If you want to educate yourself in Spanish cinema, there’s really only one name you need to know: Pedro Almodóvar. What marks him out from other directors of his age and experience is his unrelenting ability to construct outlandish plot lines while pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable in the world of cinema.
His first notable recognition came with Women on a Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988) which earned him an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. Since then he has achieved limited international success but is still regarded as one of the best directors of his generation.
A lot of Almodóvar’s films deal with ideas that were taboo in Spain up until the 1970’s and the collapse of General Franco’s dictatorship. The role of women, homosexuality and identity are key themes explored in his films which are stand-alone in their stark differences and daring in what they aim to achieve. He was a key figure in the cultural renaissance around this period when there was an outbreak of rapid forward-thinking and a desire to make up for a time when freedom of thought was suppressed. He has also pioneered important changes within the Spanish cinema industry: Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990) represented a defining point in determining the line between pornography and eroticism.
The shock-factor and sheer unpredictability are definitely elements Almodóvar likes to employ in his films. The Skin I Live In (2011) is one of those that has lasting impact and invites further analysis: the twisted plot line, conflicting melodramas and questions posed regarding betrayal, identity and survival are typically Almodóvar.
He is also known for his actors that he likes to keep in work. Now Hollywood names, Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas are some of the so-called ‘Chicos Almodóvar’, having starred in modern classics Return (2006) and The Skin I Live In respectively. In a way, he has built his own theatre company, with his catalogue of actors to choose from and his film production company, El Deseo, co-founded with his brother.
Although he continues to divide people’s opinions (including those in his home country), he is really the only Spanish director people are familiar with outside of Spain because he demands attention with his unthinkable stories and visceral explorations of human sexuality.
Aged 63, Almodóvar shows no signs of slowing down with his latest release, I’m So Excited, reaching UK cinemas in May. Although the film has already opened to mixed reviews in Spain, it definitely marks a more comfortable transition for him, a return to a point earlier in his career where the focus was more on humour rather than gritty subject-matter. While it is unlikely to achieve commercial success outside of Spanish-speaking countries, you can be sure of a feel-good comedy with plenty of laugh-out-loud antics between the three gay flight attendants and the sexually-challenged passengers and pilots.
Almodóvar is without doubt one of the most important international film directors of our generation and, strange as his films are, you can’t help being tempted to delve into the parallel universes that he creates where anything goes.