Disabling Bardem’s body
The performance of disability and illness
in Performance and Spanish film
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This chapter questions what it means to ‘perform’ sickness and disability, and in particular, how common perceptions of the two may be revealed in their cinematic reiteration. Analysing Javier Bardem as emblematic of a whole branch of Spanish acting expertise, the chapter discusses the appearance of disability and illness in Mar adentro/The Sea Inside (Alejandro Amenábar, 2004) and Biutiful (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2010). Rather than assume that illness and disability are already understood phenomena, the chapter instead argues that their threat is kept at bay, that the performance of the two serves to reify the importance of the healthy body. Bardem, for this reason, is emblematic, as his physicality has long been praised and admired in Spanish cinema. For that reason, the chapter concludes, acting choices, cinematic styles, and the artificiality imposed by the camera keep illness and disability at arm’s length, constantly eluding audiences and actors alike.

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