For a director to create even one stand-out film before the age of 30 is quite something, but to produce three (and a fourth shortly after attaining that age) really is very unusual. Alejandro Amenábar burst onto the Spanish movie scene in 1996 with his thought-provoking thriller Tesis (Thesis). This taut and well-paced film turns the spotlight on the very film school he has so recently left, and asks the audience some uncomfortable questions about itself.

The following year came another fantastic claustrophobic, psychological thriller in Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes), which again showcased his ability to work with great acting talent. This was once again a smash-hit in Spain, where it did not go unnoticed that Amenábar, his co writer Mateo Gil and the four leads were all under 25 years old. This film was remade, disappointingly, as Vanilla Sky. Stick to the original here, it is superior in every way.

The Chilean-born prodigy once again composed the music for this film, as he always does, in addition to co-writing and directing. In a nod to Hitchcock (Penelope Cruz was asked to watch Vertigo several times in her preparation), he takes a tiny cameo in this film.

For his next venture he decided to make a film in English, and the stunning ghost story, cum horror, cum thriller The Others (2001) proved his credentials as an auteur who could delight serious cinema students, and be big box office. This was a huge international success. He creates a wonderful concept, and executes it to perfection.

Returning to the Spanish language, and an overtly Spanish film, he turns his attention to melodrama, to examine this genre, in turn. Mar Adentro (2004) (The Sea Inside) is a remarkably beautiful telling of the true story of Ramon Sampedro, a quadriplegic ex-fisherman who wished to end his own life. We see, once again, his ability to attract and utilise the best talent available; Javier Bardem puts in a wonderful central performance.

Amenábar’s Spanish mother’s family had moved to Chile, to flee Franco, only for her to move back, shortly after his birth, just as Pinochet’s coup was taking place. He grew up in Madrid, and attempted unsuccessfully to study cinema. Eventually he gave up trying, and turned to making cinema instead.

Since Mar Adentro his output has reduced, with just three films in ten years. The epic biopic of Hypatia, Agora (2009) was visually and technically impressive. The less said about the misjudged Regression (2015) the better. His latest film, Mientras Dure La Guerra (2019) (While At War) is an interesting and finely balanced Civil War drama, centering on the famous speech Unamuno gave in front of Millán-Astray, against the backdrop of the ascent to power of Franco. It is an intriguing, and overall successful, exploration of this incident, and offers a clear warning to today’s viewers.

Whilst his later output has been unable to live up to the astonishing sequence of the first four films, I for one eagerly await future projects.

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