Buenos Aires Times

culture Iconic performer, controversial figure

Veteran actor Federico Luppi dies aged 81

After a career spanning five decades, the award-winning artist with a chequered personal life passes away following complications from a head injury sustained in a domestic accident earlier this year.

Saturday 21 October, 2017
Federico Luppi became a household name after starring in El romance del Aniceto y la Francisca (1966), by famed director Leonardo Favio.
Federico Luppi became a household name after starring in El romance del Aniceto y la Francisca (1966), by famed director Leonardo Favio. Foto:Télam.

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Veteran actor Federico Luppi, whose career spanned five decades and included some 100 works in film, television and theatre, died yesterday in Buenos Aires, age 81. Luppi had been admitted a few days before to the Fundación Favaloro hospital after struggling for months with complications from a head injury he had sustained during a domestic accident in April, when he fell at home and hit his head against a nightstand. He was expected to leave the hospital to undergo rehabilitation at the FLENI Institute.

Luppi was still actively working and was about to embark on a tour with the theatre piece Las últimas lunas, directed by his wife, Spanish actress Susana Hornos, in which he addressed old age in a simple and unassuming manner.

Born Federico José Luppi Malacalza on February 23, 1936 in Ramallo, Buenos Aires Province, the actor grew up in a humble family of Italian descent. As many others of his time, he tried his hand at different jobs and professions before settling on acting. He left his hometown to pursue drawing in La Plata, while working as an insurance broker and then bank teller. After moving to Buenos Aires, he started studying sculpture only to drop out in order to take up acting in theatre.

At 29, Luppi made his big screen debut in Rodolfo Kuhn’s Pajarito Gómez (1965) and went on to star in dozens of films, including dramas, comedies, and thrillers. He became a household name after starring in El romance del Aniceto y la Francisca (1966), by famed director Leonardo Favio, but some of his most significant performances were born of his long-time collaboration with celebrated filmmaker Adolfo Aristarain, with whom he worked in features such as Time for Revenge (1981), A Place in the World (1992) and Common Ground (2002), among others.

Luppi didn’t shy away from films with a more political bent which were a tricky undertaking at the time. He worked with Héctor Olivera in Rebellion in Patagonia, a 1974 fact-based drama which told the story of anarchists helping impoverished rural workers during a violently- suppressed strike in the 1920s. The film took months to be approved by Juan D. Perón and was subsequently banned by Isabel Perón’s government, forcing many of its cast and crew to flee into exile. Although it went on to win the Silver Bear in Berlin that year, Olivera’s feature didn’t screen in Argentina until 1984. Luppi also starred in Olivera’s Funny Dirty Little War (1983), based on Osvaldo Soriano’s book No habrá más pena ni olvido, a slapstick farce about unrest breaking out in a small town between leftist and right-leaning Peronists. Behind the farcical façade, the film revealed a darker reality, where torture was re-enacted in a schoolroom and the divisive political agenda hinted at the folly of finding salvation through Peronism.

Another strong collaboration would emerge between Luppi and Fernando Ayala, who directed the actor in films such as Triángulo de cuatro (1975) and Plata dulce (1982).  

Luppi rose to international fame after working with Guillermo del Toro in the popular 1993 sci-fi Cronos. The Mexican director turned to Luppi again for The Devil’s Backbone (2001) and the award-winning Pan’s Labyrinth (2006). Following the news of Luppi’s death yesterday, Del Toro took to Twitter to express his grief: “Federico Luppi is gone. Our Olivier, our Day Lewis, our genius. My beloved friend. A good and loyal man. Farewell, Federico.”  

Luppi’s latest acting role was this year in Martín Hodara’s Nieve Negra (“Black Snow”), alongside other household names such as Ricardo Darín and Leonardo Sbaraglia.

He held the record as the Argentine actor with most Silver Cóndor awards, with six wins, for his performances in El romance de Aniceto y la Francisca, Time for Revenge, Plata Dulce, A Place in the World, Autumn Sun (1996), and the 1997 Spanish-Argentine coproduction Martín (Hache), which also won Luppi the Silver Shell for best actor in San Sebastián.

He worked in television as well, starring in many memorable series such as Alta comedia (1971-1972), Hombres de ley and Atreverse (1991), but also more recently in Cien años de perdón and En Terapia, among other works.

FAMOUS AND INFAMOUS. Luppi wasn’t bashful about his political views: he moved to Spain in 2001 amid the fledgling financial crisis in Argentina and went on to work in both movies and television, in addition to returning to the theatre stage after a 10-year absence in El guía del Hermitage (2008). He came back to Buenos Aires during the Kirchnerite regime, of which he became a staunch supporter. More recently, he aired his dissatisfaction with the current administration, saying in an interview early this year that he was “disappointed, embittered and saddened” and could “barely make ends meet.”

His death prompted many reactions, especially on Twitter, which spanned the whole gamut of commentary. Antonio Banderas praised Luppi for his world-class acting, and Argentine-Spanish actor Juan Diego Botto said he felt “bereft by Federico Luppi’s death. The world is greyer today. A great human being and a tremendous actor.”  

Not all was praise and saddened farewells, though. Many chose to remember Luppi for his political allegiance or for his family plights: he was accused of gender violence by actress Haydeé Padilla after a decadelong relationship and was then immersed in legal trouble for failing to pay alimony for his third child, whom he never tried to meet.

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