Pedro Almodóvar 1949(?)–
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.
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.
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.
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."
†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]....
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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 demonstrated an important fact for Spanish cinema: the interest that our cinema can arouse abroad, not only at the level of interchange or cultural curiosity, but as an exportable and commercially valid product…. Spanish cinema is trying to leave the national "ghetto" and join a movement that proclaims the necessity and urgency of a "European cinema" which transcends nationalities without renouncing their specificity.
Although this editorial mentions several films at the festival to support its point, it focuses most specifically on "the enormous and overwhelming success of La Ley del Deseo …, a film that is eminently 'Spanish' but comprehensible to any person," and which confirms that "when...
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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 case that his characters "utterly break with the past," as he has claimed. Where precisely in time do Almodóvar's films take us? Back to the future? Forward to the past? His approach to history is adaptive, a kind of use-it-up-and-wear-it-out attitude that is improvisation at its best. But there's a contradiction: despite all the joyfulness of his zany films, for Almodóvar, it often seems as if the past is literally the mort-gage (death pledge) on our future.
History grates in Almodóvar's films—literally. Baroque grilles and grillwork trace the nostalgic pull of the old Spain while geometric bars and grids map its repressiveness. In Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, 1987, we see the romance of...
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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.
Inspired by the conventions of cinematic representation of the city in film and, most pointedly, American filmic depictions of urban space, Almodóvar's city-scapes succeed in imitating the American cinema's unself-conscious universalization of particular milieus as the natural mise-en-scène of action. In the context of a cinema such as Spain's, which has for so long been marginalized, such a project needs to be recognized as a self-affirmation of a culture that no longer sees itself as marginal and intuitively reframes and recenters its characters within a broader cultural field.
This foregrounding of the city as an assertion of a vibrant Spanish cultural identity is built around a rejection of the...
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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 world" in Entre tinieblas (Dark Habits) to the inclusion of clips from three well-known Hollywood films, Elia Kazan's Splendor in the Grass in ¿Qué he hecho yo para merecer esto? (What Have I Done to Deserve This?), King Vidor's Duel in the Sun in Matador, and Nicholas Ray's Johnny Guitar in Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown).
American melodrama holds multiple attractions for Almodóvar. On the one hand, 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. Frequently quoted to the effect that he wished...
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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 allusion, l'ignorance, du moins la méconnaissance des autres est de règle. Même en quelque sort le père de famille oublie, jouant avec sa fille, les mauvais lieux où il entre en porc invetéré …
These remarks by George Bataille—recognized by Almodóvar himself as a writer to whom Matador is to some extent indebted—aptly describe the mechanisms of Almodóvar's films in opening up the heterogeneity of a country for almost three decades straitjacketed into the triumphalist perceptions of a powerful and reactionary ideology. Though these are by no means the only Spanish films of recent years to celebrate release from the nightmare of Francoism and its legacy, they are almost unique in doing...
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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 UK, a long-serving government, incapable of managing either the budget deficit or the rising tide of crime, is confronted by an ineffectual opposition and an alienated electorate. The only difference is that in Spain the government is socialist and the opposition back-to-basics conservatives.
In the week that Pedro Almodóvar's Kika was released, 17,000 people applied for 200 clerical jobs in Madrid city council. They sat competitive examinations in the former municipal abattoir. When Almodóvar shot a bizarre fashion show in the same location for Matador, it was a campy joke; but as unemployment heads for a ten-year high, no one is laughing. Ever sensitive to the mood of the moment. Almodóvar's latest...
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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 Almodóvar's stereotypical treatment of women? Or, may we celebrate the happy ending and laugh with this comic film from Spain?
Even before we see Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, the title conjures up images of edgy, emotional, out-of-control women. Then, from the beginning until the final scenes we watch the female characters in a frenzy over men. Pepa (played by Carmen Maura) frantically searches for her lover Iván (Fernando Guillén), who has left her for another woman, to tell him she is pregnant and to get him back. Crazed Lucía (Julieta Serrano) hijacks a motorcycle in pursuit of the same Iván, to shoot him. Pepa's friend Candela (María Barranco) is in a panic fearing she will go to jail as an...
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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 seem designed, almost systematically, to scandalize and trouble; they seem fixed, almost obsessively, on the movement of sexual desire. They are also, of course, framed largely around figures of femininity and homosexuality: figures subject, in Almodóvar's eyes, to nervous anxiety, emotional exhaustion, and flamboyant histrionics: to hysteria. Though most visibly "characterized" as women and gay men, these figures of hysteria function on a formal level as well, pointing to problems of stillness and mobility, placement and displacement, continuity and discontinuity, framing and figuration. Hysteria is, as Michel Foucault puts it, "indiscriminately mobile or immobile, fluid or dense, given to unstable vibrations or clogged by stagnant humors."...
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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 course I'm not interested in naturalism: even if I made a documentary it would turn out to be a fictional work on that subject. Between what inspires me and what I actually make, there is always an element of distance, of representation. Even when you decide where to place the camera, you're manipulating reality. So this is my most realist film, with the proviso that my realism is very personal and that there is always a touch of artifice there. It's also my most contemporary film, with references to political demonstrations and to the tension that people now feel on the street. It's based on the place where I was born, La Mancha, and the place where I now live, Madrid at this particular historical moment.
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Cardullo, Bert. "Lovers and Other Strangers." The Hudson Review XLIII, No. 4 (Winter 1991): 645-46.
Asserts that Almodóvar's Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! is "as facile and tedious as his other films to reach these shores."
Dyson, Jonathan. "Hypocrite Lecteur." The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4764 (22 July 1994): 18.
Complains that "despite several stunning set-pieces such as the rape, the basics of plot and characterization [of Kika] simply don't gel: storylines go unresolved or are unconvincingly resolved, longueurs abound."
Forbes, Jill. "Ivan the Terrible: Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown." Sight and Sound 58, No. 2 (Spring 1989): 135.
Observes the comedy and ambiguities present in Almodóvar's Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.
Fuentes, Victor. "Almodóvar's Postmodern Cinema: A Work in Progress …" In Post-Franco, Postmodern: The Films of Pedro Almodóvar, edited by Kathleen M. Vernon and Barbara Morris, pp. 155-70. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995.
Discusses Almodóvar's contributions and limitations as a postmodern filmmaker.
Hart, Patricia. Review of...
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