On July 13, 2016, director Hector Babenco died at the age of 70 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. With a career spanning over 40 years, he leaves behind an impressive body of work that includes the Oscar-nominated films Kiss of the Spider-Woman and Ironweed. After getting his start in Latin American cinema, he would go on to work with actors like William Hurt, John Lithgow, Raul Julia, Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep, Tom Berenger, Daryl Hannah, Aidan Quinn and Kathy Bates. While he doesn't have the most memorable resume, his films explored love and identity in strange and interesting places. With a career that continued until his death, he was passionate and capable of making great things.
Babenco was born on February 7, 1946 in Bueno Aires, Argentina. He grew up predominantly in Argentina but also lived for a brief period in his twenties in England. He eventually decided to stay in Brazil shortly after in 1969. He eventually decided to begin directing films starting with his debut King of Night in 1975. Much like his later films, it focused on a love story that was uncommon from the conventional Hollywood narratives. In this case, it involved a love affair between and a bohemian and two daughters of his mother's friends. It was an eye raising plot, but it was only the start of a very offbeat career.
In 1981, he gained acclaim for his film Pixote, which focused on abandoned children in Brazil. The main story focused on two boys who had a sexual union. Despite this, the film doesn't consider said relationship to be a reflection of homosexual tendencies. In 1985, he had his biggest success with Kiss of the Spider-Woman, which continued his taboo career with an even weirder story. It was a prison story starring William Hurt in a film about two cell mates - a trans and a political prisoner - and how they come to understand each other over time. The adaptation of the Manuel Ruig story earned Hurt an Oscar and gave Babenco a Best Director nomination. It was also nominated for Best Picture, but lost to Out of Africa. His one achievement however was becoming the first Latin American nominated for Best Director.
By comparison, his follow-up Ironweed was more conventional with a story that focused on drunks played Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep (both who received Oscar nominations), and Tom Waits. It was a unique story tempted to sympathize alcoholism by mixing it with a stunted romance and a whole series of events surrounding one Halloween. This was par for his film career, which continued to feature work with big name actors for the next few decades. While he wouldn't have a hit as big as Kiss of the Spider-Woman, his work would remain passionate and frequent. In 2015, he released the film My Hindu Friend starring Willem Dafoe and telling the story a film director's impending death. Considering that the filmmaker had a bout with lymphatic cancer in 1994, the tale only seems more personal and a poignant reflection of a career. Considering his impressive achievements, it's nice to know that his love of romantic stories were allowed to end almost as a self-narrative, telling the story of his life. It was full of taboo and prodding, but it reflected passion in ways that few filmmakers often did. His work will continue to live on as reflections of this.