Almodóvar and the portrayal of Spain in his movies.
While Hollywood and its Star System have always been the international point of reference – leaning towards oligopoly – when it comes to the seventh art, since the dawn of film there have also been great directors, actors, screenwriters and other celluloid geniuses from other parts of the world. In Spain’s case, the potential of its filmmakers began to be taken seriously at the international level thanks to the talent of Luis Buñuel, after whom the scope of Spanish cinema in other markets seemed to diminish. This changed not long ago, as Spanish cinema shot to the forefront once again with directors like Alejandro Amenábar or Pedro Almodóvar. The latter is probably the most well-known Spanish director both in Spain and abroad, thanks on one hand to a pair of Oscar wins and on the other hand to actors and actresses, such as Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz, who he trained and made famous.
In Spain it isn’t strange to hear all sorts of criticism directed towards how Almodóvar makes movies, which many consider to be brazen, stereotypical, repetitive and even perverted; then again, there’s no doubt that he has a loyal fan base of followers and supporters throughout the world. Like any director, he has gone through many phases of creativity and handled different symbols and leitmotifs that continue to be his trademarks; to understand the existence of this world and style, it is necessary to pay attention to the historical situation that existed in Spain when he began his trajectory as a filmmaker. Almodóvar comes from the liberal, post-Franco Destape and the counterculture Movida Madrileña, two explosive movements of creativity, vitality and existentialism that emerged following the end of Franco’s dictatorship and its strict censorship of anything considered at odds with Catholic and Puritan morality.
That’s why his characters, situations and dialogues have a noted irreverence, a politically incorrect component that emerged in him with the intention of overcoming all of the limitations of the past. However, this can’t be considered a genuine recourse at the international level, as there had already been similar transgressions in French cinema – the departure from the traditional elements of Nouvelle Vague – and in Italian neorealism, whose filmmakers depicted the society that concerned them in a way that, until then, had been unheard of. Sure enough, after some cinematic experimentation, Almodóvar absorbed influences from these great masters’ genius in moving towards a unique and personal style.
When people from abroad see one of Almodóvar’s films, especially his earlier endeavors, they might think that Spain is a place overrun by broken homes, alcoholism, reckless sex, venereal diseases, transvestites, prostitutes and physical abuse, and in which everyone uses rough language saturated with foul slang words. This is precisely what is subject to so much criticism by many Spanish spectators, namely those who don’t see Almodóvar’s Spain as the same Spain they know and experience. Undoubtedly, Almodóvar’s perspective has always been characterized by a note of bitterness, irreverence and even violence; this point of view, loaded with new conventionalisms, points to a decadent but solid society that exists and perpetuates in reality, albeit in a more subtle way than the director suggests. It should be pointed out that breaking the mold has always been the point of Almodóvar’s films, full of nudity found in a timid population with the relaxation of sexuality, of domestic violence that was merely an extension of a small-town mentality that had always existed and of the new urban dwellers whose survival instincts led them to stay hidden for four decades.
As we were getting to, a certain dissipation or lessening of these themes can be detected in his filmography, perhaps due to the maturity of the democracy. New stages of creativity have now come to light in which you can still detect the filmmaker’s unmistakeable mark; in fact, he has even begun integrating an autobiographical component into his style. Having grown up in a matriarchal environment, female characters have always been present in Almodóvar’s stories and arguments, whose weight they generally endure and manage; seeing as how Spanish women are taking on an increasingly active role in a society still dominated by men, these situations are now a more accurate reflection of what happens in Spain, of how its inhabitants act, of how the personal relationships between them are created and destroyed.
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