Montxo Armendáriz Barrios was born in Olleta (Navarre). In the Fifties, his family moved to Pamplona, where Armendáriz studied electronics at the Salesian college. In the Seventies and beginning of the Eighties, he combined his work as Teacher of Electronics at Vocational Training Institutes with his love of filmmaking, leading to a number of short films. His first short film was “Barregarriaren dantza” (1979), a symbolic film clearly influenced by structuralism. This was followed by “Ikusmena” (1980), a film which revealed his concern for human manipulation, a constant theme throughout his work. Montxo Armendáriz’s first two short films earned significant awards, such as the Special Quality Prize of the Ministry of Culture and the First Prize for Basque Film at the Bilbao Festival.
In 1981, Institución Príncipe de Viana subsidised his project “Carboneros de Navarra” (Charcoal-burners of Navarre), a “brilliant exercise in documentary” on the last remaining practitioners of this hard trade. This documentary proved key to his career and served as inspiration for “Tasio” (1984), his first feature-length film. The film reached audiences not only due to the thoroughness and honesty of its contents, but also as a result of the extraordinary way in which it made use of cinematographic resources such as the ellipsis and off-camera action. The eager reaction of audiences was justified with a dozen national and international awards. “Tasio” was followed by “27 horas” (1986), a beautiful film based on the power of image and the cast’s facial expressions which also earned a number of prizes. In “Letters from Alou” (1990), which won the Golden Shell at the San Sebastian Film Festival, Armendáriz addressed the problem of racism head-on, taking that austere, demure style which he had already made his own to new extremes.
“Stories from the Kronen” (1994) marked a change of register by telling the story of a group of friends in Madrid. The film earned him his greatest box-office hit to date and the acknowledgement of critics and professionals alike, who awarded him his second Goya award as screenwriter.
In “Secrets of the Heart” (1997), Armendáriz returned to his roots with a beautiful, simple story on the transition from childhood to maturity, earning him the Blue Angel for Best European Film, among other awards. The film was also selected by the Spanish Film Academy as its candidate for the Oscars in the Best Foreign Language Film category. It was at this point that his career really started to gain recognition and Armendáriz received the 1998 Prince of Viana Award and the National Film Award.
His filmography continued with “Broken Silence” (2002), the documentary “Escenario móvil” (2003) and “Obaba” (2004), the latter based on Bernardo Atxaga’s novel “Obabakoak” and which once again saw him with options for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The Association of Entertainment Critics of New York honoured it with the Best Film Award and Pilar López de Ayala won the prize for Best Actress for her role in the production.
In 2008, Montxo Armendáriz’s career was recognised with a number of awards. The Society of Basque Studies/Eusko Ikaskuntza awarded him the Manuel Lekuona Prize, while the Foundation for Help against Drug Addiction, in collaboration with the Film Academy, presented him with the Prize for Film and Social Values “for his commitment, independence and originality, together with the variety of registers with which he portrays reality and reflects human and social situations and issues".
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