Rey, Florián


Rey, Florián
(1894-1962)
   In the mid-1930s Florián Rey's fame rivaled that of any other Spanish director. Like Hollywood colleagues Ernst Lubitsch or Frank Capra, his name was a guarantee of high production values, recurring themes and settings, and a certain style. But if audiences did not always have a very clear idea of style, they were keen on anecdotes, and in the minds of audiences Florián Rey was the Pygmalion who created Imperio Argentina, Spanish cinema's most glittering star.
   Rey was born in La Almunia de Doña Godina, Aragón, and debuted in the film industry in 1920 after a short stint as a journalist. He was a leading man for José Buchs' zarzuela adaptation La verbena de la Paloma (The Fair of the Virgin of the Dove) among other films. In 1924, he debuted as director. His early films, including zarzuela adaptations La Revoltosa (The Trouble-Maker, 1924) and Gigantes y Cabezudos (Giants and Big Heads, 1926), as well as a 20th-century updating of Golden Age novel Lazarillo de Tormes (1925), were re-markable for his sense of visual flair, a rare quality in funds-starved Spanish cinema. He also directed the first version of El cura de aldea (The Village Priest, 1927), one of the classic dramas of the period set in a rural background, which shares central motives with his later masterpiece La aldea maldita (The Cursed Village, 1930).
   In 1927, Ray shot a silent version (the first in a long series of adaptations and reworkings) of the 19th-century novel La hermana San Sulpicio (Sister Saint Sulpice), the story of a self-sacrificing nun, starring Imperio Argentina. Florián Rey's work with Argentina could be compared to that of Josef von Sternberg with Marlene Dietrich: in both cases, the performer came with limited but intense qualities that the director encouraged and shaped in a number of vehicles. Rey and Argentina complemented each other: his taste for the musical genre and her performing abilities and screen presence, his lightness of touch and her comic timing, recurred in all of their films together. They were central to the short-lived period that would later be recognized as the prewar Golden Age of Spanish cinema (1931-36).
   After their first hit together, he did a number of less remarkable titles on his own before his first talkie, Fútbol, amor y toros (Football, Love and Bullfighting, 1928). Unhappy with the sound quality of this film, when it was time to add sound to his next effort, he used Paris studios. La aldea maldita, Rey's most ambitious project to date remains one of the undisputed masterpieces of early Spanish cinema. Again, this is a rural melodrama in which catastrophe strikes a small village, affecting the lives of a married couple and driving the wife to prostitution. Critics have remarked on the pictorial quality of the images and Rey's experimentation with framing and light. He would go on to direct another version of this same story after the Civil War, which was technically more accomplished, but more heavy-handed from a narrative point of view.
   Sound gave Rey the possibility to work on full-fledged musical films, for which he sought the collaboration of Argentina. Together, they achieved mastery in the folkloric musical, with stories set mostly in Andalusia. They started by remaking La hermana San Sulpicio (1934), and followed this with Nobleza baturra (Aragonese Nobility, 1935), one of the hits of the Republican period, which was set in Aragón and shared the theme of woman's honor found in La aldea maldita or El cura de aldea, featuring dignified plain-speaking peasants with regional accents and essential feminine virtue. Next came Morena Clara (1936), in which Argentina played a loquacious gypsy in one of the most often reworked plots in Spanish cinema. By this time, the Rey-Argentina team had reached international fame. In 1936, they were preparing a film to be shot in Paris, but were then called for a series of features at Hispano Film Produktion with German technicians, an experience that inspired Fernando Trueba's La niña de tus ojos (The Girl of Your Dreams, 1998). The results, Carmen la de Triana (Carmen from Triana, 1938) and La canción de Aixa (Aixa's Song, 1939), did not live up to the standards of their best collaborations.
   They broke up, personally and professionally, on their return to Spain. Rey tried to revive the genre with Conchita Piquer in La Dolores (1940). Piquer was probably the biggest star in Spanish song, but her screen presence was never as intense as Argentina's, and despite her presence, the film was not a success. In 1942, he did the aforementioned second version of La aldea maldita. By this time, Rey had become something of a legend in Spanish cinema, his previous hits no more than a memory, incongruous with sadder times, and his career flagged. Rey's films of the Franco period were still solid commercial projects, but he never regained his previous popularity. He found it hard to get funding for his projects, and his films became increasingly more conventional. Titles of this period included Ana María (1944), Ídolos (Idols, 1943), the excellent Orosia (1944), Cuentos de la Alhambra (Tales from the Alhambra, 1950), which confirmed Carmen Sevilla's stardom, and La danza de los deseos (The Dance of Desires, 1954), a vehicle for a new star of folkloric musicals, Lola Flores.

Historical dictionary of Spanish cinema. . 2010.

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