Spanish director Juan Antonio Bardem, who pioneered a cinema mixing social commitment and international stars under Francisco Franco’s dictatorship, died Oct. 30 at the Monteprincipe Clinic in Madrid after suffering a heart attack. He was 80 and had long suffered from liver illness.
A strapping figure with a shock of hair, huge glasses and a matinee idol’s smile, Bardem was Spain’s first director to gain international recognition for his opposition to Franco’s regime, winning the international critics prize for “Death of the Cyclist” at the Cannes Film Festival in 1955.
“Cyclist,” an acid criticism of middle-class hypocrisy, and “Main Street” (1956), a put-down of Spanish provincialism, are hailed as Bardem’s best films and prime examples of Spanish neo-realism.
Bardem draw on a wide range of inspirations: liberal American movies of the 1950s, Spanish comic sketches and his own brilliance at directing actors.
Born into an acting family, he extracted a magnificent performance from Betsy Blair in “Calle Mayor,” for instance. Bardem also co-directed the admired “That Happy Couple” with Luis Garcia Berlanga.
His influence over younger directors was huge. According to helmer Mario Camus, Spanish filmmakers of the ’60s were all disciples of one of the three B’s: Luis Bunuel, Berlanga or Bardem.
“Revenge” (1957), a plea for national reconciliation, was savaged by the censors. After that, Bardem, a communist since 1943, was as much admired for his resilient convictions as his cinema.
With exceptions such as the magnificent provincial drama “Nothing Ever Happens” (1963), however, his cinema largely degenerated into a series of workmanlike potboilers until Franco’s death in 1975.
“Seven Days in January,” based on the assassination of five labor lawyers in 1977, marked a return to vigorous political cinema.
Last year, he was award a Goya for his body of work.
Bardem is survived by his wife; his sister, actress Pilar Bardem; four sons including director Miguel Bardem; and his nephew, Oscar-nominated actor Javier Bardem.