Pedro Almodóvar Essay - Critical Essays

Almodóvar, Pedro

Introduction

Pedro Almodóvar 1949(?)–

Spanish filmmaker.

The following entry provides an overview of Almodóvar's career through 1995.

Pedro Almodóvar's work flourished in the post-Franco culture of Spain in the late 1970s and 1980s. His films celebrate the era of individuality and acceptance that infused the Spanish cultural arts after the end of Franco's repressive totalitarian regime. In addition, Almodóvar's work is understood by some critics as a revision of the history of Spain under Franco. The characters in Almodóvars films, commonly homosexuals, transsexuals, or bisexuals, are not relegated to the subculture. Instead, Almodóvar uses these characters to represent the postmodern revolt against the repressive boundaries of Spain's history. Almodóvar's work has garnered him a reputation as an international auteur.

Biographical Information

Almodóvar was born in 1949 (some sources say 1951) in a small village, Calzada de Calatrava, and spent most of his youth attending parochial schools. Almodóvar always felt out of place in the small town and at the age of seventeen he moved to Madrid. He worked for the next ten years as a typist for the telephone company. During this time he also acted with an independent theater troupe, sang in a rock band, wrote articles and X-rated comics for an avant-garde newspaper, and composed the memoirs of the fictitious pornography queen, Pati Difusa. Almodóvar never attended film school, but by the mid-1970s he was shooting experimental 8- and 16-millimeter shorts. He completed his first full-length feature, Pepi, Lucy, Bom y otros chicas del montón (Pepi, Lucy, Bom and a Whole Lot of Other Girls, 1980) for only thirty thousand dollars. Two years later he followed with Laberinto de passiónes (Labyrinth of Passion, 1982) which attained cult status in Spain. Almodóvar's fourth feature, ¿Qué he hecho yo para merecer ésto? (What Have I Done to Deserve This?, 1984) brought him popularity in the United States. His reputation has grown steadily throughout his career in both Spain and internationally. His films are played at film festivals throughout the world and have won several international awards.

Major Works

Almodóvar's films primarily focus on the lives and feelings of women. They are usually told from the woman's perspective, but include a host of well-developed ensemble characters. His cinematic world is filled with intense imagery and outrageous situations that are made to seem ordinary. His films embrace life and individual freedom, and his main theme is the celebration, exploration, and sometimes frustration of human desires. What Have I Done to Deserve This? focuses on life in the housing projects of Madrid. The film's protagonist is Gloria, an overworked mother who takes amphetamines to help her face her responsibilities as a housewife and her job as a cleaning woman. Her family includes her taxi driver husband who neglects her, two sons—one a drug dealer, the other a homosexual—and a mother-in-law who longs to return to her village. Gloria is frustrated and unsatisfied in her life and takes action to change her circumstances by bludgeoning her husband with a ham bone and selling her youngest son to a homosexual dentist. Matador (1986) is a study in psychosexual brutality which follows the story of an ex-matador and a lady lawyer who can only experience sexual fulfillment in conjunction with killing. Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, 1988) is about overcoming machismo. Pepa is a Spanish television and radio actress who attempts to contact her ex-lover Ivan to tell him she is pregnant. Ivan is a cad who uses women and abandons them, but Pepa sees reconciliation, murder, or suicide as her only options. She attempts to win him back, but in the final confrontation Pepa decides to give up on Ivan and become a single mother. Kika (1993) tells the story of an independent heroine who is raped and then further abused by the broadcast of her victimization on television.

Critical Reception

Reviewers often point out the autobiographical nature of Almodóvar's films, including his focus on sexuality, family relationships, and life in Madrid versus life in a small town. Critics discuss Almodóvar's complicated relationship with Francoism. Marvin D'Lugo asserts, "While Almodóvar has long insisted that his cinema is without any connection to Franco and Francoism, textual evidence suggests the contrary. An essential axis of meaning in much of his filmic work lies precisely in the ways the ideas and icons of Francoist cinema—those related to religion, the family, and sexual repression—are set up as foils to stimulate the audience to embrace a new post-Francoist cultural aesthetic." Other reviewers assert that in his attempt to ignore Francoist Spain, Almodóvar turned to Hollywood melodrama for a reference point in his films. Kathleen M. Vernon states, "American film has provided him with a vehicle for articulating his distance from the themes and style of a recent Spanish film tradition obsessed with the country's tragic past." Critics assert that Almodóvar pays homage to the Hollywood melodramas of the 1930s and 40s both through his use of clips from several films and his use of melodramatic techniques. Critics also discuss Almodóvar's unconventional use of humor in his films, comparing his work to such directors as John Waters, Russ Meyer, and Luis Buñuel. Some reviewers are disturbed by the erotic themes and images in Almodóvar's films, but many critics look beyond the sensational aspects of the director's work. Peter Evans says, "Almodóvar's devotion to scandal and outrage never detracts from a serious project to explore the after-effects of repression through the combined strategies of pop and high art."

