agnieszka Holland and Volker Schlöndorff look set to attend a Carlos Saura Homage Screening which will be held at the Berlin Film Festival on Monday Feb. 20 at 17:30.
Further good and great are still to confirmed at an event backed by the Berlin Festival and the European Film Academy.
The tribute will be combined with the double bill of “Rosa, Rosae” and “Walls Can Talk” (“Las paredes hablan”), films which premiered at San Sebastian in 2021 and last year.
A tribute at Berlin, the presence of two great European auteurs, Holland and Schlöndorff, and the double bill all seem highly appropriate. Saura saw early international consecration precisely at the Berlin Film Festival, winning its best direction Silver Bear for “The Hunt” in 1966. A film which Franco’s censor took detailed exception to was welcomed with open arms by Europe’s press which welcomed the Spanish director as one of their own, Spain’s first Spain-based great European auteur, a kind of Ingmar Bergman with an anti-Franco political agenda and cojones.
Ever forward-looking, Carlos Saura was always eager to focus on the films he was going to make, not those in the past. Yet these very future films, such as “Rosa, Rosae,” one of his last, an idiosyncratic six-minute short would, paradoxically, often talk about the past and its hostages to fortune.
Born in 1935 in Huesca, Aragón, northern Spain, but moving as a child to Madrid during the Spanish Civil War, Saura was, for example, haunted for life by the sound of falling bombs, the dead in the streets. That horror of violence near left him, if it sudden explosions of fury seen from “The Hunt” down to “The King of All the World,” or the making of “Rosa, Rosae” over 80 years after the Civil War ended is anything to go by.
Set to the impassioned lamenting song of the same name by José Manuel Labordeta, a protest folk singer, in “Rosa, Rosae”Saura’s camera moves gently in and out from his own sketches, or photos which he draws over, of children, a classroom, bombs leaving a fuselage, a whole city exploding; a priest at a ceremony, a corpse dangling from barbed wire.
“Sweetly educated in evenings of terror, without understanding the force of a scorching wind…That’s how I grew up,” Laboreta sings. The same could be said of Carlos Saura.
Likewise, “Walls Can Talk,” a doc feature, interviews painters, including Miquel Barceló, about man’s seemingly irrepressible urge to create, seen from the wall paintings at France’s Chauvet Cave, made 36,000 years ago, to modern graffiti artists.
Saura is asking why mankind is driven to create down the millennia. Implicitly, however, he is also questioning his own visceral creativity, seen from his first dance photo exhibition at the age of 16, in 1951 Madrid, to earlier this month, as he prepared for his latest theater opening, in the last week of his life, over 70 years later.