Juan Jose Bigas Lu dead

Helmer's Iberian trilogy included 'Jamon, Jamon'

Spanish film director Juan Jose Bigas Luna, a colorful chronicler of sexual and social excess, died Friday near Tarragona, Spain, after a long battle with cancer. He was 67.

It was typical of Bigas Luna, a larger-than-life bon vivant who soon became a one-man-brand, that when Spain followed up the 1975 death of dictator Francisco Franco with a splurge of tits-and-bums quickies, Bigas Luna’s second feature, 1978’s “Bilbao,” rolled off the new sexual liberties to portray a hen-pecked husband who kidnaps a prostitute to slake his sexual frustrations, hanging her from his ceiling like a religious martyr.

“Bilbao” initiated Bigas Luna’s long-term exploration of sexual and emotional inadequacy, set in the context of social repression. This inspired the 1990’s sexual awakening drama “The Ages of Lulu,” whose S & M orgy was cut by the British Board of Film Classification.

These obsessions also lends weight, however, to Bigas Luna’s finest film achievement, his so-called Iberian Trilogy, produced by Andres Vicente Gomez: “Jamon, Jamon” (1992), “Golden Balls” (1993) and “The Tit and the Moon” (1994), a celebration of often earthy Spanish pleasures and mix of old and new, ranging from Spain’s roadside brothels to its hams and omelettes in “Jamon, Jamon,” machismo and construction boom in “Balls” and Catalan human towers in “Moon.”

Between directing 1985 amor fou meller “Lola,” Bigas Luna twice made a play for the international market with English-language movies, 1981’s religious cult drama “Reborn,” with Dennis Hopper, and 1987’s underrated horror-film-within-a-horror-film “Anguish.” The movies of his trilogy remain his best performing films abroad, however.

A graphic artist in his early career and lifelong painter, Bigas Luna was often ahead of the curve.

He gave Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem and Jordi Molla (“Colombiana”) their big break in “Jamon, Jamon,” ended “Lola” with a teen Ariadna Gil swimming, established a digital cinema workshop in 1999, set 2006’s teen-dreams drama “I Am La Juani,” in Spain’s new suburban high-rise sprawl, which has re-shaped the country, and spent years raising the finance for 3D movie “Second Origen,” which he leaves unshot.

A generous and spectacular gourmet, Bigas Luna grew grapes and, in one of his last public acts in December, offered friends wine from his vineyard and Jabugo ham from Iberian pigs he raised in oak woods in Extremadura.

“Jamon, Jamon” changed my life,” Cruz said Saturday in a written statement. “Bigas was one of the wisest persons I’ve known, living the present and enjoying the small things in life.”

“I owe Bigas the woman I love, two soulmates and a career I never dreamed I’d have,” Javier Bardem added. “When confronted with any conflict, rather than drama and anguish, he preferred a smile, love and a good slice of ham.”

Emilio Mayorga contributed to this report.

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