Every now and then, comes a new face that takes Western-dominated Hollywood by storm, and four decades ago, that new face was the Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar! We can’t talk about Spanish cinema or modern colourful cinema in general without having Pedro’s name pop up!
The filmmaker from La Mancha has been providing Spanish cinema with some of its most emblematic works for years now. Pedro’s work goes a long way; some remember his groundbreaking debut film, Pepi, Luci, Bom Y Otras Chicas Del Montón (1980).
Others remember the film that proved that he is not like the norm, ¿Qué He Hecho Yo Para Merecer Esto? (1984). There are also those who remember the 80s film that gave him the breakthrough and the international attention that has never left him, Mujeres Al Borde De Un Ataque De Nervios (1988).
There are also those who choose his Oscar-winning titles, All About My Mother (1999) or Talk to Her (2002). Also, not to forget his recent and acclaimed form, attested by The Human Voice (2020) or Pain and Glory (2019). Pedro Almodóvar is a name that carries a lot of inspiration, creativity, and entertainment. Coming up next, we take a look at the life and career of the talented Spaniard!
Who is Pedro Almodóvar?
Pedro Almodóvar was born on 25 September 1949 in the small town of Calzada de Calatrava, in the La Mancha region of Spain. His family was a hard-working, traditional Spanish one who soon left the town and moved to Cáceres, where the young Pedro was enrolled in a religious boarding school.
In the city of Cáceres, Pedro found his true source of education, cinema, where he became a fan of directors like Luis Buñuel and Alfred Hitchcock. With youthful enthusiasm, Almodóvar relocated to Madrid in 1967 with the goal of enrolling at the Spanish national film school, which was sadly shuttered by Francisco Franco, but that did not stop his passion, and he became self-taught.
He began working on several jobs to support himself, including as an administrative assistant at Telefónica, while at the same time immersing himself in the film culture as much as he could. During that time, he started up a musical duo with Fabio Macnamara; it was called Almodóvar & McNamara, and they performed punk and electronic music.
In the 1970s, Spain was going through a turning point after the dictator Francisco Franco passed away. In the meantime, Pedro was more and more interested in experimental cinema, and he found what he was looking for in the La Movida movement (the Madrilenian Movement).
During the early years of the Spanish Transition until the mid-1980s, Movida was a countercultural and artistic movement. It was characterised by a new form of expression, both verbally and aesthetically.
Pedro Almodóvar was one of the greatest figures of the movement. With his films Pepi, Luci, Bom Y Otras Chicas Del Montón, he contributed to Madrid becoming a city of reference in just a few years.
The Rise of Pedro Almodóvar!
During the 1970s, Almodóvar was also busy writing and directing short films with his Super-8 camera. These films include Film Político (1974), Sexo Va, Sexo Viene (1977) and Folle… Folle… Folle… Fólleme, Tim (1978), his first feature film with his first muse, Carmen Maura, in the leading role.
In the 1980s, Pedro established himself as a director and auteur, making some crazy films in the early stages, such as Pepi, Lucí, Bom Y Otras Chicas Del Montón (1980). Shortly after this one came the titles that consolidated him as an auteur with ¿Qué He Hecho Yo Para Merecer Esto? (1984) and the film that made his name known internationally, Mujeres Al Borde Un Ataque De Nervios (1988), which earned him the Goya for Best Film and Original Screenplay and received a nomination for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
Step off the director’s chair, Almodóvar and his brother Agustin co-founded the production company “El Deseo” in 1986. Since then, it has produced some of the most well-acclaimed Spanish films, including La Ley Del Deseo, Kika, and La Piel Que Habito.
In the second half of the 1990s, especially in 1999, Pedro made one of the best films in his career, and definitely in the history of Spanish cinema in general, Todo Sobre Mi Madre (All About My Mother). It was this masterpiece that earned Pedro his first Academy Award, along with tons of other awards.
His second Oscar didn’t take much longer as in 2002, he won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Hable Con Ella (Talk To Her), once again proving his brilliant talent. Pedro followed that with another work of art, aka Volver, a choral drama for which he won the award for best screenplay and best female performance at the Cannes Festival for Penélope Cruz.
