Five Essential… Films of Pedro Almódovar

Jackson Ball selects his five essential films of Pedro Almódovar…

Whether you are a massive fan, or just mildly aware of European cinema, you will probably recognise the name Pedro. In the past thirty years, he’s not just become one of the most influential filmmakers in his native Spain, but indeed the entire continent. Known for pushing boundaries, his movies often deal with challenging topics like sexuality and gender roles. These thought-provoking themes are weaved into complex narrative structures, and given a splash of pop culture for good measure.

From his humble beginnings rebelling against the Franco regime, to the international acclaim he’s received since; he has compiled a complex and accomplished back-catalogue of films. Still making films well into his sixties, Almódovar shows no sign of slowing down in his advancing years. Here is just a selection of my favourites…

The Skin I Live In5. La Piel que Habito/The Skin I Live In (2011)

 Antonio Banderas made his name as an actor in a string of Almódovar films in the 80s and 90s, before crossing the Atlantic to become a Hollywood star. Twenty years later though, the pair reunited for the science-fiction thriller The Skin I Live In. The film has all the eerie undertones of a classic ‘Frankenstein’ story, but is enthused with Almódovar’s trademark themes of love, sexuality and revenge.

Live Flesh4. Carne trémula/Live Flesh (1997)

If a ‘conventional’ Pedro Almódovar film exists, it is sure Live Flesh. The film could act as a checklist of the codes and conventions you’d expect to find in the one of his projects: sex, love, revenge, blurred sexuality, social commentary and reflections of life in Spain. The film also contains another example of Spanish star prior to their Hollywood breakout, with a powerful performance from a young Javier Bardem.

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

3. Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios/Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988)

Another reoccurring motif in Almódovar’s films is the strong emphasis on the roles of women. As the film’s title suggests, this movie is another dramatic portrayal of that motif. Sprinkled with black-comedy (like most of the films on this list), Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is perhaps the closest Almódovar ever comes to an all-out melodrama. The film is recognised as one of the first to bring Almódovar’s name to international attention, earning nominations at both the Academy Awards and the BAFTAs.

All About My Mother

2. Todo sobre mi madre/All About My Mother (1999)

A film that could have just as easily claimed this list’s top spot; All About My Mother is considered by many to be the director’s finest. The film is a head-on collision into such challenging topics as AIDs, religion, homosexuality and cross-dressing. Successful both domestically and internationally, the film was a box-office hit, as well as critically praised. The film is also an example of the frequent professional collaborations between Almódovar and Penélope Cruz, who here plays a pregnant nun with AIDs.

Talk to Her

1. Hable con ella/Talk to Her (2002)

Two provocative and gripping love stories are expertly intertwined in this classic drama. It is quintessentially Almódovar, as the maverick director holds up a distorted and stimulating portrait of love and romance for the audience’s consideration. The film tells the story of two men who are brought together through their similar situations: both are in love with women in indefinite comas. Both the comas (and in fact, the romances) are circumstantially different, but both open up a Pandora’s Box of questions about love and relationships. Such was the movie’s acclaim that it won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, as well as a Golden Globe for Best Foreign-Language Film.

Agree? Disagree? As always we’d love to hear your comments…

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