How are leading themes for film director Pedro Almodovar characterized in All About My Mother and in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The complexity of modern life in the hope of finding happiness is one of the dominant themes found in Almodovar's films.  It a conscious theme that he instills in his work:

How do people 20 years old live in Madrid? It's quite complex…. The characters in my films utterly break with the past, which is to say that most of them, for example, are apolitical. Pleasure must be grasped immediately, hedonistically; that is almost the main leitmotif of their lives.

Almodovar believes that there is a complexity linked to a historical people that seeks to divorce themselves from historicism.  At the same time, there is a desire to find happiness that drives individuals to a point where such complexity is the natural result of this pursuit.

This theme of complexity is a dominant one in both films.  In All About My Mother, identity is composed by layering a complex reality.  The "roles" played on stage are secondary to the ones played in daily life.  Women are shown to be actresses in this realm, as well, seeking to find and balance happiness in different realms.  At the same time, complexity emerges in characterizations that seek to life with the desire for pleasure and the consequences of it.  The very same pleasure that causes Esteban to chase after it is what kills him when he is hit by the car.  The pleasure of sex is the same condition that causes AIDS. Transvestites live by playing "roles."  Happiness and complexity intersect in the modern setting, developing characters who find the struggle to live an epic one.  This same convergence of complexity and happiness is seen in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.  The ending moment reveals this.  Pepa comes back to her home to find spilled gazpacho, animals running around, and humans passed out on the floor.  Her entire life in the past two days of the film has been surrounded by complex and intersecting realities that are bound by the pursuit of happiness.  She sits on her balcony only to contemplate one more aspect of complexity and happiness in that she is pregnant.  For Almodovar, the act of pregnancy is the embodiment of complexity and happiness.  It is a moment in which chaos results, but also in which happiness is intrinsic.  Being able to balance both is the epitome of the complexity and happiness that is a part of both protagonists of the films.

Another theme in Almodovar's films is the focus on women.  It is difficult to go very far in an analysis of Almodovar's work and not mention the presence of women.  Almodovar finds women to be an interesting subject, one where the complexity of happiness' pursuit is evident.  This regard for women is seen in his dedication to All About My Mother:  "To all actresses who have played actresses. To all women who act. To men who act and become women. To all the people who want to be mothers. To my mother."  Almodovar recognizes that the struggle for modern happiness that emerges out of complexity is seen in women. In Almodovar's world, women are forced to "act."  It is not surprising to see this in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, as Pepa does Spanish voice- overs for old time Hollywood films, specifically Joan Crawford. Almodovar believes that the modern woman is one who must act and thus struggle to find happiness and a sense of being "complete" in the modern condition.  The theme of "the complex narrative" in women is what drives much of his work.

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