∗Principal Works

Pepi, Lucy, Bom y otros chicas del montón [Pepi, Lucy, Bom and a Whole Lot of Other Girls] (screenplay) 1980
Laberinto de pasión [Labyrinth of Passion] (screenplay) 1982
∗∗Entre tinieblas [Dark Habits] (screenplay) 1983
††¿Qué he hecho yo para merecer ésto? [What Have I Done to Deserve This?] (screenplay) 1984
Matador (screenplay) 1986
La ley del deseo [The Law of Desire] (screenplay) 1986
Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios [Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown] (screenplay) 1988
Atame! [Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!] (screenplay) 1990
Tacones lejanos [High Heels] (screenplay) 1991
Kika (screenplay) (1993)
Almodóvar on Almodóvar (nonfiction) 1995
La flor de mi secreto [The Flower of My Secret] (screenplay) (1995)
Carne tremula [Live Flesh; based on the novel by Ruth Rendell] (screenplay) 1997

∗Almodóvar directed all the films listed here.

†The English translation of this title varies. It is also referred to as Pepi, Lucy, Bom and Other Girls on the Heap, Pepi, Lucy, Bom and Other Ordinary Girls, Pepi, Lucy, Bom and Other Girls Like That, and Pepi, Lucy, Bom and Other Girls All Like Mom.

‡This film is also known as Laberinto de pasiones [Labyrinth of Passions].

∗∗This film is sometimes referred to as Sisters of Darkness.

††Punctuation of this title varies.

Criticism

Pedro Almodóvar with Marsha Kinder (interview date Fall 1987)

SOURCE: "Pleasure and the New Spanish Mentality: A Conversation with Pedro Almodóvar," in Film Quarterly, Vol. XLI, No. 1, Fall, 1987, pp. 33-44.

[In the following interview, which was conducted on May 25, 1987, Almodóvar discusses his approach to filmmaking, the major themes of his films, and the place of his work in the context of Spanish film.]

Following the enthusiastic critical reception of Pedro Almodóvar's La Ley del Deseo (The Law of Desire) at this year's Berlin Film Festival, Spain's oldest and largest-circulation film journal, Fotogramas & Video, ran an editorial saying:

The recent Berlin Festival has...

(The entire section is 7529 words.)

Jeanne Silverthorne (essay date March 1990)

SOURCE: "Onwards and Sideways: The Films of Pedro Almodóvar," in Artforum, Vol. XXVIII, No. 7, March, 1990, pp. 146-50.

[In the following excerpt, Silverthorne states that, "Almodóvar's world is a soup of tenses. His films simultaneously lock us in the past; celebrate our having come through, and wait for us to be born."]

… Almodóvar is very conscious of his cultural surround: a new Spain, only recently released from fascism. He has observed in interviews that the generations now taking over in the country are "unrelated" to earlier ones; however, although he is clearly presenting his vision of a polymorphously perverse post-Franco generation, it is not exactly...

(The entire section is 3329 words.)

Marvin D'Lugo (essay date 1991)

SOURCE: "Almodóvar's City of Desire," in Quarterly Review of Film and Literature, Vol. 13, No. 4, 1991, pp. 47-65.

[In the following essay, D'Lugo discusses the image of Madrid and Spain's past and present in Almodóvar's films.]

History and Desire

Madrid has figured prominently in Pedro Almodóvar's cinema, gradually coming into focus as the implicit protagonist of nearly every work. In these films, the city is regularly imaged as a cultural force, producing forms of expression and action that challenge traditional values by tearing down and rebuilding the moral institutions of Spanish life: the family, the Church, and the law.

