Fernando Fernan-Gomez, director/actor, 86

Early films hailed as comic masterpieces

Director and actor Fernando Fernan-Gomez, one of Spain’s most important filmmakers, died Nov. 21 from heart complications in Madrid. He was 86.

Fernan-Gomez was little-known abroad, and his most productive period as a film director coincided with years of savage repression under dictator Francisco Franco when Spain lacked effective international promotion for its cinema.

Yet from 1943, when he made his acting debut in “Turbante blanco,” through to the mid-1960s, Fernan-Gomez was involved in the lion’s share of films of artistic interest made in Spain.

Four of his early films as a director — “Life Ahead” (1958), “Life Around Us” (1959), “The Strange Journey” (1963) and “Life Goes On” (1964) — are now regarded as comic masterpieces, which helped to create Spain’s greatest film tradition, which runs down to this day, of acerbic social comedies, meshing Italian neo-realism, comic sketches and acidic satire.

The films also anticipated stylistic filmmaking revolutions often attributed to France’s New Wave such as the jump-cut.

Revered by several generations of younger filmmakers, the red-haired, gravel-voiced Fernan-Gomez acted in films by a vast range of Spanish directors , including Victor Erice (“The Spirit of the Beehive,” 1973), Manuel Gutierrez Aragon (“Maravillas,” 1980), Fernando Trueba (the foreign-language Oscar-winning “Belle Epoque,” 1994),  and Pedro Almodovar (“All About My Mother,” 1999).

“If there’s one artist who represents the history of Spanish cinema from its origins down to today, it’s Fernando Fernan-Gomez,” said Pedro Almodovar.

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