“Spanish film director Juan José Bigas Luna, a colorful chronicler of sexual and social excess, died Friday near Tarragona, Spain, after a long battle with cancer,” reports John Hopewell for Variety. “He was 67. It was typical of Bigas Luna, a larger-than-life bon vivant who soon became a one-man-brand, that when Spain followed up the 1975 death of dictator Francisco Franco with a splurge of tits-and-bums quickies, Bigas Luna’s second feature, 1978’s Bilbao, rolled off the new sexual liberties to portray a hen-pecked husband who kidnaps a prostitute to slake his sexual frustrations, hanging her from his ceiling like a religious martyr.
Ronald Bergan in the Guardian: “After some years as a conceptual artist who experimented with new audio-visual media, Luna became known internationally for his ‘Iberian passion’ feature film trilogy: Jamon Jamon (1992), Golden Balls (1993) and The Tit and the Moon (1994), which explored the darkest depths of eroticism and stereotypical Spanish machismo. The first film [which won him a Silver Lion in Venice] introduced Penélope Cruz to audiences and launched Javier Bardem as the embodiment of the Spanish stud. ‘I owe my career to Bigas Luna,’ Bardem said in 2001. In the trilogy, Luna, like Almodóvar, mined the subversive potential of melodramatic excess, a tradition that can be traced back to Luis Buñuel‘s surrealist classics. However, Luna’s films are more extreme than Almodóvar’s, mainly because they are populated not by emancipated lovers but by emotionally stunted characters whose sexuality turns pathological. Luna also seems to question whether Spain’s shift to democracy and consumerism was really as liberating as presumed.”
“A master of portraying extreme passions, his films in the 1980s were characterized as disturbing thrillers with high erotic content and included Lola (1986) and Angustia (1987),” writes Juan Sarda for Screen Daily. “A popular and present figure in Spanish mainstream media, Luna was also a brave fighter against online piracy and an enthusiastic promoter of the pleasures of Mediterranean lifestyle. At the time of his death, the director was preparing his next film, Second Origin, an ambitious production set in a post-Apocalyptic Barcelona.”
Update, 4/9: The Guardian posts a modest photo gallery.
Update, 4/11: “The title [of Jamón, jamón] comes from the hams that hang ubiquitously in Spanish homes, restaurants and storefronts,” notes Douglas Martin in the New York Times, “and the movie tells a complicated intergenerational sexual tale set in a small town. Roger Ebert, writing in The Chicago Sun-Times, called it ‘a throwback to the days when directors took crazy chances, counting on their audience to keep up with them.’… Mr. Luna called the movie ‘a portrait of everything I like, love and hate about Spain.’… Mr. Luna was a painter before he was a filmmaker, and his films included scenes from famous paintings. In Jamon Jamon, a fight scene recreates a Goya work and a closing shot recalls a Catalan religious painting. His 1999 film, Volavérunt, imagines the story behind two Goya paintings of the same woman—one nude, one clothed—that hang in the Prado Museum in Madrid…. He studied industrial design and art and sold a painting from his first exhibition to Dalí, who became a friend; the two often shared Sunday dinners.”