Bajo Ulloa, Juanma


Bajo Ulloa, Juanma
(1967- )
   Although in terms of audiences Juanma Bajo Ulloa's fame rests on the 1997 one-joke action comedy Airbag, which became one of the highest grossing films of the decade and was particularly popular among teenagers, he had built up a critical reputation based on intriguing, slow-burning psychological dramas that revealed a deeper mind and a keener eye for disturbed, wounded individuals and unexpressed emotions.
   Bajo Ulloa was born in Vitoria, and music was his first vocation. As a teenager, he also wrote plays that he put on with fellow students, and he was also interested in drawing. But Star Wars was a revelation in the late 1970s, and the film inspired him to become a filmmaker. Around that same time, he started working on super-8 shorts with his brother. Their success at film festivals caught the attention of director Fernando Trueba, who helped finance his first film, Alas de mariposa (Butterfly Wings, 1991). This introspective melodrama centered on a highly charged mother-daughter relationship that shifts into nightmarish tragedy. The film's critical success was confirmed when it received the Golden Seashell at the San Sebastian Film Festival that year. Later, it won the Goya for best new director, and Bajo Ulloa also received an award as screenwriter (shared with his brother Eduardo).
   La madre muerta (Dead Mother, 1993) was his second feature, and a further exploration into complex psychologies: a petty thief kidnaps a mute girl whose mother he killed 20 years before. More focused on atmosphere than plot mechanics, the film was ignored by audiences and a substantial section of the critical establishment. In it, Bajo Ulloa used the thriller as generic framework. The use of religious imagery led to a fruitless debate at the time on whether the film was blasphemous, and very few commentators were able to appreciate the exquisiteness of Bajo Ulloa's camerawork or the pain the film's images invoked. In this sense, Airbag baffled both critics who had been following his career with interest and those who thought him pedantic and aloof. To a large extent, it was interpreted as an exercise in artistic cynicism: a network narrative about a missing ring, a mixture of road movie, toilet humor, and broad characterizations, it was a complete departure from Bajo Ulloa's previous work.
   The great success of Airbag (even with populist critics) left Bajo Ulloa confused and aimless. He directed Ben Elton's Pop Corn for the stage and concentrated on production for almost a decade. His film Frágil (Fragile), released in 2004, told a simple love story using a fairy tale framework and was a return to moody narration, but again was largely ignored by audiences.

Historical dictionary of Spanish cinema. . 2010.

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