Iglesia, Álex de la

(1965- )
   Álex de la Iglesia's career mirrors that generation of Spanish filmmakers who rose to prominence in the 1990s and which would also include Alejandro Amenábar, Juanma Bajo Ulloa, and Enrique Urbizu: they are fascinated by genres and subgenres (this is, after all, the Star Wars generation, brought up on a staple diet of television and pop music) that do not have a strong tradition in Spanish cinema, such as science fiction, fantasy, and thrillers, to the detriment of social realism and politically engaged films. Indeed, they are largely unconcerned by history, memory, and the Civil War. If the dictatorship years are featured in their films at all (as is the case in De la Iglesia's Muertos de risa), the aim is aesthetic or parodic, but political issues are boldly side-stepped. Another dominant feature of Álex de la Iglesia's film career is variety. He has continually experimented with genres and backgrounds, including horror, spaghetti Western, pop comedy, United States-set road movie, and even international thriller. His feel for the creation of distinctive atmospheres was first signaled by his work as art director for Enrique Urbizu's Todo por la pasta (All for the Dough, 1991). In personal appearances, he is usually bold and opinionated, working hard at creating a media-friendly image that can be easily marketed and recognizable to his large fan base.
   De la Iglesia first came to prominence with an excellent short, Mirindas asesinas (Killer Soda Bottles, 1991), which presaged the rest of his career in terms of style and genre. His first feature, co-produced by El Deseo S.A. and French company CIBY 2000, was Acción mutante (Mutant Action, 1993), a mixture of trash, science fiction, and savage comedy concerning a cartoonish terrorist group of assorted misfits (mostly disabled, misshapen, and intellectually challenged) who set out to overturn Beautiful Society by kidnapping the daughter of a diet biscuit manufacturer. They escape with their victim, who is in the throes of the Stockholm syndrome, to the desert planet Axturias, populated by barbaric beings. It made reference to a younger film canon, including Alien (in the design of the spaceship), the Mad Max films, spaghetti Westerns (landscape of the planet), Texas Chainsaw Massacre (the weird male family in Axturias), and Star Wars (the space canteen).
   The film made efficient use of a small budget and acknowledged its roots in trash culture. It became an instant success, enabling De la Iglesia to find better conditions for his next project, influenced by The Exorcist and other films of evil possession and set in Madrid on Christmas eve. El día de la bestia (Day of the Beast, 1995), as it came to be titled, brought together the same mix of popular genres and irony, and showed the director's talent for characterization and for working in distinctive atmospheres. Indeed, each of his next films is set in a completely different visual world and recycles a different set of cultural (largely movie) references.
   Perdita Durango (Dance with the Devil, 1997), based on a novel by Barry Gifford, was set in the United States border territory and featured Rosie Perez, Javier Bardem, and Isabella Rosellini. It had a bizarrely complicated plot inspired by the same characters also featured in David Lynch's Wild at Heart. De la Iglesia would, in the future, express dissatisfaction with the result, which, he claims, escaped his control due to lack of expertise.
   The satire Muertos de risa (Death by Laughter, 1998), set in the television industry, was a return to Spanish themes, featuring two of the most popular comedy actors of the period: Santiago Segura (fresh from his Torrente films) and El Gran Wyoming as two hugely successful TV funnymen with a very limited repertoire who hate each other intensely as soon as cameras stop rolling. De la Iglesia used his skill for broad comedy and complicity with old television icons from a previous era. La comunidad (The Community, 2000), his next film, was an ironic twist on cheap thrillers, particularly those made for TV by Narciso Ibáñez Serrador in the 1970s, and featured a hapless Carmen Maura as an estate agent having to face, in a creepy building, neighbors who are after the money hidden in the flat she is intending to sell. The film did extremely well at the box office, connecting particularly with other Star Wars generation cinephiles through explicit references (one character dresses up as Darth Vader), and it also gained the respect of critics and professionals, as evidenced by its three Goya awards and numerous other nominations.
   At the time, De la Iglesia's reputation was well established as one of the indispensable new talents in Spanish cinema at the start of the 20th century. His next three projects were less well received critically, but overall they show that the filmmaker's talent to juggle genres is undiminished. The Film 800 balas (800 Bullets, 2002) was set among a group of old spaghetti Western professionals, and although more sentimental than his previous efforts, featured De la Iglesia's typically strong gallery of supporting characters, a good eye for space, and keen awareness of genre conventions. Lighter and more accomplished, Crimen Ferpecto (Ferpect Crime, 2004) was set in a department store and could be read as a satire on consummerism and the promotion mentality espoused by the new right. It told the story of a womanizing and ambitious salesman who accidentally kills the floor manager and must resort to the assistance of an ugly, dumb saleswoman on the same floor. Finally, Los crímenes de Oxford / The Oxford Murders (2008) was an international co-production, adapted from a popular thriller in the style of The DaVinci Code, and starring Elijah Wood and John Hurt. In 2009, Álex de la Iglesia became the president of the Academia de Artes y Ciencias Cinematográficas de España.

Historical dictionary of Spanish cinema. . 2010.

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