September 25, 1949– Pedro Almodóvar is one of cinema’s considerably celebrated contemporary filmmakers. He has Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Original Screenplay for the comedy All About My Mother (1999) and the drama Talk To Her (2002), plus five BAFTA Awards, six European Film Awards, two Golden Globes, and six Goya Awards (the Spanish version of the Oscars).
“It costs a lot to be authentic. And one can’t be stingy with these things because you are more authentic the more you resemble what you’ve dreamed of being.”
I am quite the big fan of the films of Almodóvar, but I came late to his career, and late in appreciating his movies and picking up on how exciting and original his work as a director and screenwriter can be. My first Almodóvar film was Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown (1988) and I was crazy for it. I have now seen them all. I was won over by his creative use of the conventions of melodrama and the elements of pop culture, popular songs, irreverent humor, nutty colors and the over the top décor. Desire, passion, family and personal identity are among Almodóvar’s most prevalent themes.
My favorite Almodóvar films, so far, are Talk To Her and Bad Education (2004), but I get something special out of each one of them. With his very specific sensibilities, Almodóvar is the very definition of Cinema Auteur.
At the Academy Awards telecast in 2003, he used his winner’s speech to protest the war in Iraq, dedicating his Best Screenplay Oscar for Talk To Her:
“To those who are raising their voices in favor of peace, human rights, democracy and international legality.”
Almodóvar remains committed to portraying and celebrating gay relationships in all their complexity. Defined by their sexual orientation yet not restrained by it, his gay characters are more passionate and complicated than the Hollywood stereotypes of hysterical sidekick, sensitive understanding best friend, or flamboyant hairdresser.
I’m So Excited (2012), focused on a group of gay flight attendants, and it is a bit of a mess, but it is très gay and suitably demented. It is rather fun to watch a screwball comedy set on a transatlantic jetliner, with mile-high blow jobs and dancing flight attendants lip-synching to The Pointer Sisters, plus cameos by Almodóvar regulars Antonio Banderas and Penélope Cruz.
His latest is Julieta (2016) based on three short stories from the collection Runaway (2004) by Canadian writer Alice Munro. It marks Almodóvar’s 20th feature film and stars Emma Suárez and Adriana Ugarte as older and younger versions of the film’s main character. Almodóvar originally thought Julieta would be his English-language film, with Meryl Streep in the lead role, playing all three versions of the character at 20, 40 and 60-years-old. He even met with Streep, who agreed to the concept, and found locations in Vancouver BC, where Munro based her stories. But, he eventually shelved the idea, unhappy at the prospect of filming outside of Spain and uncomfortable with his ability to write in English.
Since the late 1980s, Almodóvar has been notorious for film inspired by low life and high melodrama, lurid, lightheartedly shocking, irrepressibly poly-sexual stories of porn stars, punks, serial killers and renegade nuns. Now, 20 films later he is recognized as a European classicist, with his films since the mid-1990s, including The Skin I Live In (2011) and Volver (2006), mostly moving away from pure outrage, shock and perversity. Instead, Almodóvar has come to show an emotional complexity, stylistic elegance and a distinctly high-art restraint in his work.
Almodóvar is a champion of the mistreated and marginalized. It’s a role he excels in, although he is wary of being typecast because of his sexuality. Still, those 1980s films are classics of Queer Cinema, although Almodóvar has always refused to be categorized specifically as a gay filmmaker:
“Did people ask Hitchcock if he made fat films? No one talks about the heterosexual President of the United States, so why should they call me a gay director?”
By pushing boundaries and ripping apart clichés, Almodóvar has brought real clout to Gay Rights causes in Europe. Much loved in his own country, his films have helped Spain become a more tolerant and liberal nation after decades of repression and fascism. But, his anti-clerical comedy Dark Habits (1983) would probably not be made today in our “politically correct” era.
“I don’t like nostalgia as a feeling but it’s true that tolerance, beauty, freedom are what defined the 1980s and it’s not what defines this decade in Spain. The films I made at that time, I had no trouble making, nobody got offended, yet they’re quite provocative.”
Almodóvar is reluctant to reveal much about his private life. He recently wrote:
“I don’t want to complain… but I have a lot of migraines, I don’t hear with one ear and I’m photophobic. I don’t go to award ceremonies because the lights mean having a migraine the whole evening. I like to stay at home. Sometimes solitude comes from something specific, like the fact that I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I don’t take drugs, I don’t hear well. I don’t want to be a drag for other people, so I stay at home. It’s as simple as that.”
Since 2002, he has shared his life with photographer Fernando Iglesias, who sometimes plays small roles in his films.
“Cinema can fill in the empty spaces of your life and your loneliness.”