Helena Cortesina (by Barbara Zecchi, 2012)
Helena Cortesina (1904 – 1984) of Valencia, a classically trained dancer who also performed in music halls, a film and theater actress, and a composer, made the move from the stage to the world of cinema; and like Jordi, directed (presumably) only one film. After starring in La inaccesible (José Buchs, 1920) with Florian Rey, she made the melodrama Flor de España, o la leyenda de un torero (1921), shot in Madrid and Aranjuez. She starred in the film along with her two sisters Ofelia and Angélica, and she also served as producer. The film would not premiere until the following year in Barcelona, and it was subsequently screened in 1923 in Madrid. The story was written by José María Granada and the music by Mario Bretón. The film follows the parallel lives of a man (Tordesilla) who becomes a matador and a woman, Paloma, (played by Cortesina) who goes from working as a florist to a becoming a successful dancer. At the end of the film the two step away from their own glorious pursuits to get married and devote themselves to raising their child. Significantly, during the post-war period, the film was no longer attributed solely to Cortesina and credit for the direction was also given (or, in some cases, solely given) to the screenwriter José María Granada.
The actress moved to Argentina in 1934, where she acted with the Lola Membrives’ company in numerous theatrical works, including Bodas de Sangre (Blood Wedding), in the role of The Bride, and La zapatera prodigiosa (The Shoemaker’s Prodigious Wife), both written by Federico García Lorca, and the latter directed by him as well. In addition to being a dancer, actress, director and producer, she is also the composer of the soundtrack for the film A sangre fría (Daniel Tinayre, 1947). However, in spite of such dynamism and versatility, there is no evidence that she ever returned to directing. Helena Cortesina died Buenos Aires in 1984.
There are some discrepencies relating to Helena Cortesina’s date of birth. According to some databases, (imdb.com, cinenacional.com, www.citwf.com and argentinafilms.com, among others) the actress was born in 1910. Other sources (Rosa Peralta, Jacqueline Cruz and fmujeresprogresista.org) would have her born in 1904. Yet Rosa Peralta thinks that the 1904 date is likely incorrect: "according to the date of birth we have given her, Helena would be 17 years old when she directed this film. This is a little difficult to believe, which is why I'm inclined to think that we've stolen a few years from her"(134). The first references to Cortesina in the press are related to her performance as a “young dancer” in Barcelona at the Teatro de Novedades in 1916 and at Restaurant Excelsior in 1917 (La Vanguardia 26-VIII-1916 y 28-I-1917). There is also some confusion about the spelling of her first name, which has created the false existence of two Cortesinas (Elena, the director, and Helena, the actress) in some databases (see, for example, imdb.com). In the reviews from the 20s of Flor de España in magazines such as La pantalla and Arte y cinematografía, her name is spelled “Elena.” However, the star’s autograph, which appears with her photo in the August 21, 1917 edition of the Spanish newspaper ABC as part of an advertisement for Peele’s fresh almond milk (“the best preparation for beautifying and rejuvenating your skin”) makes it clear that her name is spelled with an ‘H.’
The figure of Helena Cortesina – as a director – has been recovered thanks to the work of Susan Martin-Márquez, who in Feminist Discourse in Spanish Cinema, cites the film Flor de España, o la historia de un torero, pointing out that “[a]s in the case with many works of this era, the film itself disappeared, hampering a more complete study of Cortesina’s role in the silent cinema” (1999: 7). Her name has been added recently to several databases (imdb.com, cinenacional.com, argentinafilms.com, cinefania.com) that record only her work as an actress and composer. On fmujeresprogresistas.org and nuestrocine.com, however, there is a brief biography that positions Cortesina as a pioneer of Spanish cinema, with the commentary that “the small success of her film does not discredit her achievement as the first woman director of Spanish cinema” (both sites accessed June 3, 2009). The most complete and rigorous study yet undertaken on Cortesina’s work is part of a large biography about the set designer Manuel Fontanals, written by Rosa Peralta Gilabert (2007). This volume’s interest in the Valencian star stems from the fact that she had been Fontanals’ partner and was the mother of his two children: Rosa María Fontanals, who acted as a child in several of Federico García Lorca’s plays, and a boy, who she had at the end of their relationship, and who Fontanals did not recognize as his son.
Para citar esta bio-filmografía, por favor usa la referencia: Zecchi, Barbara (2012): «Bio-filmography of Helena Cortesina», Gynocine Project, Barbara Zecchi,