Film History: Alejandro Amenábar

 

Photographers Unknown, A Collection of Thirteen Men

Born in Santiago in March of 1972, Alejandro Fernando Amenábar Cantos is a Spanish-Chilean film director, composer, and screenwriter. In August of 1973, his family relocated to Spain where they settled in Madrid, initially living in a camper-van and later moving to a complex in Madrid’s outer neighborhoods. From the age of fifteen, Amenábar was passionate about cinematic art; he also wrote stories and musical compositions for the guitar and keyboard.

Amenábar began his education at The Immaculate Piarist Fathers, a parochial multi-discipline school in Madrid, and later transferred to the secular Alameda de Osuna Institute, one of Madrid’s prominent private schools. After graduating, Amenábar enrolled at the sciences faculty of Madrid’s historic, public research Complutense University where he studied cinema and directing. There he met people who would lend support to his career in cinema including Argentine journalist Carlos Montero, actor Eduardo Noriega and Mateo Gil Rodriguez,  a filmmaker who would co-write most of Amenábar’s films.

In 1991, Alejandro Amenábar released the first of his short films, “La Cabeza (Head)”. The script, based on an urban legend, was written by Mateo Rodriquez and Amenábar, who also composed the musical score in collaboration with Alfredo Alonso. This film earned Amenábar a prize from the Amateur Independent Film Association. His second short film, the 1992  “Himenóptero”, was shot on location at Alameda de Osuna Institute, his former high school. Amenábar wrote the script and music for the horror suspense film, was director and editor, and performed the only male role. (Note: Hymenoptera is a large order of insects which includes wasps, bees, sawflies and ants.)

At the age of twenty-two, Amenábar released his first full-length film, the 1996 “Tésis (Thesis)”, which secured his reputation as one of Spain’s most promising  cinematographers. This film, which commented on the Spanish film industry, Hollywood’s influence on the industry and the voyeurism of the horror genre, was nominated for eight Goya awards, of which it won seven including Best Film. In 1997, Amenábar released the science-fiction based, psychological thriller, “Abre los Ojos (Open Your Eyes)”, which starred Penelope Cruz and Eduardo Noriega. The rights to this movie were later acquired by actor Tom Cruise who directed and starred in the American remake entitled “Vanilla Sky”, with Penelope Cruz playing the same role of the original film.

Alejandro Amenábar followed his success with an English language movie in 2001, entitled “The Others”, a psychological, gothic horror film. Written and directed by Amenábar, the supernatural film relied on tension built during disturbing scenes for its horror rather than the use of special effects. “The Others”, with its film score by Amenábar, was a box-office success and won seven Goya Awards, including Best Film and Best Director. It also won three Saturn Awards for Best Horror Film, Best Actress for Nicole Kidman, and Best Supporting Actress for Fionnula Flanagan, who played the housekeeper Bertha Mills.

In 2004, Amenábar had another success with his “Mar Adentro (The Sea Inside)”, based on the true life story of Ramón Sampedro. Paralyzed from the neck down, Sampedro fought a thirty-year campaign to win the right to end his life with dignity.The film won fourteen Goya Awards, including Best Film and Best Director, and won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

In 2008, Amenábar released the historical drama “Agora”. Written by Mateo Gil and Amenábar, the biopic told the life story of Hypatia, the fourth-century female mathematician and astronomer who investigated the flaws of the geocentric Ptolemaic system of the solar system and the heliocentric model that challenged it. Winning seven Goya Awards, the film had limited release in the United States but was Spain’s highest grossing film of 2009.

After a seven year hiatus, Alejandro Amenábar released his psychological horror mystery film “Regression” in 2015. The film premiered at the 2015 San Sebastián International Film Festival. In 2019, he released the Spanish-Argentine historical drama “While at War”, the plot of which tracks the plight of writer and philosopher Miguel de Unamuno in 1936 Salamanca, a city controlled during the Spanish Civil War by the Rebel faction. 

In addition to composing the scores of his own films, he laid the sound tracks for Josè Luis Cuerda’s 1999 coming-of-age film“Butterfly’s Tongue” and Mateo Gil’s 1999 mystery film “Nobody Known Anybody”, among others. 

Top Insert Image: Mateo Gil, “Alejandro Amenábar, Himenóptero”, 1992

Third Insert Image: Javier Aguirresarobe, “Alakina Mann, The Others”, 1992, Written and Directed by Alejandro Amenábar, Warner Brothers

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