Juan José Bigas Luna, the highly regarded Spanish director who discovered Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, has died at the age of 67. The couple, now married and expecting a baby, shot to world fame after he cast them in the 1992 film Jamón, Jamón. The somewhat surrealistic comedy centered on a beautiful young girl played by Cruz, and it featured an erotic theme that blended the appetites of food and sex.
The translation of his iconic title into English is Ham, Ham, described as a child’s language game. At one point, the rivals for the Penelope Cruz character’s affections actually beat each other with ham hocks — a surrealistic touch indeed.
Bigas Luna also won the 1992 Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival for the film. He returned to that film festival almost 15 years later, as a member of the jury.
He was born in Barcelona in 1946 and directed his first film, Tatuaje (Tatoo), in 1976. In theory, he retired to become a painter a decade later, but he couldn’t stay away from film, and he actually did direct films both in 1986 and 1987, and regularly from then on out. In the 21st century, his movie production slowed down a little because he returned again to the art world and to avant-garde experimentation, but he never completely gave up being a director.
His final completed film was 2010’s Di Di Hollywood. However, despite his battle with the cancer that killed him, he was reportedly working on a film adaptation of a novel when he died.
In addition to his own professional achievements, Bigas Luna will always be remembered for giving the world two talents like Cruz and Bardem. Despite their long history, the two stars weren’t married until 2010, and their first child arrived in 2011. Cruz is currently expecting their second child.
As the director who discovered Penelope Cruz and brought her together with her future husband, Bigas Luna helped shape a family as well as create movie history.