The 100 Essential Directors Part 1

Chantal Akerman - Bernardo Bertolucci

by PopMatters Staff

1 August 2011


Pedro Almodóvar

Pedro Almodóvar
(1949 - present)

Three Key Films: Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988), All About My Mother (1999), Volver (2006)
Underrated: The Flower of My Secret (1995). Coming on the heels of his controversial Kika (1993), The Flower of My Secret is almost its antithesis in theme and tone. Where much of Almodóvar’s previous work pushed the envelope, particularly sexually, this film is more focused on family relationships and their complexities.These relationships are especially centered on those amongst women, a theme Almodóvar would go on to explore to great acclaim in later films. Here the story follows Leo, a romance writer, whose relationship has recently ended, throwing her into a deep depression that leads her to seek out the comfort of her mother and sister.  The film serves as one that would lead to more mature films focused on women and the complicated relationships they have with one another, as well as offers a more restrained film palette and style.
Unforgettable: Agrado’s impromptu monologue in the theater when Huma Rojo is unable to perform may be one of Almodóvar’s most unexpectedly moving moments in all his films. It is a scene that has Agrado, a transsexual prostitute, dissect herself and her choices with such matter-of-fact poignancy that is stands out in a film that is already filled with Almodóvar’s best work. It is a striking moment that only Almodóvar could pull off.


All About My Mother (1999)

The Legend: Pedro Almodóvar’s films have ranged widely from his early outrageous stories and flashy cinematic choices to his more recent more mature stories focused primarily on women. He has run the gamut between shocking audiences to moving them in surprising moments. He is a gifted storyteller who uses film in bold, unexpected ways—his use of color is especially striking—and one who’s themes of romantic entanglement and obsession, as well as the complex relationships between women, has grown increasingly more nuanced and affecting.

Almodóvar’s reactionary early style has more recently given way to a more thoughtful approach in his stories and characters.The beginning of his film career was marked by the newfound freedoms in the arts for a post-Franco Spain and in turn, Almodóvar took full advantage by creating films that went to the extremes. The director has worked in comedy and melodrama, oftentimes combining the two with ridiculous, over the top plots that somehow still manage to delve into deeper themes and relationships (notably in Law of Desire [1987] and Bad Education [2004]). All the while, he has always stayed true to his own unique vision and approach.

As not only the director, but the writer or co-writer of all of his films, Almodóvar has an especially meaningful connection to the material. His films have played with sexuality, religion, love, and family in ways that highlight his affection for outsiders and the fringes where they exist. His characters never shy away from actions that shock or offend simply because they shock or offend. There is a realness to the outlandishness that makes his work more universal than one would expect. Films such as Talk to Her (2002) and Broken Embraces (2009) simply highlight this.

It is Almodóvar’s All About My Mother that stands as his greatest film precisely because it is a culmination of much of what he had been exploring in all his previous films. The relationships between women, particularly the ways in which they function as mothers or nurturers, are at the heart of the film, but in a way that rejects Hollywood tropes and clichés. Instead, it establishes an unlikely group of women who come together through various strange and unforeseen ways to create a wholly believable story and Almodóvar’s most affecting film to date (the director even daringly challenges the category of “woman” itself). The film would go on to win the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award, as well as a slew of other awards, ensuring international attention to his future work on such essential films as Volver and Broken Embraces.

Almodóvar’s next film, The Skin I Live In, starring regular players Antonio Banderas and Marisa Parades, bowed at Cannes to great acclaim this year and will premiere stateside Fall 2011. Needless to say we wait breathlessly… J.M. Suarez

Click here to read Matt Mazur’s exclusive 2009 PopMatters interview with Almodóvar.


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