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How Spanish cinema hit the big time

MADRID (AFP) – With a Golden Bear for Spanish director Carla Simon and four compatriots nominated for Oscars, including superstars Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz, Spanish cinema has now begun to captivate a global audience.

When Bardem and Cruz, who have been married for over a decade, were both tapped for Oscars, the 53-year-old actor could hardly contain his excitement.

“The fact that (Penelope’s) nomination was for a role in Spanish seems really extraordinary, even historic in terms of the Spanish brand,” he said in February.

Unlike other countries with a long and distinguished history of cinema, Spain has struggled to establish itself on the international stage.

So far, Luis Bunuel has been the only Spanish director to win the coveted Palme D’Or at Cannes Film Festival for his provocative 1961 feature Viridiana.

But all that is changing, with Spanish cinema increasingly recognised for its contribution to the silver screen, the most recent being Carla Simon’s triumph at this year’s Berlinale where she took the top prize for Alcarras (2022), a Catalan drama about peach farmers.

Spanish film director Alberto Mielgo, Spanish actor Javier Bardem, Spanish actress Penelope Cruz and Spanish composer Alberto Iglesias pose on the red carpet upon arrival at the 36th Goya awards ceremony at the Palau de les Arts in Valencia. PHOTOS: AFP

And according to Variety magazine, Cruz is rumoured to be in the running for president of the jury at Cannes, an honour already bestowed upon the legendary Pedro Almodovar, by far Spain’s best-known filmmaker.

Cruz herself is the only Spanish actress ever to win an Oscar, taking home the gong in 2009 for best supporting actress in the Woody Allen comedy Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

And if she wins best actress at the Oscars later this month for Almodovar’s Parallel Mothers, it will be a coup for a film entirely ‘Made in Spain’, whose soundtrack has also been nominated for best original score.

The score was written by Basque composer Alberto Iglesias, who has worked with Almodovar for two decades on 13 of his films. This is the fourth time an Iglesias soundtrack has been nominated for an Oscar.

For him, there is “strong momentum” within Spanish cinema.

“There is an energy… it has to do with the film schools that have been working for a long time to create new filmmakers,” he told AFP.

“It has been really difficult for Spanish cinema to cross the threshold and get into these big international festivals,” explained director of the Spanish Film Festival in the French city of Nantes Pilar Martinez-Vasseur.

Spanish films which have received acclaim abroad are often not identified as such, she said, pointing to the 2001 psychological thriller The Others starring Nicole Kidman which was directed by Spain’s Alejandro Amenabar.

“In Spain, we still have the idea that Spanish cinema is bad, that it’s a nest of communists, that filmmakers are pampered, they do nothing and get subsidies,” she said, calling for greater support from the government.

Filmmaking in Spain receives far less state aid than in France, experts said.

Spanish cinema has had to “learn how to break into a globalised ecosystem”, said Beatriz Navas who heads the Institute of Cinematography and Audiovisual Arts (ICAA), which is subsidised by the Culture Ministry.

“This hasn’t happened overnight because you need some sort of ‘greenhouse’ environment where filmmakers can work with freedom,” she told AFP.

“And the ‘incubation time’ needs to be sufficient for these productions to achieve the recognition and prestige they deserve.”