Pedro Almodóvar Movies
Splashing his colorful films across the dour post-Franco Spanish landscape with the irreverent glee of a prostitute arriving late to church after a long night, Pedro Almodóvar
has been called the most influential Spanish filmmaker since Luis Buñuel
. Beginning in the 1980s, Almodóvar
started serving up provocative, candy-colored visions fraught with postmodernist insight into everything from sex and violence to religion and the dangers of good gazpacho. Sometimes shocking, sometimes controversial, Almodóvar
's films have always managed to present a new and intriguing view of his native country, shaping the attitudes of both his compatriots and a larger international audience.
Born September 25, 1951, in Calzada de Calatrava, an impoverished hamlet of La Mancha, Almodóvar
was raised in a traditional Spanish household. He studied with Salesian monks, sang in the choir, and generally felt like a misfit; he was later to remark that, for him, growing up in such an environment was tantamount to being an astronaut in King Arthur's court. At the age of 12, on seeing Richard Brooks
' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
decided to give purpose to his alienation, marking himself down for "a life of sin and degeneracy." As a teenager, Almodóvar
was influenced by the films of such directors as Billy Wilder
, Douglas Sirk
, Alfred Hitchcock
, Luis Buñuel
, Blake Edwards
, and neorealists Marco Ferreri
and Fernando Fernán-Gómez
; deciding to pursue a career as a filmmaker, he got out of La Mancha and headed to Madrid in 1969. Working at a phone company by day, he wrote short stories, mock newsreels, and spoof commercials at night, as he also made Super-8 shorts and one Super-8 feature.
One of Almodóvar
's stories, a dirty photo-novel he was commissioned to write for a fanzine in 1978, became his first feature film, the 1980 Pepi, Luci, Bom...
. An outrageous sexual satire, the film delivered a happy slap to the face of Spanish society, which at the time still wallowed in Franco-style social intolerance. The film's campy, pop-art-colored hedonism and sexual vulgarity were mirrored two years later in Almodóvar
's second effort, Labyrinth of Passion
. Many Spanish critics, who had a bias toward the more "quality" films of the Spanish cinema establishment, reacted negatively to Almodóvar
's work, labeling him too modern and superficial.
The director reacted to such criticisms with Dark Habits
(1983) and What Have I Done to Deserve This?!
(1984). Although both films were comedies, they delved into more serious, complex subjects. Dark Habits
presented a criticism of the Catholic Church through the story of a woman forced to hide out with a group of outrageous nuns, while What Have I Done to Deserve This?!
was the tale of a housewife struggling to cope with the travails of everyday life. This latter theme of the downtrodden housewife would arise repeatedly in the director's work, as would other issues of female independence and solidarity. Almodóvar
's subsequent films deepened his exploration of sexual desire and the sometimes brutal laws governing it. Matador
(1986) offered up desire as a bridge between sexual attraction and death, presenting the viewer with a cornucopia of sexual options, including fetishism, gay and straight voyeurism, necrophilia, and female penetration. This variety was further explored in the aptly named Law of Desire
(1987), which offered up similarly overt sexuality, as well as Antonio Banderas
in his first starring role. Banderas
also starred in Almodóvar
's subsequent feature, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
(1988), which took a sharp and unfailingly amusing look at female sexuality and desire, and further established Almodóvar
as a "women's director." It also earned its director international acclaim and 7.8 million dollars domestically, remaining the highest-grossing film in Spanish history for a decade.
Following the success of Women
took a turn toward controversy with his next film. Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!
(1989) was the subject of heated stateside debate, thanks to its premise of a famous actress (Almodóvar
muse Victoria Abril
) falling in love with the man who kidnaps her and holds her hostage. Decried by feminists and women's advocacy groups, the film also received a negative reception among certain Spanish critics, who declared that Almodóvar
had lost his sense of direction. Similar criticism was leveled at his two subsequent films, the family melodrama High Heels
(1991) and Kika
(1993). Like Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!
incurred a certain amount of controversy in the States, thanks to a rape scene that was perceived as both misogynistic and exploitative.
