Flamboyant homosexual (William Hurt) and South American Revolutionarv-l (Raul .lulia) share; cell in Kiss oft/1e Spider Woman. Director. Ilector Babenco tells Allan Hunter how he escaped the Cinema‘s web of convention.
In an age when the American studios appear to be chasing in circles searching for identikit successes or catering to the demands ofthe lucrative teen market. it is always a pleasure to encounter the independent creative spirits of world cinema. Argentinian-born I lector Babenco has been responsible fora mere four films in his decade-long career as a features director yet each project is a carefully nurtured personal statement. dealing with issues he believes to be important and told in the manner he deems appropriate.
He made his debut in 1976 with Ref Du Moire and followed this with one ofthe most popular Brazilian films of the 1970s. Lucio Fluvia-l’assagerio Du Agrmia. a chronicle ofa Robin Hood figure who emerged during the era of the death squads. Pirate. in 1981. dealt with prostitution and criminality among the children of Brazil and received critics awards in New York and Los Angeles.
I-abour of love
His latest film is Kiss ofthe .S'pidem'unimz. based on the Manuel Puig novel and starring William Hurt and Raul Julia. Set in a prison. under an unspecified repressive regime. the film tells of the mutual admiration that develops between two initially hostile cellrnates; one a flamboyant. homosexual window-dresser. convicted on a morals charge. the other a committed revolutionary. held without trial and brutally tortured. The understanding that grows between this odd couple forms the core of a film which has. like Babenco‘s other work. been something of a labour of love.
Commercial pressures alone usually force directors into straitjackets of conformity but Babenco has continued to keep his independence and still make the films he wants to. ‘We tried for a year to make a deal but American producers are very limited in their perspective. We were looking fora very small amount of money. less than a telly picture or something for HBO (‘able but no one had the courage to back us. People have always been suspicious of my projects and yet every film I have made has made money. They can sit you down for 15 minutes and explain about a lack ofcommercial appeal or how they have no other film to compare it with but really they are just afraid oftackling certain themes and subject matters. They just want to eat the same cake every day and never vary their diet.‘
Babenco had been attracted to Kiss ofthe .S'piderwomun for a number of reasons: "l‘he book was such a beautiful novel with many dramatic elements. The two characters are fantastic; firstly there is this almost cliche gay dreamer. spinning his stories. and then this hard revolutionary. The two are almost the new icons of the last ten years of dramaturgy. The conflict between them interested me. the search for truth. of finding the weaknesses they shared and the friendship and commitment that emerged from that discovery. The story is. after all. a passionate one with an emotional purity.‘
Hurt: 'dceply troubled‘
Babenco persuaded others to share his vision ofthe film that could be tnade. Writer Leonard Schrader worked on the script without a contract or remuneration. just to delve into the possibilites of what could be done. A modest. always precarious. amount of finance was accumulated under the management ofproducer David Weisman and the actors became partners in the project. working for little more than the air-ticket to Brazil.
Initially Burt Lancaster was cast as homosexual raconteur Molina but open-heart surgery prevented his appearance. In his place Babenco welcomed William Ilurt toco-star with Raul Julia. ‘When Burt fell ill Raul suggested William I Iurt who was then in Finland making (iorky Park. He phoned me and asked. very humbly. if he could be in the film. I asked for a couple of weeks to think about it and then said yes. We had a couple of weeks rehearsal in Rio together after that. lam a very straight director. not methodical at all. I prefer to do a scene one time. not cover it from every angle and then try and fix it in the editing room. Usually I know in my head before I start how I want a scene to look.’
In numerous interviews William Hurt gives the impression of being a deeply troubled. complex human being and perhaps not the ideal co-worker. Babenco offers his own diplomatic judgement. ‘Both Bill and Raul are passionate professionals. and searchers for perfection Raul is more open. more fresh. more Latin. whilst Bill is very WASI"y. tnore reserved.~
A Brazilian-American co-production. Kiss oft/w Spiderwmrmn was filmed in Iinglish giving Babenco the additional difficulty ofcoping with a multi-lingual cast and crew. ‘It was a very exhausting but. if people asked
me things I would put on a wise face and quite often they would find the answer for themselves. People comprehend my actions as much as my words.‘
Filming was completed in February I‘m-l but the inevitable obstacle of economics turned the post-production period into a lengthy. difficult phase. 'l'he film was eventually prepared for a premiere at the (‘annes Film Festival last May where William Ilurt was named Best Actor. Since then it has gone on to receive worldwide acclaim. picking up critics‘ prizes throughout America and earning a gratifying North American gross in excess of ll million dollars. Happy endingsof this order are what make the blood. sweat and tearsof Babenco's art worthwhile. ‘It makes me proud and happy to receive that kind of respect.‘ Babenco claims. ‘It is good to know that by following one's own sensitivity one receives this kind of approval. I was a moviegoer as a child and dreamed of telling stories and being a movie director even before I knew what a director did. I saw big films like .S‘Iugemur/i and (‘ilizen Kane and Visconti's Rocco rim/his Brothers and I wanted to tell stories like that from the age of l-l.‘
Born in Buenos Aires in 1040 Babenco wandered through the Iiuropean capitals in his twenties. picking up work as a door-to-door salesman. house painter and even as a movie extra in Rome and Spain. ‘I worked on a lot ofcheap films in the mid-(ills; spaghetti westerns and war movies. I regard that asone ofthe richest periods of my life although not in terms of what it taught me as a filmmaker. because that amounts to almost nothing. but for personal reasons.‘
Inspired to dream
Eventually choosing Sao Paulo in Brazil as his hotne base and. after several short documentaries. he began spinning his own stories as a distinctive international director. Now. perhaps the success of Spiderwoman will make producers less suspicious of his next project. ‘()h. I Lloth know. ItltHFI like to think like that.‘ Babenco cautiously muses. ‘Filmmaking is dreaming about the possibilities of what might he. lets just say that Spiderwoman will inspire me to dream higher.’ Kiss oft/1e .S'piderimmun can be seen at the Edinburgh Filinhouse from 1‘) January to 8 February and will open shortly in (ilasgow.
'l‘he list 107—» 2.‘~.lanuary3