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May 9, 2010.
While the stylish and ever-charming
Spanish actor Antonio Banderas
may be running off to promote to his latest Hollywood excursion,
Shrek Forever After
again voicing the hilarious re-invention of Puss in Boots: "I have to do
my duty," he says
his real passion recently has been curating a new, free film series,
"Realism in Spanish Cinema 1951 - 1963" at Manhattan's Spanish culture
center, The Cervantes Institute (211 East 49th Street). Spanning the
post-WWII fascist dictatorship of Francisco Franco, the 10-movie set is
comprised of classic works selected for their artistic and historical
Screening from May 10th to the 19th, Banderas, who serves on the
Cervantes advisory board, conceived the program's concept and was on
hand for the first two nights
at the screenings of José Antonio Nieves Conde's Furrows/Surcos
and Luis García Berlanga's Welcome Mr. Marshall!/Bienvenido Mr.
Though known as Hollywood royalty, having starred in Evita,
The Mask of Zorro, Desperado and other hits, Banderas'
collaboration with director Pedro
Almadóvar on films such as the Oscar-nominated Women on the
Verge of a Nervous Breakdown established him as a symbol of Spain's
post-Franco counter-cultural movement, the Movida.
Though his multi-faceted nature has sometimes been overshadowed by his
celebrity, it is at this 49-year-old actor's core
something amply demonstrated when he was
nominated for Broadway's 2003 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical for
a revival of Nine The Musical. As Banderas explains in this
exclusive interview, his versatility is proven again in curating this
is a fascinating opportunity for you to look back at the history of
Spanish cinema and explore it in many different ways.
Absolutely. But the interesting thing for me is not only in a personal
way, because I knew these movies, it's the possibility of showing these
movies. When I came to America for the first time, it was a surprise for
me that very little was known about the Spanish neorealist period of
movies. People knew about Italy and about France, but very little about
Spain. So when Eduardo Lago got this crazy of idea of [adding me to] the
Cervantes Institute, I thought I have to [lend] some value to this title
that they gave me.
It shouldn't just be my name on the programs and just my picture to
bring people here; it was not enough. So I had this idea that he
actually picked enthusiastically. We got in contact with the president
of the Festival of Spanish Cinema in Malaga, which is actually my
hometown, and a person that I met when I came to New York for the first
time in 1984 presenting our movies at the time.
So it was a great opportunity and a framework because it's not just to
bring movies in exhibition in big movie theaters, but it's in a very
specific environment, the environment of the Cervantes Institute in New
York, with the idea that actually this cycle can go all around the
There are 73 Cervantes Institutes all around the world; in Shanghai, in
Tokyo, in different places in the United States like San Francisco and
Miami. With these movies people are going to recognize links that they
can see now in filmmakers that are making movies in Spain, like Pedro
Almodovar and Julio Medem.
The beginning of that was there in these earlier filmmakers, they're
actually like the missing links that will make sense for [cineastes or
directors] if they've been following Spanish movies to see this. At the
same time, they can recognize different times in the history of my
they did the most recent Spanish Cinema Now series at Lincoln Center
this year, I realized how people don't know much about that lost period
when Franco was the dictator. These films were being made then, but
people don't realize there was all this cinema being made at that time.
Filmmakers were trying to react or respond even while they were being
repressed; they had to work around it. This series reveals that makes a
link between the cultural experience and the conflict. This is a chance
for us to understand it. Would you agree?
It's a picture, almost like an x-ray not only of Spanish art in general,
but of a political period in the history of Spain – the need, the
cruelty, of what it was behind the Franco regime and the imposition of
religion and other cultural stuff. That has to be known.
At the same time, the way that filmmakers at the time got to go around
censorship in order to just go with an idea, they do it sometimes
through comedy, black comedy, they have to hide. I saw a movie this
morning, which I've seen a couple of times before, but today I wanted to
just refresh and I saw Death of a
Biker / Muerte de un Ciclista. It's unbelievable because
there is a moment in which you lose eight minutes of the movie, and you
can see the jump in the movie. It was totally eliminated.
that the censors?
Oh absolutely. These guys came with scissors and mercilessly cut eight
minutes out of the movie. So I think it's important for the people, if
they really are interested in the Spanish cinema to see these, because
it's almost like a ladder in which they took steps out.
It's very difficult to recognize what is happening now if you don't go
back a little bit and have the sight of these guys that were making
movies with a lot of imagination, against the dictatorship, without them
knowing that they were criticizing them.
did you learn about yourself as a Spanish person who has lived in the
United States – and not as an exile – but for creative reasons. You
don't always get an opportunity to look at it on an intimate basis.
It's very difficult because for me I get to almost an emotional place,
it's of recognition of my own country that sometimes makes me cry. When
I see Welcome Mister Marshall /Bienvenido
Mr. Marshall!, I see this little village waiting for the
Americans to come and fix the whole entire situation with the Marshall
Plan and they prepare during the entire movie for that to happen – then
the cars cross in front of them and they never stop. It makes me cry
because this is a story of my country.
