Pedro Almodovar: A Retrospective

Hello, all. Today, I have a guest contribution from a very talented writer- Zack Mandell of Zack takes a deeper look at the work of Pedro Almodovar. Enjoy, and thank you to Zack for the contribution! 

For a better part of the 1950s until the 1970s, there was a triumvirate of foreign filmmakers who made a significant splash in American cinema. Those men were Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, Italian director Federico Fellini and Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. Certainly there were other reputable foreign directors of the era; my personal favorites include French New Wave pioneers Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut. The aforementioned three were the titans of their day however. American audiences regularly turned out to see the latest masterworks, such as Persona, 8 ½, and Rashomon. In today’s cinematic world, there really is no such equivalent trifecta, which isn’t to say that American art houses are lacking for sensational foreign films. Just in the last five years cinephiles have been treated to such fare as A Separation and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. But there are no foreign directors in the modern era that have a reputation tantamount to, say, Fellini’s… save one. He’s from Spain, and his name is Pedro Almodovar.

Pedro Almodovar: a hero of modern art house cinema

Simply put, Almodovar is the greatest filmmaker to ever emerge from the country, and yes, I’m aware that Luis Bunuel is a native as well. Almodovar was born in 1949, and like most Spanish boys of the time, he was subject to a strict Catholic upbringing. His parents sent him to religious boarding school, with fervent hope that the young Pedro would be inspired eventually join the priesthood. Thankfully for future cinemagoers, his actual place of worship was the movie theater on the streets of his hometown. He went to watch all the movies he could, and swiftly became an ardent follower of directors such as Bergman, Bunuel, George Cukor and Alfred Hitchcock, all of whom have had a noticeable influence on the director’s output. It was clear to him at an early age that he was not suited to sermonize about the glories of God, but indeed more suited to being a purveyor of the glories of cinema.

Almodovar took on a flurry of odd jobs after he moved to Madrid in 1967, and saved up enough to buy a Super-8 at the age of 22. He utilized his purchase by crafting numerous short films, many of which had no sound, but were popular regardless, to the point that the films were regularly being screened in Madrid clubs toward the latter part of the 70s. Even as a relatively novice filmmaker, he exhibited directorial flair which stirred a buzz in the critical community. The buzz may have been cultivated to the frank sexual content of his films, which Almodovar has rarely abandoned during his long and illustrious career. Whatever the reasoning, Almodovar was allowed to make his first feature film in 1980, with the film Pepi, Luci, Bom and Other Girls on the Heap.

While that film, or indeed the subsequent two, did not garner much critical acclaim. When the still young Spanish auteur started to hit his stride with 1984’s What Have I Done to Deserve This, there was no turning back. In his decades long career, the director has turned out such classics as Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, and The Flower of My Secret. Earlier films like these are famous for combining the kitschy humor of John Waters with the vivacious melodrama of Douglas Sirk, and Almodovar hit a nerve with art house audiences round the world.

All About My Mother (1999)

Unlike most directors though, Almodovar has gotten better with age. He arguably conjured up the best one-two punch of his career in the years of 1999 and 2002 with the films All About My Mother and Talk to Her respectively. These tragic, yet oddly life affirming films were Almodovarian to the core. His liberal use of the color red adds an urgency to the soap operas that Almodovar espouses, and what rich stories they are. He melds genres with ease, so much so that casual audience members don’t really understand what it is they’re watching. Whereas I view Talk to Her as a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, I’ve met others who viewed it as an absurdist comedy. It’s understandable: Almodovar can be very funny. Films like his 2006 masterpiece Volver exhibit a lively and kinetic spirit, even when the plotlines are dour.

Almodovar also contrasts starkly with modern Hollywood in that he writes for women, and he does it very well. Many American actresses complain about not being able to find work once they cross the age of 40 (Unless your name is Meryl Streep of course). Almodovar thrives on writing vivid and unique roles for women of all ages however.

Modern American cinema has a tendency to be, um, problematic. Thankfully, there are foreign directors such as Pedro Almodovar that can entertain the audiences that don’t mind exercising their respective brains at the cinema.

Zack Mandell is a movie enthusiast and owner of and writer of movie reviews. He writes extensively about the movie industry for sites such as Gossip Center, Yahoo, NowPublic, and Helium.


Filed under Movies, Spanish Movies

6 responses to “Pedro Almodovar: A Retrospective

  1. LOVE Almodovar with a serious passion, by far my favourite modern director. Faves for me would be Bad Education and All About My Mother…. Every film is so beautifully styled and elegant yet racy and outlandish.

    A great article!

    • Wow, Scott. I didn’t know that about you. That’s awesome. I knew that you liked Almodovar, but not that much.

      I’ll be checking out those two ASAP.

  2. Vladdy

    He is awesome. All About My Mother is one of the best films I have ever seen. I have a soft spot in my heart, though, for Law of Desire, the first Almodovar I saw, with the amazing Carmen Maura.

    • One of the reasons I was really glad to run this article is that Almodovar is new to me. I’ve only seen Talk to Her and The Skin I Live In. And I went nuts for both of those. I’m really looking for more to check out. What would you recommend, Vladdy? Obviously, Law of Desire, but what else?

  3. Don’t think I’d agree he’s better than Bunuel, but I’ve really enjoyed the Almodovar I’ve seen. Volver and Talk to Her are the standouts for me, but I also really enjoyed movies like All About My Mother and The Skin I Live In. With each new film Almodovar makes he releases to the world a new gem, which certainly makes him one of the most interesting filmmakers working today.

  4. Something to consider: Almodóvar is not as popular in Spain as he is abroad. Nationally, he’s kind of like a John Waters/Andy Warhol figure — someone who’s famous, but people outside the culturally influential art/media and gay communities don’t really see his films.

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