...

(The entire section is 8533 words.)

Kathleen M. Vernon (essay date Spring 1993)

SOURCE: "Melodrama Against Itself: Pedro Almodóvar's What Have I Done to Deserve This?" in Film Quarterly, Vol. 46, No. 3, Spring, 1993, pp. 28-40.

[In the following essay, Vernon analyzes the influence of American film melodrama on Almodóvar's work.]

Central to what might be called the purposeful eclecticism of Pedro Almodóvar's cinematic universe is the model of American film melodrama, a source which the Spanish director has appropriated to notably effective and often unexpected ends. Indeed, the presence of American film culture is palpable throughout his work, from the photographs of Ava Gardner and Elizabeth Taylor among the "greatest sinners of the...

(The entire section is 5178 words.)

Peter Evans (essay date July 1993)

SOURCE: "Almodóvar's Matador: Genre, Subjectivity and Desire," in Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, Vol. LXX, No. 3, July, 1993, pp. 325-35.

[In the following essay, Evans analyzes how Almodóvar reworks the genre of the Hollywood melodrama and explores the issues of identity and desire in post-Franco Spain in Matador.]

1 Introduction: The Lawless Breed

Souvent, nous parlons du monde, de l'humanité, comme s'il avait quelque unité: en fait, l'humanité compose des mondes, voisins selon l'apparence mais en vérité étrangers l'un á l'autre … Le plus frappant est qu'en chacun des mondes auxquels je fais...

(The entire section is 5239 words.)

Paul Julian Smith (essay date January 1994)

SOURCE: "Future Chic," in Sight and Sound, Vol. 4, No. 1, January, 1994, pp. 6-10.

[In the following essay, Smith argues that although Kika is "Gloriously shot, beautifully dressed and skillfully acted," the film "is poorly plotted and characterized, its rogues' gallery of grotesques provoking little of the audience identification that Almodóvar was clearly hoping for."]

It promises to be a cold winter in Madrid. As the long hang-over from the Olympic annus mirabilis of 1992 drags on, Spain is facing up to record unemployment, continuing political scandal, and mounting concern over the intrusions of the newly deregulated media. In a mirror image of the...

(The entire section is 2370 words.)

Florence Redding Jessup (essay date 1994)

SOURCE: "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown: Sexism or Emancipation from Machismo?" in Look Who's Laughing: Gender and Comedy, edited by Gail Finney, Gordon and Breach, 1994, pp. 299-314.

[In the following essay, Redding Jessup asserts that "If the ending convincingly sums up Pedro Almodóvar's gender messages in this film, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is a story about emancipation from machismo."]

Introduction: May We Laugh?

Is Pedro Almodóvar's Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown a sexist comedy about hysterical women or a story of liberation from machismo? Should our nerves jangle with...

(The entire section is 7214 words.)

Brad Epps (essay date 1995)

SOURCE: "Figuring Hysteria: Disorder and Desire in Three Films of Pedro Almodóvar," in Post-Franco, Postmodern: The Films of Pedro Almodóvar, edited by Kathleen M. Vernon and Barbara Morris, Greenwood Press, 1995, pp. 99-124.

[In the following essay, Epps discusses the use of hysteria in Almodóvar's Labyrinth of Passions, What Have I Done to Deserve This? and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.]

There is something at once mad and methodical about Pedro Almodóvar's films. Frenetic, effervescent, wild, and rapturous, they are also willful, deliberate, and self-conscious. They focus on dispersion, center on marginality, and concentrate on excess. They...

(The entire section is 11026 words.)

Pedro Almodóvar with Paul Julian Smith (interview date February 1996)

SOURCE: "Almodóvar and the Tin Can," in Sight and Sound, Vol. 6, No. 2, February, 1996, pp. 24-7.

[In the following interview, Almodóvar discusses his latest film The Flower of My Secret, his cinematic process, and Spanish politics.]

[Smith:] You've told the Spanish press that The Flower of My Secret is your most La Manchan and most traditional film. But it strikes me that, with its references to NATO and Bosnia, to the newspaper El País and to Prime Minister Felipe González, this is your most European and most contemporary film.

[Almodóvar:] When I say the film's La Manchan I mean it's my most realistic film yet. Of...

(The entire section is 2610 words.)