Provocative, twisted, surreal, folkloric, sarcastic, avant-garde, they are all adjectives that describe the cinema of late Spanish filmmaker Josep Joan Bigas Luna, the most important director along with Pedro Almodóvar to start his career in Spain right after a decades-long reactionary dictatorship ended in 1975. Yet, Bigas Luna is an unknown to U.S. audiences. The Roxie Theater in San Francisco hopes to fix that with its tribute to the oeuvre of Bigas Luna with a retrospective comprised of three of his essential films — the seminal Iberian Trilogy Jamón, jamón (1992), Huevos de Oro (1993) and La teta y la luna (1994) — plus the 1987 horror cult flick Angustia.
Born in the postwar era in 1946 in Barcelona, Catalonia, Bigas Luna was obsessed with flies and caterpillars, interested on the meeting point of the normal with the abnormal, as he explains in Sergi Rubió’s revealing 2008 documentary Bigas Luna: La mirada entomòloga. Fetishism — Bilbao (1978) — and zoophilia — Caniche (1979) — are some of the themes that Bigas Luna’s early films revolve around. They belong to an avant-garde period that recalls Iván Zulueta’s classic cult piece of Spanish cinema Arrebato (1979). They have all become cult films.
Bigas Luna developed his film career at the time when Spain was coming out of a dark era that kept the country shut to foreign influence and its creative minds gagged and bound. Pedro Almodóvar’s hilarious first breakthrough film, Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del montón (1980), belongs to this period. Heir of Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel’s surrealistic view, Bigas Luna’s cinema uses the juxtaposition of disparate images to create shock, generate new meanings and reach symbolism — a fish stuffed with a sausage in the mouth, two men branding legs of cured ham as weapons as they fight for a woman.
He is credited for having brought Spanish actors Penélope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Ariadna Gil and Jordi Mollà to the limelight as they were beginning their successful careers. After his Iberian Trilogy, Bigas Luna’s work lost its edge and immediacy, as Spain opened up to the world and its society changed rapidly. But his early works remain as solid references of superb filmmaking and witnesses of an era.
The Bigas Luna tribute will take place March 7 – 9 at the Roxie Theater. Bigas Luna’s daughter, Betty Bigas, will introduce the films.
Friday, March 6, 7:00 pm
The daughter of a prostitute befriends the son of a wealthy family who owns a boxer factory. In order spoil the relationship by seducing the girl, the boy’s mother hires a pimp who works in a ham factory and wants to be a bullfighter. Eroticism, food, laughter and surrealism mix in Bigas Luna’s most acclaimed film. An allegory to Spanish folklore, the film is filled with iconic images such as Penélope Cruz taking shelter from a storm under a testicle she has ripped from a giant billboard bull. The film won the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival, and stars a very young Penélope Cruz, along with Stefania Sandrelli, Anna Galiena, Jordi Mollà and Javier Bardem.
Huevos de Oro (Golden Balls)
Saturday, March 7, 7:00 pm
Benito works in construction in Benidorm, a tourist town on the Mediterranean coast of Spain. He has two simple hobbies: eggs with chorizo and his girlfriend. His wedding dreams go sour when he discovers that his girlfriend is cheating on him with his best friend. Over time, Benito loses his scruples and acquires a wealth by taking advantage of two women. Transgressive and occasionally brilliant, Bigas Luna mixes caustic social criticism with once again folkloric elements of Iberian machismo in this second installment of his Iberian Trilogy. The film won Special Jury Prize at the San Sebastián Film Festival. It stars Javier Bardem, Maria de Medeiros, Maribel Verdú and Benicio Del Toro.
La teta y la luna (The Tit and the Moon)
Saturday, March 7, 9:30 pm
Teté, a boy who lives in a small town and likes to talk to the moon, is jealous of his newborn brother as he watches him sucking his mother’s breasts. When Estrellita, an attractive performer with beautiful breasts comes to town, Teté falls in love with her. But Estrellita loves Miquel, an electrician who gives her the chills and makes her shake like with an electric discharge. An ode to Mediterranean culture in a fable fashion, this symbolic and sarcastic film closes Bigas Luna’s Iberian trilogy with style. The film stars Biel Duran, Mathilda May, Gérard Darmon and Javier Bardem, and the score is composed by master Italian composer Nicola Piovani.
Sunday, March 8, 7:00 pm
This film by Bigas Luna acquired the status of cult along with Bilbao and Caniche. which belong to his avant-garde period, before making the Iberian Trilogy that made him famous. It is a very well constructed genre piece, a suspenseful horror flick that jumps between different planes of reality. It tells the story of Juan, an ophthalmologist subjugated by his mother. She uses hypnosis to send him on a special mission that takes him to a film theater where he encounters a strange situation. The boundaries between fiction and reality blur in this breathtaking exercise of stylistic might. It stars Zelda Rubinstein, Michael Lerner and Talia Paul.