Over the last few months of the summer so far, while the blockbuster season has been relatively kind to me, I’ve been spending it with Pedro Almodovar. With my current disposition to be marathoning through filmmaker’s canon I found myself in the need of Spanish cinema, so I turned to the one man who’s films have been deemed weird, entertaining and all around interesting with every turn and that is Mr. Almodovar.
With prior to this staged viewing having only seen his most recent (other than the film that was released this past week in limited) film, The Skin I Live In – which I adored – I felt inspired to delve deeper.
There are two qualities in Almodovar’s filmmaking and storytelling that strike me the most when I attempt to vaguely generalize him into a few sentences (as I shall here). This is: (1) He is a fantastic teller of female tales, while many films try so hard to minimalize women his films always seem to be empowering women in ways that even the few female writer/directors working today don’t quite do right now; and (2) He paints his frames with such elegant broad strokes as if it’s a canvas so often, I love the way his settings are always so bright and filled with colour so that it just sears its way into your mind.
While I began my marathon feeling that Almodovar may have been indestructible, I can honestly say that he isn’t so perfect walking away. His 2009 and 2004 features, Broken Embraces and Bad Education both served as reminders that perfection can’t always be reached. With both features they present these broken narratives about almost two different characters and slowly tries to meet itself in the middle with explanations as to how each character became each other’s transitional period and in both occasions it just felt off. I honestly wanted to love it, but something about them both just didn’t click. I almost want to blame myself and my cynical self attempting to try and believe that this coincidental happening would actually exist in the real world. However, I later prove to myself that it’s the story and not my own personal hang ups since this is a trope used in a lot of Almodovar’s films and a lot his movies I loved.
Then we get to the weird. Almodovar’s films always seem to capture a part of sexuality that in another hand becomes kink and just exploitative. When he has a film, like Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, which is about a man kidnapping a woman (who plays a former drug addict and porn star) in order to make her love him it’s weird to see it not turn completely into a S&M story. The sex is always there in the corner of the room, but somehow Almodovar creates a tension by having the woman in such a submissive position (tied up) and never actually taking it like how you’d expect. Then when the sex finally comes it’s like the culmination of actual sex, it’s glorious. There’s also his work in The Flower of My Secret which stages the story of an older woman who finds love, and while it never seems distinctly sexual there are a lot of moments – especially with her distant husband – where we see her throwing herself at him with stark language that we can’t help but attempt to understand the role of sexuality in a relationship, which is something we don’t typically see in films. In film sex is used just as curiously as an grand action sequence is. It feels like a candy that we want to get to while we’re force fed the vegetables on our plate, as opposed to just being a complementary part of the meal. Almodovar changes that into something bigger, better, and generally more thought provoking.
However, if I were to nail down THE BEST of his that I’ve so far experienced it falls directly to Volver, All About My Mother and Talk To Her. I was lukewarm with Volver when I first discussed it for the marathon, but something about that movie has stuck with me and thinking about it two months after first watching it I can’t seem to deny how wonderful Almodovar paints with that story. I can’t get out of my mind how much he had me believing that she was actually a ghost until the film said otherwise. With All About My Mother and Talk To Her what played so well is how Almodovar can toy with narrative and relationships to make compelling imagery. With his use of the Pina dances in Talk To Her and previous film work (like All About Eve) to show the now stereotypical strong female role in art within All About My Mother keeps you engaged throughout.
With all this said the film that will always stick with me is All About My Mother. The film’s mythological feel to it is just always at the forefront of my mind as I think about Almodovar. It tells so much about the idea of character and writing for characters. We’re reminded that as long as we are invested and love our main character we’re willing to make the leaps that the character makes in order to make her (or him) into this grand hero.
I started this post telling you that Almodovar is really a painter and that’s what I truly believe. Every art form has it’s own rules, guidelines and general understandings. Film, unlike most other art forms, is usually hindered due to narrative conventions. However, Almodovar rises above those conventions to create something emotional that gives off more than just a narrative, it emits a feeling that is palpable and I doubt many could deny. However I shall let Almodovar himself have the final word.
What do you think of Pedro Almodovar’s Films?