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Luis García Berlanga's filmography is part of general education in Spain, and knowledge of the idiosyncrasies of his work is so widespread that in 2020 the prestigious Real Academia de las Letras Españolas unanimously added the adjective "berlanguiano" to its dictionary. Juan Luis Cebrián, co-founder of the influential newspaper El País, recently suggested "grotesque but real" as a definition of this neologism.

There are several explanations for the fact that Berlanga has not achieved comparable fame abroad: There is, for example, the seemingly popular character of his films and his conscious orientation toward the concrete problems of Spanish society. Not for nothing is Berlanga considered a unique chronicler of his country. His persistent distancing from all the political movements of his time - he saw himself as a kind of liberal anarchist - may also have contributed to the fact that Berlanga is much less known outside Spain. After all, several of his films have received international awards and nominations, and in 1987 he became the first filmmaker to receive an honorary Goya for his life's work.

Berlanga, born in Valencia in 1921 to a distinguished bourgeois family, lived through the Spanish Civil War, World War II and the long years of Franco's dictatorship as a contemporary witness. His grandfather and father were politicians who, before the outbreak of the Civil War, were members of liberal and also conservative governments in various capacities. After the Civil War, Berlanga's father was imprisoned as a Republican for his political activities. To save his father from the death penalty, Berlanga said, he enlisted in the División Azul, a volunteer infantry division that fought alongside the German Wehrmacht in Russia.

Since his youth, Berlanga had been interested in literature, cinema and poetry, and after the war he regularly wrote film reviews for various magazines. In Madrid, he successfully applied for the first year of studies at the newly founded Instituto de Investigaciones y Experiencias Cinematográficas, Spain's first state film school. There he met, among others, Juan Antonio Bardem, the uncle of actor Javier Bardem. Berlanga and Bardem made their first feature film together, Esa pareja feliz, in 1951. Also with Bardem, Berlanga wrote the screenplay for Bienvenido Mr. Marshall in 1953. The film won several international awards and gave Berlanga the opportunity to meet renowned European filmmakers - especially the Italian neorealists. He subsequently made several of his films in collaboration with Italian producers and actors.

It was not until 1959 that Berlanga met the most important person of his career, the man who would also become his best friend and companion: Rafael Azcona. The extremely prolific screenwriter was involved in more than ten of Berlanga's films, many of which earned praise and fame not only in Spain. Azcona succeeded, says Berlanga, in giving continuity, stability and solidity to his work.

Berlanga's filmography can be divided into two distinct creative phases, one falling in the period of Franco's dictatorship with its censorship measures, the other in the period after Franco's death. In all of Berlanga's films, there is a tender, if grotesque, depiction of society as a harmonious chorus, reminiscent of Italian neorealism. Nevertheless, the characters in the films from the late seventies on become more independent, more individual and less predictable. The themes also change: as in many Spanish and European films of the time, the power of eroticism becomes the paradigm in Berlanga's late work. (Miguel Herrero)

The retrospective, curated by Miguel Herrero, is produced in collaboration with the Embassy of Spain and the Film Subtitling Workshop at Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf, whose participants also wrote the announcement texts for the films.