Thursday, October 07, 2010

Modern Maestros: Pedro Almodóvar

Robert here, with my series on great contemporary directors.  This will be my last entry on a specific director, so I thought I'd go out with a bang.  Next week I'll wrap things up in a more general sense.

Maestro: Pedro Almodóvar
Known For: colorful, often kinky films about love and obsession.
Influences: Billy Wilder, Hitchcock, Sirk, Fassbinder, Fellini

Masterpieces: All About My Mother and Talk to Her
Disasters: I'm not sure if he's capable of making a disaster.  Some of his films are minor efforts but they're all so wonderfully Almodóvar.

Better than you remember: They've all gotten a pretty fair run, unless you're The Academy in which case Volver is much better than you seem to think.
Box Office: Volver with over 12 mil.

Back in the glory days of cinema, there were foreign film artists who the cinema-going public knew and patronized en masse.  There was Bergman and Fellini and Kurosawa, all of whom broke into the mainstream and developed reputations that sustain them to this day.  Pedro Almodóvar is the closest we have to this now.  While he may not have achieved as much popularity as those men (in today's industry no one could), he's one of the few foreign film directors with name recognition who can count on his films opening reasonably wide in the U.S. as a given, and occasional award attention.  We can thank this on a style of filmmaking that Almodovar has developed that is fresh, exciting and unequalled.

Passion.  Love.  Obsession.  These are the elements of Almodóvar's fancy.  They are timeless yet modern.  After all passion, love, and obsession have always driven the actions of mankind and still do.  Which explains why we can so easily relate, even when the impassioned characters are somewhat less than sympathetic. Consider Talk to Her's Benigno, a man whose love/lust toward his comatose patient results in some pretty abhorrent behavior.  So why aren't we abhorred?  Because in the world of Almodóvar he's a victim of his own passions.  Contrasted with Paco (the father from Volver) who we do abhor because we know he's a victim of his own carnality.  Almodóvar knows that line, and he knows how to exploit it.  And it's how he exploits it that sets him apart.  Most directors who deal in passions and obsessions delve into the dark depths of humanity.  Yet Almodóvar celebrates these things.  Please don't get me wrong, he doesn't paint a happy picture for those victims of their obsessions, but his films, awash in bright colors, glorious melodrama and naked flesh, present these things in the way they make us feel alive, energized, aroused, and fully human.  There is a love of life to be found in Almodóvar's work.  It's not sentimentalized.  It's honest.  It's a celebration of all humanity, the whole messy thing.

Further pushing the dramatic line, Almodóvar explores how these passions come to form our identity and vice-versa.  After all, what we obsess over, what we love for and cry for is a direct result of what we define ourselves as, whether that be motherless or childless, man or woman, gay or straight.  Almodóvar's characters are often forced to confront their identities as they come to realize they were never what they thought they were to begin with, and the passions they've developed so unconsciously  that have become so personal, may have been based entirely on non truths.  These moments at the core of Almodóvar's films make for great melodramas that don't feel the slightest bit artificial.  Yet another true contradiction of a talented filmmaker.

Pedro Almodóvar is hard at work on his next film, a revenge thriller that may be a bit of a departure from his recent work, but no doubt will challenge his viewers and his own characters, and be rooted and impassioned humanity.  The film will pair him with Antonio Banderas, an actor with whom he hasn't worked recently but who can thank Almodóvar for much of his exposure.  The Internet Movie Database lists yet another upcoming film for the director (though these things are often subject to change) about Italian singer Mina, a great subject for a great melodrama.  The promise of two Almodóvar films in two years seems too good to be true.  We'll be keeping our fingers crossed, those of us who are passionate (if not obsessed) with Pedro Almodóvar.


James T said...

I really hope the Mina film never becomes a reality. I'm sorry I don't share the love for Cruz that everyone seems to have but I'd hate to see her portray Mina, who is so unique and mesmerizing, using her, for me, conventional charm and sexiness.

And how on earth is she going to copy that divine spirit Mina possesed during her last live show?

But this is your last write-up so I want to end on a positive note.
Well, quite simply, this series has been lovely!


I didn't even ask you to finish with my favorite living filmmaker but you did. I feel like this is a gift to me.

BUT ROBERT WILL BE BACK. I just want everyone to know that. He's too good to let get away :)

I hadn't heard about this Mina film but now i must consider it... and James T i'll keep your comment in mind when I do.

Robert -- you're right that the Academy was weirdly cool on VOLVER apart from Cruz. I never understood that as it's better than most of the films than all of the films that were nominated for foreign film that year (and best picture for that matter!)

/3rtfu11 said...

Almodovar is the single foreign auteur I have any reverential respect for. I love him. Like Tarantino and Verhoeven he’s a joy to bask in and too important to cinema.

