Indeed, they made an important contribution to Spain itself, consistently using their art to denounce political repression. When General Franco took over the country in 1939, he became an active and powerful enemy of personal and artistic freedom, introducing an atmosphere of censorship and fear. This was worsened by the judgemental attitudes of the all-pervading Catholic church. The Sampedros and Bardems would strive against this suffocating regime, thereby placing themselves in grave personal danger. One of Juan Antonio Bardem's first major projects after leaving film school would be to direct 1953's That Happy Pair, a biting satire on Spanish values and propaganda starring his mother and father as well as Fernando Fernan Gomez. Juan Antonio's efforts would not go unnoticed by the powers-that-were, and he'd actually be jailed by Franco for criticizing his dictatorship.
Name: Javier Bardem
1 March 1969 (Age: 45)
Where: Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, Canary Islands
Awards: Won 1 Oscar, 1 BAFTA and 1 Golden Globe
When Javier Bardem made his international breakthrough in 2000, he did so against all the odds. Not only was Before Night Falls, which saw him headline as a gay writer tortured physically and mentally under Castro's Cuban revolution, an unlikely passage to stardom, but Bardem had actually had to learn English to play the role. To most, he had no pedigree, no reputation. Some may have recalled the macho gigolo he played in 1992's cult hit Jamon, Jamon; less might remember him as the wheelchair-bound cop in Live Flesh. But hardly anyone would have noticed his progress over the previous decade. Spanish cinema, you see, despite its verve, invention and sexual forwardness, was seen as garish, loud and annoyingly camp - basically lacking in seriousness. Its stars - like Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz - had always needed to work their way up the Hollywood ladder before gaining respect. Before Night Falls, though, despite being backed with American money, was far, far from a mainstream Hollywood production. The Oscar nomination Bardem received, the first ever received by a Spanish actor, had been earned the hard way.
He was born Javier Angel Encinas Bardem on the first of March, 1969, in Las Palmas on Gran Canaria, Spanish territory off the west coast of Morocco. He had two older siblings; brother Carlos, born in 1963, and sister Monica, born a year later. Both would also become actors. Javier's parents, Carlos Encinas and Pilar Bardem would split up in 1971, Pilar taking Carlos, Monica and the then-toddling Javier back to Madrid. It was said that the fiercely independent Pilar could not tolerate the little wife role demanded by her more traditional husband.
In terms of his career, the split was probably fortunate for Javier. Now he'd be placed right at the centre of a family steeped in film and theatre, with an acting history stretching back nearly a hundred years. His forebear Mercedes Sampedro had been a renowned actress back in the late 1800s. Amongst her nieces were Mercedes, Guadalupe and Matilde Munoz Sampedro, all three famous actresses (Guadalupe would marry actor Manuel Soto and form her own theatre company in 1946), and in turn they would bear the next generation, including Luchy Soto, Carmen Lozano (who both starred in films for over 40 years) and Javier's mother Pilar. Pilar, the daughter of Matilde and another lauded thespian, Rafael Bardem, would be a big star in theatre, TV and film, often appearing in movies directed by her brother, Juan Antonio Bardem, who'd serve on the jury at Cannes in 1955.
The Sampedros and Bardems were prime movers in the progression of Spanish theatre and the birth of its cinema.
. Throughout the Franco years, the family would be shining lights for the Spanish, bravely questioning when silent compliance was demanded. Once Franco had died in November, 1975, they'd also contribute heavily to the renaissance of Spanish theatre and film as the rigid rules of the state and Church were attacked and subverted. Also helping to fan the flames of artistic freedom at this point would be the young directors Pedro Almodovar and Jose Juan Bigas Luna, both of whom would have a profound effect on Javier Bardem's career.
Born in the last years of Franco's crumbling regime, as a kid Javier Bardem would have been unaware of his family's historical importance. He would, though, living at the heart of Spain's artistic community, have been well aware of what they did for a living. Indeed, soon after being taken back to Madrid as an infant, he would make his screen debut alongside his mother in El Picaro, a comedy starring the aforementioned Fernando Fernan Gomez. He'd appear in several TV shows throughout his youth, but mostly he'd be made to concentrate on his studies. Concentration was necessary as Bardem was not a naturally successful academic student, preferring art and sport, particularly, being a big lad, boxing and rugby. At this last endeavour he would truly excel, eventually being picked for the national side. With typical modesty, he'd later belittle this achievement by saying he'd had little competition; playing rugby in Spain, he said, was like being a bullfighter in Japan.
Though he was not keen on academia, he stuck at it, completing his Bachillerato studies and, in preparation for an entry into college, a further year of the Curso de Orientacion Universitaria, studying arts and languages. Instead of going up to university, though, he'd decide to follow his artistic leanings and at 19 enrolled at Madrid's most famous art school, the Escuela de Artes y Oficios, an establishment officially formed in 1886 which counted amongst its former teachers both Picasso and Miro.
Despite being a gifted artist, Bardem would remain at EAO only very briefly.
As said, he'd appeared in TV bit parts throughout his youth but had not been inspired to seek a career in acting. 1986 had seen him in Pedro Maso's 12-part series Segunda Ensenanza, he'd briefly toured with an independent theatre troupe, appearing in El Medico A Palos and El Sombrero De Tres Picos, and in 1989 had appeared in Brigada Central, also for Pedro Maso. That same year he'd togged himself up as Superman when appearing in the morning show El Dio Por Delante, a mix of comedy, news and chat hosted by Pepe Navarro. These jobs had been fun but he'd not taken them seriously. They made money, just like his jobs as a bouncer, a construction worker and (for one night only) a stripper.
. What changed his mind and inspired him to leave EAO and pursue his family trade was an approach from Bigas Luna to appear in an upcoming movie, The Ages Of Lulu. As earlier mentioned, Bigas Luna had sprung forth in the post-Franco rejuvenation of Spanish cinema and was known for baiting the authorities and particularly the Church with his transgressive material. 1978's Bilbao was a study of fetishism and obsession, while in 1979's Caniche he had two guys and a poodle losing their minds in a big house. In 1981's religious satire Reborn a women suffering from stigmata was used by televangelist Dennis Hopper and underwent traumatic sex. 1986's Lola saw a woman flee from an abusive relationship only to be drawn back in by the promise of thrillingly dangerous sex, while the next year's Anguish was an inventive slasher flick - not unlike Dario Argento's Demons, where a cinema audience was gradually slaughtered in the same manner as the victims on the screen. For Anguish, Bigas Luna would receive a Goya nomination, a first for a director famed as an intelligent, wry but overly extreme outsider.
As a passionate young man well versed in the arts, Bardem would have been attracted to the wilful nature of Bigas Luna's work, its exploration of sexual boundaries and a surreal element that had seen the director compared to Dali. Offered a part in The Ages Of Lulu, he consulted his mother (also in the movie) who told him that, if he were to go through with it, he'd have to take it seriously. Cinema, as the Bardems well knew, was a serious business. So Javier began acting classes in earnest, discovered that he loved the work and left EAO for good.
The Ages Of Lulu was a hell of a debut. In it, Francesca Neri would play a teenager clumsily but enthusiastically losing her virginity to her older brother's friend. Years later, they reunite, finding a kinship in sexual adventurousness. They marry, have a kid, but the sex games continue, even coming to involve a transvestite. Eventually, though, Neri is shocked when her husband breaks trust, blindfolds her and invites her brother to take her. Quite rightly, she dumps her hubbie, but must now feed her need for kicks elsewhere, descending into the most sordid and risky areas of the Madrid underworld.