After Volver, Pedro Almodóvar focused on drama films like Los Abrazos Rotos (2009) and La Piel Que Habito (2011), in which he collaborated again with Antonio Banderas. He got back to comedy with Los Amantes Pasajeros (2015), and he followed that with another drama Julieta (2016).
In 2019, it was the celebrated film Dolor y Gloria‘s turn; the film was headlined by Antonio Banderas, who won the Goya Award for Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival. Antonio also received the Honorary Golden Lion from the Venice Film Festival and received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role.
Most recently, he released Madres Paralelas (2021), starring Penélope Cruz and Milena Smit. In 2023, he shot a short film, alongside actors Ethan Hawke and Pedro Pascal, titled Extraña Forma De Vida (Stange Way of Life)
Throughout the 90s and the 2000s, Pedro’s work steadily positioned him on the pedestal, and he became a recurrent face at the most prestigious film festivals around the world.
Pedro’s cinema is recognised and applauded all over the world. It is characterised by a very marked style, full of contrasts and melodramatic characters. Pedro’s style can be noticed in several elements of his cinema.
The best thing about Almodóvar’s films is the more human reflection of his characters. They are usually set in the midst of conflicts or complicated situations that leave them no choice and make the viewer empathise. The chosen cast is also another important point within his cinematographic style, and he is accustomed to treasuring and repeatedly resorting to the talent of the same actors and actresses.
Speaking of actresses, we have to mention that each phase in Pedro’s career features a “muse”, who later became known as Chicas Almodóvar (Almodóvar Girls). Although it is true that Pedro Almodóvar has given leading roles in his films to great actors such as Antonio Banderas, Eusebio Poncela or Asier Etxeandia, he has always tipped the balance towards actresses, taking Carmen Maura, Rossy de Palma, Penélope Cruz, Victoria Abril as his muses. In fact, his career is full of great women.
Love and sexuality
Homosexuality and transvestism occupy a large part of Almodovar’s films. Playing with this ambiguity allows us to see virile yet feminine men like Marco (Darío Grandinetti) in Hable Con Ella or Judge Domínguez (Miguel Bosé) in Tacones Lejanos.
Drugs are a very present element in Pedro’s films such as ¡Átame!, Entre Tinieblas or Matador. Some of these drugs are illegal, like cocaine, cannabis, heroin and other legal drugs like Mujeres Al Borde De Un Ataque De Nervios, where Pepa added sleeping pills to the gazpacho drink.
The Figure of “The Mother”
The figure of the mother is very important and decisive in Almodóvar’s films, whether she is presented as a bad mother like in Tacones Lejanos or as a loving mother like in Volver and Todo Sobre Mi Madre. It should be added that Pedro Almodóvar’s own mother, Francisca Caballero, appears in four of his films: in ¿Qué He Hecho Yo Para Merecer Esto?, Mujeres Al Borde De Un Ataque De Nervios, ¡Átame! and Kika.
The aesthetics of his films are based on the use of acid tones and primary colours (green, blue and red). Moreover, in Almodóvar’s works, we will not see many architectural references to Madrid, as he is more comfortable shooting in studios. The director is, therefore, an unconditional fan of sets. In his early days, he even painted them himself. This baroque aesthetic, this kitsch style (modern baroque and almost tasteless) of his own, makes many of his films unmistakable and turns them into models of art and imitation.
Pedro Almodóvar Memorable Films
While many would argue that all of Pedro Almodóvar’s films are definitely memorable, we will try our best to mention a few of them in this article.
Mujeres al Borde de un Ataque de Nervios (1988)
If we had to teach someone in just one film what Almodóvar’s cinema is, we would probably choose this one. This is a film that marked a before and after in Spanish cinema and especially in Pedro Almodóvar’s career.
In the film, we follow the dubbing actress Pepa as she struggles to accept her break up with Iván, a philandering dubbing actor, as well. She tries to contact him so that they can meet and talk one last time. As she waits for this to happen, some unforeseen incidents take place, and she ends up with a house full of extravagant people going through various comical situations.
The film stands out for representing strong, multidimensional female characters, which has grown to be an Almodóvar signature. It was this film that spread the director’s art successfully across borders for the first time and earned the admiration of the world. It even became the most popular Spanish film in the USA at the time.
Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards and winner of five Goya awards, Mujeres al Borde de un Ataque de Nervios was a turning point in Pedro Almodóvar’s career and the Spanish cinema.
Todo Sobre Mi Madre (1999)
Although he has a large, versatile filmography, one of Pedro Almodóvar’s masterpieces that will be forever remembered is undoubtedly Todo Sobre Mi Madre, which won him the Oscar for Best Foreign Film.
Todo Sobre Mi Madre follows the single mother Manuela, whose son dies in a car accident while trying to get an autograph from an actress. Looking for a way to escape her grief, Manuela takes refuge in her past and decides to look for her son’s estranged father.
Cecilia Roth, as the mother grieving the loss of her son and searching for his elusive father, remains an incredible story, pure cinema full of drama, emotion, surprise and truth.
The Oscar-winning drama was praised for the delicate addressing of the sexual identity of its characters, bringing to the screen the topics of transvestism and transsexuality with the characters of Agrado and Lola. Also, the film brilliantly presented the figure of the mother in a complex yet easy-to-relate-to way through the character of Manuela.
Pedro’s dramatic work of art was well-received by the audience and the critics and was showered with other awards besides the Oscar like the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film, the French César, the Best Director Awards at the Cannes Film Festival, seven Goya Awards (including Best Film and Best Director), and many more.
Hable Con Ella (2002)
Oscar for Best Original Screenplay despite being a non-English speaking film; that’s how magnificent Pedro Almodóvar’s films are! The film is widely recognised as a global cinematic work of genius and one of the most influential films of the 2000s.
The film tells the story of two men named Benigno and Marco who become friends while taking care of two comatose women named Alicia and Lydia.
The film’s long list of awards includes an award for Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globes, two BAFTA awards for Best Foreign Language Film and Original Screenplay and a Goya Award, to name a few!
This film deals with themes such as illness, death, lack of communication, and difficulties in relationships between people. Besides its complex and nuanced characters as well as its imaginative storytelling, Almodóvar combines flashbacks, dream sequences, and other devices to create a fragmented and fractured narrative.
After the success of Todo Sobre Mi Madre (1999), Hable Con Ella (2002), and La Mala Educación (2004), Pedro suffered, perhaps, from having the bar set too high. However, just when people were beginning to lower it, Volver arrived, and Penélope Cruz was crowned as the great Almodóvar girl of the new century. The film also featured Pedro’s first muse, Carmen Maura, as her mother; it was as Carmen was passing the baton to her.
The story follows Raimunda, a woman who struggles in the face of adversity and shares her existence with an unemployed worker and her teenage daughter. One of the most surprising aspects is the plot based on ghost stories. Raimunda’s mother, played by Carmen Maura, returns from beyond the grave to talk to her daughters.
Winner of five Goya awards and the prize for best female performance at Cannes, the deals with themes of the cinema within the cinema, the relationship between mother and daughter, family roots and female camaraderie and strength, as well as once again criticising TV trash.
Dolor y Gloria (2019)
After films like Los Amantes Pasajeros (2013) and Julieta (2016), Pedro seemed to be looking for a new path, which he finally found in Dolor Y Gloria. Like many of his other films, the film was international acclaim that gave Antonio Banderas the Best Actor Award at the Cannes Film Festival for embodying the character of the director who marked his career more than anyone else.
Dolor y Gloria tells the story of Salvador Mallo, a film director who is going through a personal and artistic crisis. Salvador tackles his childhood memories, his relationships, and his physical and mental agony as he thinks back on his past.
In this film, Pedro Almodóvar looks back at his own life to deal with Salvador’s past and create a portrait of his life. Almodóvar stripped himself bare, from his childhood to his current creative maturity, with countless emotionally disarming scenes and a fusion of cinema and life that manages to take a step forward in his filmography by looking back at the past.
The film received three Goya awards for Best Film, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, as well as an Oscar nomination for Best International Film.
There is no denying that Pedro Almodóvar is one of the best filmmakers in the world. His distinguished art and special style are second to none, and we can’t wait to see what his brilliant mind will come up with next!