I can see my father and my mother reflected there. I can see something
that has to do with your genes. At the same time a certain gratitude
that we were able to overcome without a bloody revolution after Franco
died, that there was a pass of power that made sense in an evolution,
not a revolution.
So it makes me reflect about my own persona, about my own community. For
me, it's unbelievably interesting just to see how the Americans are
going to react to that, because at the same time in
Welcome Mister Marshall,
you see people giving opinions, sometimes outstanding opinions, of the
Americans that are [supposedly] going to come.
They talk about the Americans, how the Americans were seen in the 1950s
and 1960s, and I just can't wait to see the faces of people [in this day
and age] when we play Welcome
This movie speaks for itself, it is one of my favorites in the Spanish
cinematography but I believe that it is very interesting to be showed in
For me, it was particularly important to show this movie because I have
lived both realities – the Spanish one and the American one. They get
mixed here in a very interesting way. The USA was like Santa Claus in
this movie. The past of poverty that is portrayed in this movie as if it
was a fairy tale.
There are two points of view that I would like that you pay attention to
in this movie: the view of the priest and the view of the hidalgo [the
old aristocrat]. The hidalgo says that Spain was a country that used to
be big and the conqueror of the world. Some of the visions of the priest
are even racist but you don't have to forget that Luis Garcia Berlanga
was criticizing these kind of ideas through these characters.
I believe this is the 15th time I've watched this movie but I never get
tired because it's really very funny and I even cry a bit. These movies
are going to travel around the world via Instituto Cervantes.
you see the first film
and back to back with this you get a two-sided look at Spain of that tie
during the Franco regime – the dark side and the comic one.
The two movies showed the mood of the time, how the people survived and
chronicled the society without judgment. The country was destroyed after
the revolution. Though Hitler tried to pressure Franco into joining the
war all the country wanted to do was survive without money and over a
I admire this group of filmmakers because they were brave enough to face
the Franco regime but they had to do it using only their imagination.
You needed to be very smart to avoid censorship and they did it using
irony and dark humor but also by creating scenes that were very strong.
They knew they would get censored so other scenes were subtle but
probably even stronger in a way so they would pass the censors. To me
these filmmakers were masters in their field not only because they were
very brave but because they were facing the regime in a very subtle way.
after Franco died and the society undid the Fascist state, they made a
peaceful transition to a democracy.
Yes they made an amazing bloodless transition – without recriminations
or revenge. We made an amazing recovery and filmmaking reflected that as
now there is a crisis again, an economic one as Spain and other
countries in Europe formed the Union and tried to stand apart from the
It is a very difficult situation now, until a year ago, a plumber
thought he could afford a Mercedes and then suddenly, everything is
crumbling. The situation in Greece is very dramatic. Spain or Europe
doesn't think anymore they need the Americans, they are doing it by
themselves but they are also connected in the world at large....
People like myself, Javier [Bardem] and Penelope [Cruz] and Pedro or
Rafael Nadal, Severiano Ballesteros... We are all people that in a way
are helping to shake out this feeling of inferiority that Spain has had
for many years. Our success represents shaking out that from the past of
is a crucial opportunity to reexamine yourself and where you're going.
Where are you going now? How will this affect you? Are you going to be
directing? The last few movies I've seen you were doing things more
lighthearted. How will that change you?
I'm going to work with Pedro Almadóvar again in August. We are going to
do a movie finally, after 21 years without working with each other. It's
tough movie; he's going back actually to his roots as a balls kicker and
I love that opportunity.
Then I have an agreement with another company in Madrid, we're
increasing the possibility of doing movies with more quality and
quantity too. We have a plan to start producing more often than we were
doing with a little company in South Spain.
We're just experimenting; it's almost like a laboratory just to see how
we're going to do it. So now is a time to jump and take a leap ahead and
so I'm going to be doing that. After that I may come here to Broadway
and just get on the stage.
you have an idea what kind of thing? Would it be a serious play or would
it be a musical?
It would be Zorba [the Greek].
We were doing a workshop here in town like four months ago, just reading
in front of an audience trying to refresh the play because we don't want
to just clean the dust off it and put it on the stage.
it uncanny timing given the situation in Greece?
The situation in Greece is very, very critical. I didn't think about
that, but it would make more sense that we put in the mouth of Zorba,
that street philosopher, things that are happening in actual time.
you seen some of the Spanish horror films, some of the genre stuff?
No... I saw [Rec]
the Spanish cinema you've been seeing now, or cinema in Spanish
language, what's been exciting you, who's been exciting you?
I saw the other day a movie of Julio Medem called Room in Rome /Habitación
en Rome which is a very sexual, interesting reflection of our life.
The relationship between two girls with a lot of style.
I liked [Alejandro Amenábar's]
Agora very much; I thought it was a beautiful approach to a
big dimension movie from the perspective of a market like Spain; we are
not so used to this type of production. And I liked the last Almodovar
movie, Broken Embraces / Los
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