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Why Antonio Banderas made a political movie

The first-time director says that when laws are unfair, they must be broken

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Antonio Banderas, Melanie Griffith
Star Max, Inc.

Antonio Banderas’ directorial debut, ”Crazy in Alabama,” has raised some filmgoers’ eyebrows: a Spanish actor directing an Alabama-based civil rights film? But he says making a political movie is in his blood. ”I grew up in a country that was called the Two Spains,” explains Banderas, 39, who lived under the fascist dictatorship of Generalissimo Francisco Franco until the despot’s death in 1975. During Franco’s regime, Banderas says, the entire population was oppressed by a big-brotherish order of spies who would turn ”communists” and liberal sympathizers in. So making a movie about the African-American struggle for freedom has many parallels for him: ”I understand what it’s like to live in a restrictive society, and I wanted to articulate that in a film.”

And it’s not like he’s the first foreign director to tell American stories. Ernst Lubitsch, Billy Wilder, Fritz Lang, Wim Wenders, and Roman Polanski are just a few of his predecessors. ”You can’t get more ‘American’ a movie than ‘Chinatown,”’ says Banderas. ”Foreign directors provide a fresh perspective on American themes, and that’s what I’ve tried to do.” His take on the civil rights struggle? In any society where the rules are oppressive, the law should and must be broken. Even though the movie is about American history, this message is international.”

But Banderas wouldn’t have made ”Crazy” if not for the encouragement of his wife and coproducer, Melanie Griffith. She had read the script for ”Crazy in Alabama” in the mid-’90s. ”She said, ‘I think this is exactly the kind of political story you want to direct,”’ he explains. Soon after, their three-year-old production company, Green Moon, took on the film. ”This is why we started our own company, to make the kind of movies that we feel passionate about but that studios don’t offer,” Banderas says. Next up for the collaborating couple is a project he calls ”the flip side of ‘Crazy”’ — the story of an American woman in Malaga during the Spanish Civil War. Banderas, of course, will direct: ”When I left Spain, I left an empty space behind me, and now directing has filled it.”