Director Spotlight: Pedro Almodóvar

Edited by Matt Mazur and Produced by Sarah Zupko

PopMatters’ inaugural Director Spotlight series kicks off with a true bang: our subject, Pedro Almodóvar is one of the most important directors currently working in film, a true legend. What is it about the great Spanish director that resonates so profoundly with spectators worldwide? His signature, colorful visual style? His keen awareness of and sensitivity to the issues of women? His audacity when portraying a large cross-section of sexuality in new, thrilling ways? “I’m not a ‘PG’ person,” cracked the auteur at a talk celebrating his work at the New York Film Festival. “I suppose that it’s a lot cheaper to make these independent films,” he said of his work with a wink, adding that many contemporary films were “made for children or people who are like children or adolescents.” Perhaps a bit of all of these things endear him to the global film community and have fostered a career that spans three decades, two Oscars and several masterworks.

For this week-long exploration of one of the world’s most essential, beloved directors, we could have spent the entire feature simply focusing on any of the attributes he is most known for –- an entire week’s worth of writing that dissects Almodóvar’s inspirational use of cinema history could be easily filled, and even more pages could be filled in talking about his unique relationships with actresses and female characters. As we approach the eve of the release of the director’s mash note to the history of cinema and to passionate romance, Broken Embraces (starring muse Penelope Cruz), we’re counting down to the new film’s November 20th debut, and will present a new look at the director’s career each day with the help of a diverse, international group of writers, all of whom share a zealous interest in the filmmaker. We have narrowed the focus of our coverage to the following categories to celebrate one of our favorite working directors:

Monday brings Almodóvar 101, in which we will take another look at selected cuts from Almodóvar’s filmography, with writers from across the globe explaining some of their personal favorite Almodóvar moments in mini-reviews that range from his early eighties punk-rock stomper Pepi, Luci and Bom to the sumptuous melodrama of Volver, hitting all of the major works in between. Tuesday will be an exploration of intertextuality in Almodóvar’s canon, Referencing and Recycling, and the way in which the director uses film history to shape film history. There are few working directors who understand and are as enthusiastic about the Golden Age of Hollywood, or are as reverent and judicious in their deployment of these cinematic references in their own films, as Almodóvar is. “Movies reflect everything,” said Almodóvar. “Movies reflect art, joy, fear, dreams. Sometimes cinema reflects cinema.”

Midweek on Wednesday will bring PopMatters readers a closer understanding of two of the main driving forces of the Almodóvar world: the Femmes Fatale and The Queer Auteur sections of Almodóvar Week will take a look at the close relationships the director has forged with his leading ladies, his inspiration from great stars of the past, and his unique treatment of women and queer characters in his filmic universe. Following up these essays, on Thursday, will be the essay Lost in Translation, which is a critical look at the place of Almodóvar in the pantheon of great European filmmakers, and particularly his relationship to filmmaking in Spain, post-Franco. The piece will also look at how the director has been historically embraced by Hollywood and is often misunderstood by European critics.

Then finally, on Friday, to cap off the week of critical analysis, we will hear from the maestro himself: the generous director squeezed me in for a lengthy chat as he brought Broken Embraces to the New York Film Festival for it’s stateside bow. Between dinner parties with Madonna (“I’ve known her for a long, long time,” said Almodóvar. “We were talking about that, the passing of time. Because we were remembering movies that we saw together in the ’90s”), lectures on the place of film history in relation to his oeuvre, and a cascade of promotional duties, Almodóvar managed to find time to sit down for an intimate talk with PopMatters about his new release, his relationship with star Cruz and even shared his opinion on the current role of film criticism in contemporary, non-traditional media. Getting to chat with an icon of cinema like this for any period of time is one of the most joyful parts of my job, so to be able to talk to our first Director Spotlight series guest was an unforgettable experience and one that I am especially excited to share with readers. Almodóvar has had a profound influence on me as a writer and as a cinema lover, so it brings me great personal pleasure to be able to celebrate the themes and intricacies of his work with this series.

Anyone with such a fervent passion for actresses is aces in my book and should be widely applauded (specifically, his love of John Cassavetes’ Opening Night and Gena Rowlands performance in it is inspiring). “A director has to behave in a very cruel way,” said Almodóvar. “When you are working with somebody and you know that they have problems, your job is to help her to give everything. [The director must be] Father, lover, psychiatrist, and even sometimes he should be the executioner. But there is never any room for gratuitous cruelty” That he is a master of the form who continues to experiment successfully with the filmed image is simply an extra bonus!

So sit back, grab some gazpacho –- with or without barbiturates –- and join PopMatters in celebrating the work of Almodóvar all week long!

Matt Mazur