At the New York Film Festival years ago, British director John Boorman lamented the disappearance in international cinema of what he called “middle directors,” a term he defined as filmmakers who made films accessible to a broad public but who refused to sacrifice serious, challenging themes or challenging, if problematic, stories. Cinema, Boorman claimed, had gone the way of extremes — producing either empty blockbusters or works so hermetic that finding audiences beyond film festivals was improbable.
Boorman used the example of François Truffaut as a “middle director,” but surely one of the most potent examples of that approach to cinema can be seen today in the work of Fernando Trueba. Winner of numerous awards all over the world, including an Academy Award for Belle Époque, Trueba consistently has created challenging works that offer provocative reflections on society and politics through closely observed human dramas that have given his actors — Penélope Cruz, Ariadna Gil, Antonio Resines, among many others — some of their finest roles. His films have often been as warmly received by audiences as they have been by critics.
Consumed by the cinema since his teenage years, Trueba planned to enroll in Madrid’s National Film School in 1976, but in that very year, the authorities decided to close it down. Enrolling in the School of “Information Science,” he soon learned that study had little bearing on his plans to be a filmmaker, but he did get to meet a number of other young film enthusiasts, several of whom would go on to become key figures in the emerging New Spanish Cinema. Trueba’s first feature Opera Prima would become one of that movement’s flagships. In its often humorous rendering of an unlikely cross-generational romance, Opera Prima skillfully revealed the contours of a rapidly-changing, post-Franco Spanish society.
Like many of the Hollywood directors whose work he revered, Trueba has worked in a variety of genres and formats — from big budget period re-creations (The Girl of Your Dreams) to intimate character studies (The Artist and the Model). He has made extraordinary forays into the music documentary (Calle 54) as well as animation (the Academy Award-nominated Chico & Rita), and is currently working on his second animated feature.
Witty, passionate, provocative, and always exquisitely made, the films of Fernando Trueba are among the treasures of modern cinema. Hopefully, this brief sampler of his will encourage you to discover the full range and depth of this important artist.
—Richard Peña, Director Emeritus, the New York Film Festival & Professor of Film and Media Studies, Columbia University