Román Chalbaud (10 October 1931 – 12 September 2023) was a luminary in Venezuelan culture, known for his contributions as a film director, screenwriter, and playwright. Chalbaud was a significant figure who helped shape Venezuela’s theatre, television, and film industries. His career was characterized by an enduring dedication to storytelling and a keen eye for social realism.
Born in Mérida, Chalbaud relocated to Caracas with his grandmother when he was just six years old. Although initially seen as a “learning-disabled” “country boy,” he found his calling in the arts at a young age. Inspired by his grandmother, a dedicated reader of European literature, Chalbaud developed a deep interest in storytelling and cinema.
Chalbaud realized his storytelling aspirations during his adolescence. He was particularly influenced by the Golden Age of Mexican cinema, which he would often watch as a young teenager. His journey towards becoming a renowned director was further fueled by his participation in a Nativity play, where he was hoisted into the rafters, offering him a unique vantage point to observe both the audience and the performance.
After completing high school, Chalbaud honed his skills at Teatro Experimental in Caracas and later studied under the legendary Lee Strasberg in New York.
Television and Early Plays
Chalbaud started working in television in his late teens while also writing plays. His early experiences, including spending time in a brothel after work, led him to write some of his most famous plays, like El Pez que Fuma. During this period, he also penned other important works, such as Los adolescentes and Caín adolescente, the former earning him the Ateneo de Caracas prize.
In 1955, Chalbaud became the artistic director of Televisora Nacional, a position he held until 1958. The same year, he was appointed the director of the National Theatre of Venezuela, thanks to his early success in playwriting. However, he left this role in 1960, soon after the release of Caín adolescente.
Chalbaud’s theatre works, known for their social-realist themes and dramatic plots, were critically acclaimed. In 1984, he was awarded the National Theatre Award of Venezuela. He was also part of the “Holy Trinity of Venezuelan theatre” along with Isaac Chocrón and José Ignacio Cabrujas.
Chalbaud transitioned to filmmaking when Venezuelan cinema entered its Golden Age in 1969. He achieved international recognition, with his films screened at numerous film festivals. In 1990, he received the National Film Award of Venezuela.
In 1974, he co-founded Gente de Cine C.A., a production company that produced most of his films. Chalbaud was the first director to receive state funding for filmmaking, leading to the creation of his film Sacred and Obscene.
Chalbaud was a private person but eventually revealed that he considers Caracas the ideal place to grow old. He considered Luis Buñuel a “master” and was politically affiliated with chavismo. He was passionate about the democratic governance in Venezuela under Nicolás Maduro.
Chalbaud passed away on September 12, 2023, at the age of 91. His death marks the end of an era, but his legacy lives on through his extensive body of work in theatre and cinema. Known for his social-realist themes and dramatic storytelling, Chalbaud’s contributions to Venezuelan culture remain timeless and relevant.
Alfonso Molina, in his book about the director, stated that one cannot fully grasp the socio-political culture of Venezuela without experiencing Chalbaud’s films. A documentary about his life, Román en el universo de las maravillas, was released in 2018, further cementing his position as a cultural icon in Venezuela.
Chalbaud was a storyteller, an artist, and a visionary whose works will continue to inspire generations of filmmakers and playwrights. His life and career serve as a testament to the transformative power of the arts in shaping a nation’s cultural and social narrative.