Mate Cantero, a pioneering woman producer who saw her native Spain as part of a larger world, died Monday Aug.11 after a long illness battling cancer. She was 54.
Cantero got her first break making “Veraz” with French producer-distributor Stephane Sorlat, founder of BAC Films with Jean Labadie. She would go on to create Mate Productions with Sorlat in 1992, then become his wife in a marriage the lasted into the next decade.
After years of seemingly endemic crisis, the Spanish film industry found some kind of financial stability from the mid-‘90s, which allowed Spanish producers to attempt more ambitious films at home or step up to the table with equity in international co-productions.
From 1996, though based out of Madrid, living with her family in the leafy suburb, Cantero would with Sorlat make her best-know, biggest – and among them most successful – productions, Notably, these were with Bigas Luna (1997’s “The Chambermaid on the Titanic,” with Aitana Sanchez Gijon), based out of Barcelona, with Mexico’s (Arturo Ripstein’s “The Virgin of Lust”) and, above all, with France, beginning with Gilles Mimouni’s “The Apartment,” a BAFTA prize winner remade in the U.S. by Paul McGuigan as “Wicker Park” and the first feature with Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassell together.
In all, of Cantero’s 25 plus production credits, a dozen or more would be with France. In 1996, in a move to put Spain on the map as a producer of big upscale movies, Mate Productions pacted to co-produce Jacques Monnet’s comedy “The Cosmonaut’s Wife,” starring Victoria Abril, and Jacques Weber’s “Don Juan,” a co-production with Le Studio Canal Plus toplining Emmanuelle Beart, Penelope Cruz and Ariadna Gil.
A woman in a Spanish film sector dominated by a reduced group of men, and whose production compass was very much Europe, not just Spain, Cantero was something of an outsider in the Spanish film industry and shown no mercy in the trenchantly negative reception for Bigas Luna’s costume drama “Volaverunt” when it world premiered at San Sebastian. Mate Production scored, however, producing Arturo Ripstein’s “The Virgin of Lust” and all the more co-producing Cedric Klapsich’s Barcelona-set “The Spanish Apartment.” Still Klapisch’s most popular film in France, it sold 3.0 million tix, launched the career of Cecile de France, who won a Best Supporting Actress Cesar, and broadened the fan base of both Romain Duris and Audrey Tautou.
The denouement of “The Spanish Apartment” – where, after a mind-opening year as an Erasmus student in a multi-nationality Barcelona apartment, Duris’ character returns to France to discover he now yearns for far larger horizons – would have been after Cantero’s heart.
As many professionals in Spain, Cantero’s achievements were more recognized abroad, especially in France, where she was named a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres for her services to French culture.
Convivial, educated and vivacious, Cantero is survived by Sorlat and her children Maria, Ines, Nicolas and Lucas.