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Hector Babenco (1946 - 2016)

Getty Images / Photo by Franco Origlia

Hector Babenco (1946 - 2016)

Hector Babenco, the director of “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” has died at the age of 70, according to multiple news sources.

Denise Winther of Babenco's HB Films says the director died Wednesday night of a heart attack at Sao Paulo's Sirio-Libanes Hospital.

The Argentine-born Brazilian director was nominated for an Oscar for “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” which was released in 1985. He was the first Latin-American director to receive such a nomination, and the film was the first independent release to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.


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"Kiss of the Spider Woman" focused on two Brazilian men who shared a prison cell, following their conversations and memories. Noted for its "film within a film," the movie invented the Nazi propaganda film "Her Real Glory" as a topic of conversation between the men. "Kiss of the Spider Woman" was also nominated for Best Picture and actor William Hurt won the Best Actor Academy Award for his role in the movie.

Before "Kiss of the Spider Woman," Babenco rose to fame with 1980's "Pixote." The Portuguese-language film explored delinquency among Brazil's young people as well as police corruption. The film met critical acclaim, with Roger Ebert calling it a classic and Spike Lee counting it among his favorites, and it won Best Foreign Film awards from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the New York Film Critics Circle.

In 1987, Babenco directed "Ironweed" with Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep, who were both nominated for Best Actor and Best Actress Oscars. Babenco co-wrote the screenplay for 1991's “At Play in the Fields of the Lord,” which he also directed. The adventure drama follows a pair of explorers after they become stranded in the Amazon River basin in Brazil, as well as a family of missionaries with whom they cross paths.

Other films helmed by Babenco include “Foolish Heart” (1998) and "Carandiru" (2003), which was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

His last film was the 2015 drama "My Hindu Friend." Art presaged life as Willem Dafoe played a film director approaching death.

Babenco was born to a Jewish family Feb. 7, 1946 in Buenos Aires, Argentina and moved to Sao Paolo, Brazil amidst fears of anti-Semitism in the Argentine military. He spent time in Spain, acting occasionally in spaghetti westerns, but returned to Brazil and found his calling as a director.

In an interview with the Guardian, Babenco discussed his adopted home country: "I became fascinated by Brazil, by everything about it. I had never seen such a relaxed and informal way of getting on. I had also never seen such social unfairness. It took a few years to realise that poverty doesn't imply misery... my perspective comes from a mixture of indignation, surprise and compassion."

He is survived by his wife, Barbara, and daughter, Janka.

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