Better than you remember is his most recent shrugged off too easily Broken Embraces which features my personal favorite Penelope Cruz performance. I know she has many fans but I only liked her some but I actually fell in love with her during the course of the film. I wish she could’ve taken the Helen Mirren spot.

I haven’t seen enough Almodovar – the first film I saw “Talk to Her” loved it – the second film “All About My Mother” best movie title by the way (if you love your mother that is) – the third “Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down” I didn’t care for this film compared to the previous masterpieces I had seen. The fourth film “Volver” affected me deeply because I had lost two loved ones in the span of three months during the year of its release. What made the film so special was the surprise ending --- you never know with Pedro where exactly he’s leading us and where he lead us made the entire journey worth it.

“Broken Embraces” is the most recent film and the last one I saw. I saw it like two weeks ago late like three in the morning. Stayed up for the whole thing --- the film only has one minor/major flaw --- the actor cast as the viewing impaired womanizing filmmaker --- he looks like Kelsey Grammer. It was very distracting because I have mixed feelings about Grammer and the character Pedro wrote isn’t very likeable and I prefer the protagonist to be either likeable or sympathetic but Almodovar never makes it cut and dry. The character’s handicap doesn’t make us automatically feel compassion for him. He’s a jerk who happens to be blind.

Seeking Amy said...

Ahhh probably my favorite filmmaker alive too, I'd have to say Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and Volver qualify for masterpiece status too if you ask me. Can we thank him for the gift of Gael Garcia Bernal being ridiculously hot in drag too?

My mom is Peruvian so she LOVES movies in Spanish, and particularly Pedro's movies. We've seen Women on the Verge... so many times together. He's provided great family memories for us.

I am intrigued by Mina as well and have heard about it for a while - I believe both Marisa Paredes and Penelope Cruz were both rumored for the part...perhaps different ages? I find it fascinating because I thought he never wanted to do a biopic. Would be fascinated to see his approach to one.

Glenn said...

Your first paragraph is routinely the argument I raise when people criticise that Best Foreign Language Film category. Yes, the branch make a fool of themselves, but there's a reason why the category so rarely features films that everyone has seen. It's because these days you have an international breakthrough and you move to America. Many of the foreign name directors that have remained, more or less, at home (Almodovar, Jeunet, Haneke, Audiard and several more niche names) rarely make the sort of films that the Academy like to honour now that the branch itself has morphed into something completely different to what it was 40 years ago when Kurosawa, Bergman and Fellini were seemingly winning the award in frequent succession.

Almodovar is a genius, I am sure of it. Bad Education and Volver are the two titles that don't get enough love, I think, although my favourite is All About My Mother.

cal roth said...

Don't believe this Mina project. No sequels, no biopics, no remakes.

I love Almodóvar now, even he is not that great, like in Broken Embraces.

He started with awfully bad movies, become interesting with Law of Desire and Matador, made a raw masterpiece with Tie me Up Tie me Down, but only became a great director when he made Live Flesh.


Cal -- wow. we disagree so much on this. He was interesting right from the start. Law of Desire was the first masterpiece and Live Flesh is one of those solid films along with Broken Embraces that aren't close to top tier Almodóvar but are interesting in terms of where they fit into his overall oeuvre.

Movies with Abe said...

I don't understand why "Broken Embraces" didn't get a warm reception - it was one of my top five films of last year.

Fernando Moss said...

Passion, love and obsession... Yep the three perfect word to describe how I feel about Almodovar (my second favorite director just behind Buñuel)


ABE -- i can only speak for myself here but i am a HUGE almodovar fan and to me i couldn't quite connect to it because it seemed a bit like a retread. I'm still trying to pinpoint in what way but it felt a little more laborious and recycled to me than his other films.

so i'm excited about the new one. It's probably not my cuppa (violence and vengeance) but i think it will be good for him to try one of those crazy detours he'll do on occasion. (I remember KIKA as pretty out there and TIE ME UP also felt like a detour at the time)

/3rtfu11 said...

Retread…No but he’s idiosyncratic: having films unfold in unexpected ways and end in a neat package -- which is strange because the tragedy and melodrama are so extreme at times. I’m always anxious how he’ll untangle his characters’ webs.

Y Kant Goran Rite said...

I'd argue "Volver" is 'better than you remember'. Yes, it got a fair amount of critical acclaim, but it didn't pop up on any best of the decade lists, and not even all that many Top 10 lists back in 2006 (which was such a paltry field).

AAMM and TTH are by now accepted and unchallenged masterpieces, but I don't think Volver is quite yet, and it should be. It was the second-greatest film of the aughts (...behind Talk to Her). (Don't tell me I'm biased - I am being entirely objective. How dare you call me 'obsessed'!)

Otherwise, fabulous write-up as usual. I want more.