Obituary: Lautaro Mura

The death from lung cancer of the Chilean-born actor and director Lautaro Mura in Madrid prompted a sense of frustration as much as sadness among those who knew him in the film and theatre world of the river Plate. He died far from home, aged 69, apparently with little money, and embittered by the lack of work prospects.

That seemed a long way down for the big man who was twice forced into exile, because of his theatre and films, by the Chilean and Argentine military regimes of the 1970s. And then he had returned to the river Plate with the restoration of democracy, to act in and direct blistering accounts of the torment under military rule and the exploitation of the most vulnerable people in local society. The tall man with the gruff heavy smoker's voice was a symbol of defiance to authority throughout his successful career.

Born in Tacna, when it was still in Chile (it is now part of Peru), in 1926, the son of a Basque father and a Peruvian mother, Lautaro Mura was introduced to music and all the arts at home. But he went to Santiago, Chile, to study architecture. There he joined a university theatre group. He then dropped out of the design world and, with a British Council scholarship, trained in the theatre in England. From film and theatre in Chile, he moved to Buenos Aires in 1954, and did not go back to Santiago.

Mura's first film, Shunko (1960), about the tough life of a rural teacher in northern Argentina, won a Mar del Plata festival award in 1961, and launched his career as a director. The film also marked him out as a left- wing artist who was not going to keep quiet in face of the deep divide in Latin American society. And throughout the 1960s his choice of roles on stage emphasised the vehemence of his views.

Mura acted under the late Leopoldo Torre Nilsson, and after making two more films of his own he launched his best known, La Raulito (1974), the dramatisation of the real life of a juvenile delinquent on the brink of sanity, which was an expose of Argentine prejudice and brought people to the cinema in droves.

Mura's face and style were impressed on the public and politicians in some 20 films and countless stage appearances. Augusto Pinochet's coup in September 1973 closed Chile to him for most of the rest of his life. And in the late 1970s the military dictatorship in Argentina forced him into exile in Spain, where he was granted Spanish citizenship. "Argentina hurts too much. The air is unbreathable," he said.

Mura returned to Buenos Aires in 1983, with the restoration of constitutional government under Ral Alfonsn, to make A Funny Dirty Little War, based on Osvaldo Soriano's novel about the bloody factional fighting within Peronism. His last appearance, in 1993, was in Lisa Stantic's A Wall of Silence, alongside Vanessa Redgrave, which was the story of a search for information about people who disappeared during the dictatorship. With that he bowed out, confirming the political stance of a career.

Lautaro Mura, actor and director: born Tacna, Chile 1926; died Madrid 3 December 1995.

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