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Barcelona: a city of film
Barcelona has been the setting for numerous national and international productions ever since the invention of motion pictures in the late nineteenth century, and these films have transformed the city into a true open-air set. Famous directors have set their films in Barcelona and many of the locations used in these movies have been immortalised by actors who have gone on to become film legends. This route follows the footsteps of some of them.
A century-old set
Several feature films, TV films, series, documentaries, shorts and commercials are shot – either partly or entirely – in Barcelona each year. This figure is constantly growing but this should come as no surprise. The great pioneers of cinema portrayed Barcelona back at a time when motion pictures were still in their infancy and they chose the city as their starting point on their road to the big screen. Fructuós Gelabert was one of these pioneers; he followed on from the themes that had been used by the Lumière brothers in Paris and portrayed everyday life in Sants for later generations in films such as ‘Sortida del públic de l’església parroquial de Santa Maria de Sants’ (People Leaving the Church of Santa Maria de Sants) and ‘Sortida dels treballadors de l’Espanya industrial’ (Workers Coming out of the Espanya Industrial). He also filmed his famous ‘Baralla en un cafè’, (Quarrel in a Café) in 1897 and this was the first fictional film in the history of Catalan and Spanish cinema.
As the industry has evolved, the city has become a cradle for renowned filmmakers and it has become identified with groups and movements such as the School of Barcelona in the 1960s. During this time Hollywood began to see the city as an ideal film location and this resulted in Barcelona being used for the filming of scenes for major productions. In 1964, John Wayne and Claudia Cardinale arrived at Port Vell by boat in the film ‘Circus World’. In 1965, Orson Welles transformed Montjuïc Castle into King Henry V’s palace for his film ‘Chimesat Midnight’. Welles returned to the city in 1976 to star alongside Faye Dunaway and Max von Sydow in the film ‘Voyage of the Damned’, which transformed Barcelona’s port into that of Hamburg. In ‘The Passenger’ (1975), Michelangelo Antonioni, who was fascinated by Gaudi's architecture, forever immortalised Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider at settings around the city, and the film is one of the highlights of the international productions from this period.
Names that stand out
Among the Barcelonan filmmakers that have used their native city as a set, Ventura Pons is one name thatstands out. He is probably the director who has done the most to show Barcelona to the rest of the world. With few exceptions, nearly all of his 25 films are set in Barcelona, starting with his first, ‘Ocaña, retrat intermitent’ where La Rambla is the star, and including one of his most recent, ‘Any de Gràcia’, in which the Gràcia neighbourhood shares its name and leading role with the main character. His movies also include a series of titles in which L’Eixample and the rest of the city create a universe that has a character all of its own.
The recently deceased Bigas Luna is another famous and internationally renowned Barcelona director, and in 1978 he portrayed Barcelona's Chinatown in the film ‘Bilbao’, although he later chose other settings. He discovered two Spanish actors who have gone on to win international recognition: Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, both of whom have close ties with the city’s film industry even though they are not from Barcelona. Penelope Cruz has acted in two of the most important productions shot in Barcelona where the city has played the leading role: Pedro Almodóvar's ‘All about My Mother’ and Woody Allen’s ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’, which won her the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 2008. Bardem also had a role in this film in which both actors shared the limelight with Scarlett Johansson. Javier Bardem also ventured into the suburbs of Barcelona alongside Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu, in the movie ‘Biutiful’, for which he received an Oscar nomination in 2011.
Scenes and sets
Barcelona has also been a destination of choice for European directors. In ‘The Spanish Apartment’, French director Cédric Klapisch explores the Barcelona of Erasmus students, admiring the city from Park Güell. In ‘Manual of Love 2’, the Italian director Giovanni Veronesi weaves his romantic comedy around the city's Mediterranean beaches.
‘Perfume: The Story of a Murderer’, directed by the German Tom Tykwer and released in 2006, is one of the international films to have left a strong impression on the city. The film transformed several sites in Barcelona such as Plaça de Sant Felip Neri, Plaça de la Mercè, Carrer de Ferran and Poble Espanyol into seventeenth-century France. However, there are many other locations in Barcelona, and each day a new one emerges to help immortalise yet another corner of the city.