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Héctor Babenco, Director of Oscar-Winning ‘Kiss of the Spider Woman,’ Dies at 70

Argentine-born Brazilian director Héctor Babenco died on Wednesday at São Paulo’s Sirio-Libanes Hospital in Brazil after suffering a heart attack, according the Associated Press. He was 70.

His most famous film, “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Director. Babenco was the first Latin-American to be nominated for achievements in directing.

Babenco first gained notice for 1981’s “Pixote,” about the rough life of boys growing up in the slums of Sao Paolo. An arthouse hit, it won the L.A. Film Critics foreign film prize.

In addition, Babenco featured LGBT characters in his films in an era that seldom highlighted these issues. William Hurt, who portrayed a homosexual man imprisoned for having sexual affairs with an underage boy in “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance as the sensitive window dresser.

Roger Ebert said of the film, “William Hurt, who won the best actor award at Cannes this year for this film, creates a character utterly unlike anyone else he has ever played — a frankly theatrical character, exaggerated and mannered — and yet he never seems to be reaching for effects.”

After “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” he continued working in America, directing the 1987 adaptation of William Kennedy’s “Ironweed” starring Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson as well as “At Play in the Fields of the Lord.” His later films include “Foolish Heart” and “Carandiru.”

Babenco’s final project “My Hindu Friend,” which stars Willem Dafoe, premiered in March. The film chronicles an ailing film director close to death. Babenco served as director, producer, and writer for the film.

He is survived by his wife, Barbara, and daughter, Janka.

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