Fernán Gómez, Fernando


Fernán Gómez, Fernando
(1921-2007)
   Actor, writer, and director Fernando Fernán Gómez is one of the towering personalities of Spanish cinema, with a career as an actor that spanned almost seven decades and included films with directors as diverse as Luis Sáenz de Heredia, Edgar Neville, Carlos Saura, Luis G. Berlanga, Manuel Gutiérrez Aragón, Fernando Trueba, and Pedro Almodovar.
   He also had a substantial career as director, and some of his films, most remarkably El extraño viaje (The Strange Journey, 1964) and El mundo sigue (And the World Goes Round, 1965), are among the undisputed masterpieces of Spanish cinema. He also contributed to the scripts for some of his own films. His stage play Las bicicletas son para el verano (Bicycles Are for Summer) was adapted for film by Jaime Chávarri in 1984. When the very traditional Real Academia de la Lengua Española decided for the first time to welcome a filmmaker as a member, he was the ideal candidate. Shortly before his death, David Trueba shot a long, entertaining conversation with him, which was released as La silla de Fernando (Fernando's Chair) in 2006.
   Fernando Fernán Gómez was born in Lima, Peru, into a touring theatrical family of Spanish origin. He followed studies of philosophy and literature before turning to performing. He started as stage actor in Madrid. His earliest film roles came after the Civil War (which he spent in the Spanish capital) in a series of CIFESA films all made in 1943 (Rosas de otoño [ Roses of Fall, Juan de Orduña ], Cristina Guzmán [ Gonzalo Delgrás ], La chica del gato [ The Girl with the Cat, Ramón Quadreny ], Turbante blanco [ White Turban, Ignacio F. Iquino ]); during the 1940s, he would become one of Spain's more popular actors in crowd-pleasing comedies like Botón de ancla (Anchor Buttons, Ramón Torrado, 1948), in which he played an earnest, enthusiastic student in the navy. A favorite performer of established playwright Enrique Jardiel Poncela, he took part in two adaptations of his plays in 1946: Es peligroso asomarse al exterior (It Is Dangerous to Lean Out, Alejandro Ulloa) and Los habitantes de la casa deshabitada (The Inhabitants of the Uninhabited House, Gonzalo Delgrás). But even at this time, he showed an interest in more off-beat roles, as evidenced by his role of a man obsessed with film in Lorenzo Llobet's García's remarkable Vida in sombras (Life in Shadows, 1952). He also showed his range when he played the title role of a self-sacrificing soldier-cum-priest in José Antonio Nieves Conde's Balarrasa (1951), one of his most popular roles. Another of his key roles was the touching protagonist of Edgar Neville's El último caballo (The Last Horse, 1950): an ex-soldier who tries to keep a horse in a city increasingly hostile to traditional means of transportation, which constituted an interesting metaphor on the price of progress.
   Throughout his acting career, Fernán Gómez maintained a fascinating balance between popular roles in stagy comedies and roles in more substantial films. Although basically a comic actor during the 1950s and 1960s, he chose to work with talented directors. He did Esa pareja feliz (That Happy Couple, 1953) for Berlanga, a representative of the "new" cinema, without interrupting his collaboration with some of the regime's most emblematic directors, Rafael Gil (La otra vida del Capitán Contreras [ Captain Contreras' Other Life, 1955 ]), Luis Lucia (Aeropuerto [ Airport, 1953 ], Morena Clara [ 1954 ]), and especially José Luis Sáenz de Heredia (Los ojos dejan huellas [ The Eyes Leave a Mark, 1952 ]).
   In 1954, Fernán Gómez directed his first film, the unusual Manicomio (Bedlam, co-directed with Luis María Delgado), which was followed by the more popular El malvado Carabel (Wicked Carabel, 1956), a comedy about a humble employee who is fired and decides to steal from his former bosses. For the next 35 years, he worked on a series of films that ranged from the originality of the diptych constituted by La vida por delante (Life Ahead, 1958) and La vida alrededor (Life Around, 1959), El extraño viaje, or El mundo sigue, and the conventionality of the comedy thriller Los palomos (The Palomo Couple, 1964), a José Luis López Vázquez-Gracita Morales vehicle, and La venganza de Don Mendo (Don Mendo's Revenge, 1961), a straightforward adaptation of a hugely popular stage comedy.
   As an actor, Fernán Gómez's choices followed a similar pattern: he could turn out engaging comic performances, as in Un adulterio decente (A Decent Adultery, Rafael Gil, 1969), another Jardiel Poncela stage hit adaptation, and Pierna creciente, falda menguante (Growing Leg, Diminishing Skirt, Javier Aguirre, 1970); and then he could collaborate with Carlos Saura in obscure films like Ana y los lobos (Ana and the Wolves, 1973) or with Víctor Erice, playing the laconic father of El espíritu de la colmena (The Spirit of the Beehive, 1973). His roles of the early 1970s show commitment to changing times, as evidenced by his part as a corrupt postwar profiteer in Olea's Pim, pam, pum . . . Fuego (Ready, Aim . . . Fire! 1976) or the title role in Juan Esterlich's El anacoreta (The Hermit, 1976).
   As with many other actors, the Transition manifested itself as a momentous career shift, and it took him some time to find interesting roles. In 1986, he directed both the critically successful El viaje a ninguna parte (The Trip to Nowhere), a film on touring players set in the post war period and inspired by his own experiences, and Mambrú se fue a la guerra (Malborough Went to War). These films inaugurated his late phase and earned him well-deserved Goyas as best director (for the former) and as best leading actor (for the latter). He had by then become a character actor, playing mostly fathers and grandfathers in the late 1980s. Examples of this period are, among many others, El Rey Pasmado (The Baffled King, Imanol Uribe, 1991), in which he played a liberal inquisitor; Belle Epoque (Fernando Trueba, 1992), in an engaging performance as a libertine patriarch with four rebellious daughters; and La lengua de las mariposas (Butterfly Tongues, José Luis Cuerda, 1999), in which he played very movingly a Republican teacher in a small town.
   By this time, into his seventh decade as an actor, he was an icon with a very strong screen presence. Pedro Almodóvar shrewdly chose him to play Penélope Cruz's aging father with Alzheimer's in Todo sobre mi madre (All About My Mother, 1999). In his last years, he received a number of honors and tributes. His performance in La ciudad sin límites (City Without Limits, Antonio Hernández, 2002) was among his best of this period, as a dying father with a secret life whose regret for past choices could be read into every line he uttered.
   Historical Dictionary of Spanish Cinema by Alberto Mira

Guide to cinema. . 2011.

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