Catalan director Clara Simón, Penélope Cruz, and Javier Bardem could be evidence that Spain’s moment on the big screen is finally here. But are a Golden Bear at the Berlinale and four Spaniards nominated at the Oscars proof that Spanish cinema is finally breaking through?
Unlike some countries with a very strong cinematographic DNA, Spain has so far struggled to find a place for itself on the international scene. To date only one Spanish director, Luis Buñuel, has won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival; for Viridiana in 1961.
"That Penelope's nomination is for a role in Spanish is extraordinary, historic for the Spain brand,” Cruz’s husband Javier Bardem said when the Oscar nominations were announced this year.
Spanish cinema, long lagging behind other European rivals like Italy and France, has finally begun to catch up. Carla Simón’s win in Berlin for ‘Alcarràs’ is proof of that.
According to Variety, Cruz is currently in the mix to be the president of the Cannes festival jury, a distinction already granted in 2017 to Pedro Almodóvar, by far the most appreciated Iberian director abroad.
The actress has already won at the Oscars in 2009, but for the American film ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’. This time around, if Cruz wins for her role in Pedro Almodóvar’s ‘Parallel Mothers,’ it would be a 100 per cent Spanish victory.
Why has Spanish cinema had trouble breaking through?
Cinematic output can be an important form of soft power - just look at the example of South Korea - but Spanish films seem to have lagged behind on the international stage.
"Spanish cinema has had a lot of trouble getting through the doors of international festivals," says Pilar Martinez-Vasseur, director of the Nantes Spanish Film Festival.
Spanish films released abroad were often not identified as Spanish, explains Martinez-Vasseur. For example, who knows that psychological horror ‘The Others,’ which starred Nicole Kidman, was directed by Alejandro Amenábar?
"In Spain, we still have the idea that Spanish cinema is bad, that it's a nest of communists, that the directors are boosted who do nothing and receive subsidies", laments the director.
Martinez-Vasseur wants greater support from the Spanish government for the sector. Cinema is certainly less funded in Spain than on the opposite side of the Pyrenees in France.
However, after a slow start the industry has learned to find its place in a globalised ecosystem according to Beatriz Navas, director general of the Institute of Cinematography and Audiovisual Arts.
"It took a broth of culture which was not done overnight (...) and a sufficient cooking time for the works to obtain the recognition they deserve", she says.
Making Spain the cinematic hub of Europe
In addition to Penélope Cruz, Javier Bardem and Alberto Iglesias, Alberto Mielgo's short film, ‘The Windshield Wiper’ is also nominated at 2022’s Academy Awards.
"Spanish cinema is living its best moment,” says José Luis Rebordinos, the director of the prestigious San Sebastian film festival.
"There is a lot of cinema at the moment in Spain, with platforms that provide a lot of work and allow Spanish technicians to be better," he explains.
Spain, whose western landscapes attracted Hollywood from the 1960s, is increasingly popular with series production platforms: Netflix, which inaugurated its first European studios in Madrid in 2019, has broadcast Spanish series successful like Casa de Papel or Elite.
For a year, the left-wing government has shown its desire to "make Spain the audiovisual hub of Europe" and to increase production on its territory by 30% by 2025 by injecting 1.6 billion euros.
"International critics pay more attention to our cinema thanks to the big names in cinema", judges Mr. Rebordinos, the director of the San Sebastian festival.