Pedro Almodóvar Critical Essays

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."