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Bigas Luna, 67; directed fantastical Spanish films

NEW YORK — Bigas Luna, an iconoclastic film director who emerged after the Franco dictatorship to portray the new Spain as engagingly and perplexingly robust and later discovered Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, died Saturday at his home in Tarragona, Spain. He was 67.

Spain’s Academy for Cinematography Arts and Sciences announced the death. Reports said he died of leukemia.

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Mr. Luna was in a crop of filmmakers who blossomed after Francisco Franco’s death in 1975, reviv­ing a long-dormant cinematic scene. His work drew attention for its outlandishly inventive treatment of sexual relations in liberated Spain, but it also offered broad social commentary. He was influenced by surrealist artists, including his friend Salvador Dali.

His most successful movie was “Jamon Jamon,” whose title translates as “Ham Ham.” Released in most European countries and the United States in 1992, it won a Silver Lion award at the Venice Film Festival. It introduced Cruz to movie audiences, including director Pedro Almodovar, who subsequently used her in many films.

The title comes from the hams that hang ubiquitously in Spanish homes, restaurants, and storefronts, and the movie tells a complicated intergenerational sexual tale set in a small town. Roger Ebert, writing in the Chicago Sun-Times, called it “a throwback to the days when directors took crazy chances, counting on their audience to keep up with them.”

Mr. Luna called the movie “a portrait of everything I like, love, and hate about Spain.”

Claude Baigneres of the newspaper Le Figaro praised it as “a truly Spanish film with sun, sex, provocation, and no small dose of the irrational.”

Mr. Luna’s film, “The Ages of Lulu” (1990), which told of a woman’s sexual awakening, featured Bardem as a corrupt gay man, in his first credited movie role. Two years later, in “Jamon Jamon,” he solidified his image as the embodiment of machismo.

In an interview after Mr. Luna’s death, Bardem thanked the director for casting choices that had the effect of introducing him to Cruz, whom he married in 2010. He also expressed gratitude “for a career I never dreamed I could have.”

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