Like a director”queer“, so I perceived villaronga that people classified him, although he never considered himself as such. He was surprised by the fact that bearing such a label he had been showered with awards and praise from international critics in the last decade, especially the enormous success he achieved with ‘Pa negre (Black Bread)’, a film that swept the Goya and in the Gaudí
Died on January 22 at the age of 69 years As a result of cancer, Agustí Villaronga Riutort was born in Palma de Mallorca, during the Franco dictatorship, on March 4, 1953. From his childhood his passion for the seventh art was clear, although His beginnings were in the theater by the hand of Núria Espert, first as an actor and then in other responsibilities.
An unclassifiable author, a work full of risks
Settled in Barcelona from a young age, where he graduated in Geography and History, Villaronga chains works in audiovisual projects, mainly in departments such as artistic direction and costumes. In the late 70’s and early 80’s he directed three short films —’Anta mujer’ (1976), ‘Laberint’ (1980) and ‘Al Mayurka’ (1980) — in which he already shows early the diversity in themes and forms that will characterize the work of the Balearic Islands. It will be in 1986 when he makes his debut in the feature film with ‘Behind the glass’, a low-budget dramatic thriller that he also writes alone and that presented at the Berlinale.
Starring David Sust, Günter Meisner and Marisa Paredes, the film narrates in a raw and stark way the perverse relationship between a sadistic murderer and rapistas well as a former torturer in Nazi concentration camps, today a quadriplegic and perennially connected to an iron lung, and a young man who mysteriously offers to take care of him.
Sexual fantasies, emotional manipulation, humiliation, ruthless violence… a whole carousel of depravities that earned him outstanding recognition at festivals around the world. The film is considered one of the Spanish debuts that caused the most commotion. “‘The empire of the senses’ almost remains a matter of babies compared to this film”, could be read after its premiere in the newspaper El País.
His next feature film is ‘the child of the moon‘ (1989), an intricate and original fantasy story about a boy from interwar Europe who believes he is the incarnation of an African God. It is presented in the Official Section of Cannes and won three Goya awards (original script, makeup and costumes), but it did not end up dazzling critics or viewers. In 1992 he premiered the documentary ‘Al-Andalus: Islamic arts in Spain‘ and in 1995 it arrives ‘the clandestine passenger‘, a feature film co-produced between France and Spain that adapts the homonymous work written by the Belgian writer Georges Simenon.
‘99.9. The frequency of terror’ (1997), a film that ended up being awarded the prize for best photography in said contest. María Barranco, Terele Pávez, Ruth Gabriel, Gustavo Salmerón and Vicky Peña make up the acting cast of this horror play with supernatural overtones starring Lara, host of a radio program on mysteries and spiritualism who will be involved in the investigation of the strange death of Victor, the father of her son. Highlights the dark photograph the always remarkable Javier Aguirresarobe.
With ‘The sea‘ (2000) gets unanimous recognition from international critics. This dramatic story transports the viewer to Mallorca during the conflictive decades of the 1930s and 1940s. Manuel Tur and Andreu Ramallo are two young people suffering from tuberculosis who, while waiting to be cured in a sanatorium, are aware that what they feel for each other is more than friendship The Berlinale is once again the house that hosts the premiere of his film.
In 2002, he co-directed with Lydia Zimmermann and Isaac P. Racine one of his most unclassifiable and controversial. ‘Aro Tolbukhin: in the mind of the murderer‘ is a mockumentary co-produced between Spain and Mexico and starring Daniel Giménez Cacho and Carmen Beato about a Hungarian assassin who in 1982 burned seven people alive in Guatemala. The film competes in the Official Section of the San Sebastián Festival, where opinions are divided, and it is nominated for seven Ariel awards, those granted by the Mexican Film Academy, of which it wins those for best actor and best actress.
In 2007 he premiered ‘After the rain‘, adaptation of the play by Sergi Belbel; a film intended for television that despite its specific qualities and the distinguished team of performers who act in it (Marisa Paredes, Candela Peña, Vicenta N’Dongo, Jordi Bosch, Àlex Brendemühl, Roger Casamajor, Secun de la Rosa) passes without regret nor glory. His next work, the sensational ‘Pa negre (Black bread)‘, released in 2010. Based on the novel of the same title by the Barcelona writer Emili Teixidor, the film is the first one that, being shot in Catalan, gets the Goya for best film. She was also the candidate for the Academy for the Oscars.
