‘In the unexcpetional lies the extraordinary’: A Pedro Almodóvar Retrospective

Pedro Almodóvar: A visionary. One of the few Spanish-language filmmakers to have experienced such international acclaim and success, and quite rightly in my opinion. For a man with a wealth of successful film credits to his name, his own production company, and countless awards on his shelves (including an academy award) what is the next step? Having built his name on his distinctive style, inspired by melodrama, pop culture, strong colours and vibrant women, Almodóvar returns to his roots, as he brings us the quick witted, light hearted comedy I’m So Excited (Los Amantes Pasajeros). In the lead up to it’s UK release on May 3rd, we look back over Almodóvar‘s cinematic journey and discover what has made him such a prolific name in contemporary international cinema.

Right from the beginning, with his 1988 breakthrough feature length, Women on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown (Mujeres al Borde deun Ataque de Nervios), it is clear that Almodóvar has a strong sense of style. The bold colours, sweeping camera movements, and sharp cuts, which have become such staples of his work, are all incorporated in abundance. Yet despite this strong identity of mise en scene, Almodóvar ensures that the themes of the film are accessible to everyone. Ok, so maybe the majority of us have not been a voice over artist who has fallen for a married man, whose wife has spent time in a mental institution, whilst our best friend has been held hostage by terrorists, but we can all relate to the general scenarios. A time when our love life is not going the way we thought. When a friend has been in need of help. Or when we simply have our priorities in the wrong place. Almodóvar’s creative choices, stylistically, and story wise, enable him to take such everyday scenarios and makes them incredible, therefore creating an audience for the unexceptional, wherein lies the extraordinary.

In creating such scenarios from the unremarkable, Almodóvar empowers his characters to be decisive, act upon their situations, and drive the story forward. This type of character is another of his signature characteristics. The strong, decisive, leading lady. It is evident, even from his early works, that the females are the focus, and driving force behind the narratives, such as Pepa from the afore mentioned Women on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown, and Talk to Her’s Lydia.

It is 2006’s Volver, however, which truly exhibits this, as not only is the film led by the headstrong Raimunda, but she is surrounded by an almost entire cast of unfaltering women. Initially, Raimunda, played by Penelope Cruz, seems uncharacteristically subdued due to the wealth of strong females around her. However, upon the murder of her husband Paco, the only male to impact upon the story (even if he is nothing more than a narrative device), she takes decisive action to do something with her life, changing the course of not only her own life, but everyone’s around her. A sort of ripple effect if you will. Being the leading lady of her family, the absence of Raimunda’s leadership directly impacts the family unit, as her sister, daughter, and eventually mother are forced to take action in their own lives. Which brings us to the final staple of Almodóvar’s work. The importance of the family unit.

Most of Almodóvar’s works are centred around one family, with the storyline being directly affected by the state of that family. This is why we rarely see a complete family unit (or the nuclear family) within his works, as we would only have one simple narrative to follow, lacking in depth, intrigue and suspense. Almodóvar’s 2011 offering The Skin I Live In (La Piel Que Habito) is anything but simple however.

Here, we uncharacteristically follow the story of the man of the family, Antonio Bandaras’ Robert, as he attempts to cope with the loss of his wife and daughter. With the family unit in desolation, the storyline becomes disjointed and non-linear, relying on multiple flashbacks in order divulge the full story. Not a typical narrative technique of Almodóvar, he adapts his stylistic choices in order to suit. The film is stripped of colour, reflecting the tone of the piece, and the usual quick fire dialogue is replaced with long, often uncomfortable silences in the absence of people to converse with. And of course the usual strong, empowered women are missing, causing the world of the man to collapse around him, resulting in his ultimate demise.

With The Skin I Live In taking such a different tact from Almodóvar’s previous works, it will be interesting to see what I’m So Excited will present us with. Whether Almodóvar continues to explore and pursue a new style, or return to ‘tradition’ and his much traversed stylistic identifiers , one thing can be said with prophetic confidence: we can expect a visual spectacle with laughs, some tears, and a great deal of entertainment.

Jenni Wright

I’M SO EXCITED! UK Gala Launch Screening followed by a Satellite Q&A with Pedro Almodóvar Live from Hackney Picturehouse will be hosted by the Grosvenor Cinema on Tuesday 23 April. Tickets for the evening can be purchased here.

almo

 

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