A feature film director whose low-budget 1985 masterpiece earned an Oscar nomination for Best Picture and earned actor William Hurt his only Oscar has died. The New York Times reports that Hector Babenco, the director of “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” died Wednesday in Sao Paulo.
Babenco, 70, reportedly had a heart attack.
“With ‘Kiss of the Spider Woman,’ an adaptation of Manuel Puig’s 1976 novel of the same name, Mr. Babenco established himself as a filmmaker unafraid to push the boundaries of what Hollywood’s old guard deemed appropriate or bankable,” The Times notes. “The setting for the film, which cost $1.8 million, was an Argentine jail cell shared by two men. Molina, played by William Hurt, is a gay man jailed for soliciting minors; Valentin, played by Raul Julia, is a political prisoner. The film, set during Argentina’s so-called dirty war of the 1970s, traces the evolution of a relationship between cellmates who at first seem ideologically incompatible.”
Hurt received his first Oscar nomination for the role, and took home the trophy for Best Actor in a Leading Role. He has since gone on to receive three more nominations. “Kiss of the Spider Woman” also earned a Best Director nomination for Babenco.
Babenco’s follow-up, the 1987 feature “Ironweed,” earned Oscar nominations for its two leads, Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep.
“Though those films established Mr. Babenco in Hollywood, he did not stray far from his roots,” The Times reports. “Many of his later films, like ‘Foolish Heart’ (1998) and ‘Carandiru’ (2003), hinted at his own passions or had personal meaning to him. ‘Pixote’ (1981), his best-known film before ‘Kiss of the Spider Woman,’ depicted the grim lives of boys growing up on the streets of Sao Paulo and was told through the eyes of a boy who encounters rape, blackmail and murder.”