Villaronga plunges back into the Spanish post-war period to recount the awakening of Andreu, a boy from a rural town in Catalonia whose family belonged to the Republican side. Andreu discovers in the forest the corpses of a father and his son, and from here he will observe the quarrels and secrets that the adults who live with him in the town hide. 9 Goya Awards (including those for Best Film, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay), 13 Gaudí Awards, the Ariel Award for Best Ibero-American Film and the Concha Award for Best Actress at the San Sebastian Festival for Nora Novas are some of the awards received by the work.
In 2011 Villaronga received the National Cinematography Award and a year later he premiered the two-episode miniseries ‘letter to eve‘, in which he delves into the trip that Eva Perón made to Spain in 1947. In 2015 he made the documentary ‘Rose’s will‘, about the cancer that the actress Rosa Novell suffered and that finally cost her her life. In this same year, the vehement feature film ‘El Rey de La Habana’, a Spanish-Dominican co-production that captures the novel by Cuban Pedro Juan Gutiérrez on the screen, is also released. The actress Yordanka Ariosa wins the award for best actress at the San Sebastian Festival.
‘Uncertain Glory’ (2017), ‘born king‘ (2019) and ‘the belly of the sea‘ (2021) are his last three released films, three historical dramas which respectively delves into the Spanish Civil War, the relationship between the Arabian Peninsula and Europe after the First World War, and the tragic shipwreck in 1816 of the French frigate Alliance off the Senegalese coast. This last title, ‘The belly of the sea’ (‘El ventre del mar’ in its original title in Catalan), became the work with the highest number of awards obtained in the entire history of the Malaga Festivala total of 6, including the Biznaga de Oro for best film and the award for best direction.
‘The belly of the sea’: the movie
An experimental film in which Villaronga reflects on the shipwrecks of yesterday and todayof the injustices that are repeated over timethrough an original formal device that combines theatre, photography (snapshots of the renowned Italian photojournalist Francesco Zizola are inserted on migrant boats on the high seas), painting (‘The Raft of the Medusa’ by Théodore Géricault), literature (the book ‘Ocean sea’ by Alessandro Baricco) and leaps in time.
For this film, Villaronga had Roger Casamajor, one of his fetish performers, as well as seasoned theater actors, because at first the Catalan director planned to put on a play and adapted Baricco’s text for that purpose, but the pandemic situation caused the transmutation into a cinematographic work. “An act of rebellion”, according to the filmmaker himself, although remaining latent, as indicated before, theatricality of the project. The budget, in any case, was meager (about 400,000 euros), more if possible if one takes into account the demands that the script required. However, this budget shortage helped Villaronga to sharpen his ingenuity and this is demonstrated in the film.
The plot starts from that shipwreck of the Alliance frigate that forced 147 of its crew to crowd into a raft to survive. Days of hell on the high seas in which famines, violence, outbreaks of madness, cannibalism take place… Some events that shocked the French society of the time. The crudeness and the poetic, the most heartless injustice and the most supportive love, scenes with extensive and deep dialogues and scenes without a trace of them, contemplative. A demanding proposal that not all the public will accept, this being a clear example of the creative freedom of its creator.
Villaronga said during the premiere in Malaga of this title that he likes to delve into deep topics and from new perspectives, with risks, but always with the intention of that the public understands his films. It is also the case that the director’s last cinematographic works were commissioned, with the exception of ‘El vientre del mar’. “It is a very personal project, but it is not always possible to do it, and through a platform we could not have financed it”, declared the director.
There have been many personalities from art and politics who have shown their pain for this significant loss. A figure who revitalized the Catalan film industry and who showed that a film shot in Catalan could go as far as one imagined. The XV Gaudí Awards, held on the day of his death, served as a tribute to this important figure of Spanish cinema who has garnered so many awards and recognitions around the world thanks to his plausible career and whose tragicomedy ‘Loli Tormenta’ has yet to be released. ‘, starring Susi Sánchez in the role of a grandmother who suffers severe cognitive impairment as a result of Alzheimer’s. It will be at the end of March when we can enjoy it.
Let’s not say weird, but yeah a difficult filmmaker to labelwhich leaves us as a legacy remarkable cinematographic work marked by the continuous riskthe everlasting experimentation and a clear eclecticism in terms of genres and visual expressions.
Memory, the one he dealt with so much in his films —either through historical narratives that cover periods and geographical spaces as disparate as 19th century Africa, Saudi Arabia at the beginning of the 20th century, the Holocaust or the Civil War. Spanish civil society, as well as using dramatic motors such as Alzheimer’s disease— must not relegate, leave Agustí Villaronga in oblivion. May your work be always remembered.