Jose Luis Borau, one of the founding fathers of modern Spanish cinema, died Friday at the age of 83, two years after a debilitating throat cancer operation.
Debuting with 1964’s “Brandy,” a loving Western pastiche, then helming 1965’s “Double-Edged Crime,” a brooding psychological thriller, Borau directed his first major film in 1967, “B Must Die,” a twisting thriller whose political sophistication passed most critics by.
Recognition came with 1975’s “Furtivos,” an energetically shot and tautly written rural fable of a downtrodden son who rebels against a despotic mother after she kills his girlfriend, a reformatory escapee.
San Sebastian’s Golden Shell winner opened just two months before dictator Francisco Franco’s death. Borau’s victory over Franco’s censor, which originally demanded 40 cuts, and the film’s mordant metaphors of political repression touched a national nerve, and “Poachers” sold 3.6 million tickets.
Borau was turning 30 when he graduated from Spain’s official IIEC Film School. He was to spend much of his life helping younger young directors. Set up in 1967, his production shingle, El Iman, produced Ivan Zulueta’s “Hide and Seek” in 1969 and, most memorably, Manuel Gutierrez Aragon’s 1977 “Black Brood,” a study of fascism’s defining elements.
While other ’60s young guns looked to France’s Nouvelle Vague or Italian neo-realism, Borau’s model was always classical Hollywood cinema.
But Borau’s two own pioneering attempts at an international cinema, both turning on Hispanic-Anglo-Saxon culture clashes — 1979’s “La Sabina,” with Jon Finch, Simon Ward, Angela Molina and Carol Kane, and 1983’s U.S.-Mexico border set “On the Line,” with David Carradine, Scott Wilson and Victoria Abril — left him deep in debt.
Borau’s later films — 1986’s “Tata Mia,” 1997’s “Nino nadie” and 2000’s “Leo” — won critical acclaim, and “Leo” a director Goya, but were largely sidelined by audiences.
Cultured and generous to the last, Borau earned deep respect, however, as a founder and president of Spain’s Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, as a tireless lecturer and film historian and writer and, beginning in 2008, a member of the Spanish Royal Academy.
In the wake of his death, the academy will create an annual Spanish-language screenplay prize in his honor.