Ranked among Europe's elite filmmakers, Carlos Saura had his greatest impact in the late '60s and early '70s when his often politically charged films revitalized Spanish cinema. Like his mentor Luis Buñuel, Saura freely blends reality with the macabre and an often grotesque surrealism to create worlds in which reality is subjective. Saura's most powerful films came during the last years of Franco's regime; while he still made important films after the dictator's death in 1975, many critics regard them as lacking the potency and lasting appeal of the earlier works.
Saura was born the second of four children in Huesca, Spain. His father was a lawyer, his mother a pianist, and his brother, Antonio, grew up to become a noted abstract expressionist painter. In 1935, Saura's family weathered the Spanish Civil War in Madrid. The war had a tremendous impact on Saura, and snippets of his vivid, often terrifying memories would later appear in his films. As a young man, Saura briefly studied engineering but at age 18 left school to become a professional freelance photographer. Specializing in photographing dancers and musicians, Saura made a name for himself and even staged two one-man exhibitions, the second of which featured abstract photos inspired by Saura's brother, Antonio, who later suggested Saura study motion pictures.