Hector Eduardo Babenco, an Argentine-born Brazilian Jewish filmmaker who took home a best director Oscar for his 1985 film “Kiss of the Spider Woman”, died last Wednesday of a heart attack at 70.
Babenco — whose mother, Janka Haberberg, was a Polish-Jewish immigrant — was the first Latin American director to receive an Academy Award for best director. Lead actor William Hurt won a best actor Oscar for his performance as well. As a director, Babenco was known for his focus on realism and social outcasts.
Babenco was discreet regarding his Jewish identity, according to an obituary by Jewcy.com. For his contribution to 2014 religious film anthology “Words with G-d”, Babenco chose to focus on the Brazilian syncretic tradition of Umbanda. Babenco’s 1991 drama “At Play in the Fields of the Lord” was a study of Christian missionaries in the Amazon reflecting a critical outlook on Christianity. Babenco is also known for the 1987 film “Ironweed”, an adaptation of a novel by William Kennedy, in which Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson portrayed alcoholic vagrants in Albany, New York at the end of the Great Depression. Babenco’s final film, 2016’s “My Hindu Friend”, starred Willem Dafoe as a terminally ill film director who befriends an 8-year-old Hindu boy.
Babenco is survived by his fourth wife, Brazilian model and actress Barbara Paz, and Janka, his daughter with ex-wife Fiorella Giovagnoli.