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Luis Garcia Berlanga, Spanish filmmaker, dies at 89

MADRID - Luis Garcia Berlanga, a Spanish filmmaker critical of the military dictatorship under Gen. Francisco Franco and who was credited with helping to revive the country's movie industry after its civil war, died Saturday.

Berlanga had Alzheimer's disease and died at his home in Madrid, according to Spain's film academy, of which he was an honorary president and co-founder. He was 89.

Born in Valencia, Berlanga wrote and directed his first short in 1948 and in 1951 made his first feature film, "Esa Pareja Feliz" ("That Happy Couple"), in collaboration with Juan Antonio Bardem, father of the actor Javier Bardem. He was also a contemporary and friend of renowned director Luis Bunuel.

"Along with Bunuel, he is one of the most important filmmakers of all time," said Alex de la Iglesia, the president of Spain's film academy. "His films 'Placido' and 'El Verdugo' ('The Executioner') are two of Spain's best movies, and Berlanga is one of the most important directors in the world."

Berlanga's 1953 film "Bienvenido, Mister Marshall" ("Welcome, Mr. Marshall") explored Spain's hopes that the United States would help the country restore democracy and prosperity as it had in much of Europe after World War II.

The Marshall Plan, officially called the European Recovery Program, was a 1947-1951 program devised by the United States for reconstruction and establishing strong economies in Europe following two devastating world wars.

Making such films was difficult for Berlanga. He was critical of Franco, the victor in Spain's civil war, and had to devise a film language to beat the strict censorship it imposed.

Berlanga said Franco personally insisted on viewing his films before allowing their release. He said he and scriptwriter Rafael Azcona had to be extremely creative. "Rafael and I had the best work system - that is, none," he said, hinting at their ability to improvise successfully.

Fifty years after filming "Bienvenido Mister Marshall," Berlanga sat behind a camera for the last time, to film a 10-minute sequence called "El sueño de la maestra" ("Teacher's Dream"), which had been banned from "Mister Marshall' by censors.

Berlanga is survived by a son, Fernando. - AP

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