This week we are diving, once again, into Spanish culture. This week we are talking about perhaps the most internationally famous Spanish film director, Pedro Almodóvar.
Who is he?
Born Pedro Almodóvar Caballero (in Spain they have two last names), Almodóvar might just be the most well known Spanish director internationally. Almodóvar originally studied to be a priest but fell in love with cinema at a very young age, eventually going against his family’s ties to the church to follow his passion. As he was born in the late 40’s, Almodóvar suffered directly from the creative and cultural oppression that many felt during Francisco Franco’s regime.
Almodóvar started creating films using a simple, Super 8 camera. He wasn’t able to completely dedicate himself to film-making until after the death of Francisco Franco both due to his personal economic situation and the fact that Franco closed cinema schools near the end of his regime. When the dictatorship ended,Almodóvar was able to focus on his dream. His first films formed part of a creative movement in Madrid called la Movida Madrileña or the Madrid Movement and he continues to be a popular director to this day—his latest film, Julieta, came out in 2016.
What Should you know about him?
During Franco’s reign, cultural and creative thinkers were not given much freedom to express themselves. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that a young, innovative director would want to rebel against this oppression. Many of Almodóvar’s films have components of sexual and political freedom (such as the incorporation of transexuals) that showed expression in a way that had not been previously permitted in this country. In addition, he often gives lead or very strong roles to the female cast and creates incredibly complicated plot lines.
For many (myself included), Almodóvar often takes things a step past what would be expected or considered ‘normal.’ It is probably partly due to the oppression faced during his childhood and the beginning of his cinema career, but also impacted by his incredibly creative brain. Just when you don’t expect anything else ‘strange’ to happen, what you would have least expected occurs. This leads to intriguing yet frustrating plots than create films that you cannot stop watching because you just ‘have to know what happens.’
Top tip: don’t expect to get inside of Almodóvar’s head and get ahead of the plot, focus instead on enjoying the process as it unfolds.
What are his ties to Spain and where can you find him?
Almodóvar is still live and kicking in the movie business here in Spain and I would highly recommend checking out some of his work. Most of his movies are available in Spanish with English subtitles. I always recommend watching movies in their original language—voices are a key part of our personas—, however I am not in any way anti-subtitles! These are the films I have seen most recently, but there are many others that you might find interesting.
Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown): Almodóvar’s first film to gain international exposure was this 1988’s film. The main character is a voice actress and lover of a man who has decided to leave her. While she desperately tries to figure out how to contact her old lover and talk to him, you learn about their relationship together and as individuals. The intense plot line follows the life of several characters and plays out unexpected connections and interactions between then. Dani and I watched it together and when we thought we were just understanding what was going on, Almodóvar continuously threw us loops.
La piel que habito (The Skin I live in): Honestly this 2011 film might be one of the creepiest films I’ve ever seen—without actually being a scary movie. The main character is a skin scientist who is obsessed with creating a burn-proof skin. As the movie unfolds you learn about why he has this obsession and about the factors that have made him as focused as he is. The relationships created during the film are very intricate and definitely make you think about how you perceive the world. I would recommend seeing it at least twice as the first time you watch it you won’t be able to focus on the little things because there are so many details!
Julieta: Out in 2016, this film is on the quieter end compared to the previous one, but will still throw you off every time you think you begin to understand where Almodóvar is going with the plot. Julieta, the lead in the film, tells the story of her life in an effort to explain her actions to her estranged daughter. While the plot is captivating and confusing at the same time, the scenery and the sincerity of the characters are what stand out in my mind.
I would also recommend Todo sobre mi madre (All About My Mother) from 1999 and La mala educación (The Bad Education) from 2004 as interesting films that help you understand how Almodóvar is reaching out beyond what is ‘normal’ and making his audiences think. It has been awhile since I have seen the films, but there are still scenes that stick out in my mind, a sign for me that they were impactful films to say the least. Dani has also seen and would recommend ¡Átame! (Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!) which was, in her own words, “weird, but so much less weird than the ones we watched together.”
Have you seen any Almodóvar films? If so, what did you think about them?