The director changed gears with his next effort, 1995's The Flower of My Secret
. Starring Almodóvar
regular Marisa Paredes
as a pulp romance writer, the film was a psychological drama hailed by many as his most mature film to date. It also heralded a change in Almodóvar
's portrayal of his male characters; rather than fashion the kind of clueless male protagonist often featured in his earlier films, Almodóvar
created a more positive image of a "new man." Similar male characterization followed in his next film, Live Flesh
(1997). Loosely based on a Ruth Rendell
novel of the same name, the film explored love, loss, and suffering with a sober restraint only briefly glimpsed in the director's earlier work.
then continued to work in more serious dramatic confines, directing All About My Mother
in 1999. The story of a woman's search for her dead son's father, it revisited Almodóvar
's familiar themes of the inherent force of sisterhood and the power of family, no matter how unconventional that family may be. Dedicated to Bette Davis
, Romy Schneider
, and Gena Rowlands
, the film premiered to great acclaim at the 1999 Cannes Festival, where it won Almodóvar
a Best Director prize. He enjoyed further success at the 2000 Golden Globes and Academy Awards ceremonies, both of which saw All About My Mother
garner honors for Best Foreign Language Film.
Two years later, Almodóvar
hit another career high with Talk to Her
, a melodrama as notable for its complex sexual politics as it was for its stylistic flourishes. The film, which revolved around two comatose women and the men who love them, was hailed by critics and embraced by arthouse audiences. However, certain plot points also revived charges of misogyny that had been leveled at the director for some of his earlier films (specifically Kika
and Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!
). Despite such controversy, Almodóvar
won numerous honors across the world for his film, including a French César for Best Film and an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. It had become clear by this point that Almodovar had no intentions of slowing down, and he would continue to garner awards and critical praise with films like Volver, Broken Embraces, and The Skin I Live In. ~ Rebecca Flint Marx, Rovi
"I'll never love you . . . ever!" the sexy and attractive Marina (Victoria Abril) states emphatically to the love-struck Ricky (Antonio Banderas). You know she means what she says because when she makes this statement she is handcuffed and lashed to a bed, not exactly the proper way to warm anyone up for romance. Yet in Pedro Almodovar's Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! the way to a woman's heart is depicted as being held in captivity until the Stockholm Syndrome kicks in. The film concerns the plight of Marina, a "B"-movie diva trying to adjust to her recent success after years of porno films and drug addiction. But then into her life comes Ricky, a part-time handyman and full-time mental patient, who, during one of his past escapes from the mental ward, had spent the night with Marina -- who gave in to him during one of her less-discerning moments. Since then, Ricky has been thinking of her constantly. Determined to win her affections, he kidnaps Marina, holding her captive in her own apartment and trying everything to convince her to love him -- then they could marry and have a big family. All Ricky's attempts to woo Marina fail. Finally, after taking a severe beating from some street thugs, he strikes a chord in Marina's nurturing heart so that when her sister Lola (Loles Leon) finally discovers her plight, Marina no longer wants to be rescued. ~ Paul Brenner, Rovi
- Victoria Abril, Antonio Banderas, (more)
Once-great Spanish matador Nacho Martinez has been reduced to starring in gruesome "snuff" films. Martinez is idolized by Antonio Banderas, who has no notion of his idol's current illegal profession. Terrified at the thought of drawing blood in the bullring, Banderas nevertheless seeks out Martinez' assistance in preparing for a bullfighting career. To prove his "machismo", Banderas rapes Martinez' lady-friend Eva Cobo. No one will believe Banderas' confession of the rape, so he decides to attach more importance to his crime by confessing to a recent rash of serial killings (actually perpetrated by Martinez and his cohorts). Bandera's case is taken by feminist attorney Assumpta Serna, who unwittingly--but not unwillingly--sets herself up as Martinez' next "conquest." ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
- Assumpta Serna, Antonio Banderas, (more)
Popular film director Pablo Quintero (Eusebio Poncela) has found a new love in the form of handsome blue-collar Juan (Miguel Molina). Not altogether comfortable with his lifestyle, Juan decides to leave Pablo for a while to contemplate his future. Pablo insists that Juan keep in touch by sending him love letters. Ever the director, he plans to write the letters himself, and have Juan mail them back with his signature. If you think that settles things, you don't know filmmaker Pedro Almodovar. Among the many plot complications in Law of Desire is Pablo's subsequent romance with the possessive Antonio (Antonio Banderas, whose "gay kiss" in the film prompted front-page headlines in the Brazilian press), and Pablo's efforts to film the life story of his sister (Carmen Maura), who started out life as his brother. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
- Eusebio Poncela, Carmen Maura, (more)