Chris Connor on Pedro Almodóvar…
Pedro Almodóvar has been at the forefront of European cinema for five decades, starting with his early eccentric comedies like Pepi, Luci, Bom, Matador and Law of Desire. With his latest Parallel Mothers featuring prominently on the autumn festival circuit and earning positive early reviews from its Venice premiere, now seems an apt time to dissect the works of this trailblazing giant of contemporary Spanish Cinema.
Almodóvar has become a key figure in the arts scene of post-Franco Spain and one of the most acclaimed and recognisable European directors from the 1980s to present. While not all his films have earnt the same degree of public and critic appreciation, the wide ranging nature of his output makes his filmography one of the most interesting of any contemporary director.
Almodóvar’s career has often been defined by his use of colour, and especially prominent across his career is the distinctive use of red. This not only makes his films visually striking but often adds depth to key story moments notably in 2006’s Volver and Pain & Glory, his acclaimed 2019 semi autobiographical work. Arguably it is used most strikingly in is his award-winning 1999 film All About My Mother. His distinctive colour palette has remained a key feature of his work from his early work through to his most recent also featuring in his earliest successes like 1988’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown which helped make him a household name outside of his native Spain.
Another key aspect of Almodóvar’s work is the use of female leads across his career and how women drive the stories, often with a focus on mothers and their relationships with their daughters. This is especially prominent in Volver which is a sweeping intergenerational story anchored by star turns from reoccurring Almodóvar collaborators Penélope Cruz and Carmen Maura as Raimunda and her mother Irene. Maura starred in many of his early comedic works with Cruz having collaborated on 8 films with Almodóvar including Parallel Mothers. 2016’s Julieta also revolves around the relationship between the title character and her estranged daughter Antía.
Stylistically it is quite hard to pin Almodóvar into a particular category, so wide ranging is his filmography ranging from the eccentric – perhaps best exemplified by 2013’s I’m So Excited which critically was one of his most divisive works – to thrillers like 2009’s Broken Embraces led by Cruz being compared favourably to the works of Alfred Hitchcock. As well as the prominent role played by women in his films, ideas on sexuality and gender also feature prominently being especially key themes in 1987’s Law of Desire, 2004’s Bad Education, and 2011’s The Skin I Live In.
The second half of Almodóvar’s career has seen him become a critical and awards darling winning two Oscars, for Best International film for All About My Mother and Best Original Screenplay for Talk To Her, along with an additional two nominations for Best International Film and one for Best Director. He has also received 13 Bafta nominations between 1988 and 2019 winning five of these. Based on the initial reviews for Parallel Mothers, we can expect the film to be in the mix for International Film categories and with some saying Cruz is at her career best she could perhaps find herself in contention for acting gongs.
Perhaps the logical starting point to dive into the works of Almodóvar is Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown , acting as somewhat of a bridge between the different eras of his work, a fun and playful film that perhaps some of his heavier films perhaps aren’t. In terms of later films to enjoy Volver acts as a fine vessel for his relationship with Cruz while Pain & Glory earnt Antonio Banderas, another reoccurring Almodovar veteran, some of the best reviews of his own career.
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