By EMilio Mayorga
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Legendary Spanish filmmaker Carlos Saura has died aged 91, the Film Academy of Spain confirmed on Friday.
Saura was due to receive the 2023 Goya de Honor, the career achievement prize of the Spanish Academy, at the Goyas ceremony on Saturday. In recent weeks, Saura’s health had worsened so the Academy brought forward the award, presenting the statuette to him at home in a private ceremony, pictured above.
His last work was the documentary Walls Can Talk, a rumination on Spanish Paleolithic paintings, which received its world premiere at San Sebastian International Film Festival last year and also screened at Ventana Sur.
Born in Huesca in January 1932 Saura’s first works were documentary shorts dating back to the mid-1950s. Los Golfos (The Delinquents) was his feature debut and premiered in Cannes in 1960 and reverberated across the international scene. Six years later Saura directed what is still considered a key title in European cinema, The Hunt, which was awarded the Silver Bear for best director in Berlin. It was a metaphorical study of the Spanish Civil War through a depiction of a rabbit hunt.
After this period, Saura transitioned from neo-realist proposals to a cinema hooked in symbolism and poetic but popular design of characters, developed within tragic plots.
He took special jury awards in Cannes with Cousin Angelica (1974) and Cría Cuervos (1976) and became indisputably one of the most internationally acclaimed Spanish filmmakers alongside Luis Buñuel.
Other essential titles in his filmography are Llanto Por Un Bandido (1964), Peppermint Frappé (1967), Stress-es Tres-Tres (1968) and Elisa, My Life (1977).
Saura worked his entire career in Spain and suffered public attacks and censorship from the Francisco Franco regime, reflected in The Garden Of Delights (1970) and Anna And The Wolves (1973).
In 1979 he was nominated for the Academy Award for best foreign language feature with Mama Turns 100, and he returned to the Berlinale with Deprisa, Deprisa, which earned the Golden Bear in 1981.
In the 1980s Saura directed a widely appreciated Flamenco trilogy, embracing Blood Wedding (1981) Carmen (1983) and El Amor Brujo (1986).
In a statement from the Film Academy of Spain, president Fernando Méndez Leite said Saura was “one of the greatest directors of Spanish cinema whose personal, varied and very creative work has left an indelible mark on the history of our cinema and Spanish culture”.
A true cineaste, his long career spanned almost 70 years and embodied an indefatigable search of narrative formulas threaded with an acute study of political and social reality and a deep rooting in popular culture.
Saura’s artistic range also embraced photography books and novels. During his last years he came back to musical reflections in Flamenco (Flamenco Flamenco), and he continued this interest in tango (Argentina), painting (short Goya 3 de Mayo) and Mexican music (The King Of All The World). A project about Johan Sebastian Bach had also been announced.
In a statement released on Friday, the Spanish Academy of Cinematographic Arts and Sciences said Saura, “one of the fundamental figures in the history of Spanish cinema”, died at home surrounded by loved ones.