Let me just talk about Pedro Almodovar for a little, okay?
I know that we like to have a little fun around here and pretend that my favourite director is Rob Zombie; sometimes, I like to murmur that into the ear of my delicious co-editor while he sleeps to remind him he’s dating a fucking lunatic. But, in all honesty, when it comes to the films that I can’t get enough off, to the director I obsess over most, for the last ten years – it’s been all about Pedro.
I touched on this a little bit with my review of Dolor y Gloria last year, but I’ve recently been re-watching a lot of the Spanish director’s back catalogue and realized I just haven’t rhapsodized enough about him and what his films mean to me. My mother introduced me to him way back in the day, when the two of us went to see The Skin I Live In together (on the same day I saw Final Destination 5 for the first time, but that’s besides the point), and, within a matter of weeks, I’d pretty much blazed through all his major releases and started a lifelong cinematic love affair with his work.
A big part of that, I have no doubt, is that Almodovar consistently centralizes women in his stories. At the time I first found his films, movies which were built around women – not just a single woman, but women, their relationships with each other, their sexuality, their sharp edges, their fully-formed lives – were so few and far between on my radar. While these stories often deal with the harsh realities of life as a woman – like sexual assault and abuse – Almodovar seemed to make efforts to approach those things as aspects of these women’s lives, not the defining features of them, and focused on uplifting and centralizing victims and not perpetrators.
Aside from the content, though, it’s his style that has me hypnotized. Almost any film you pick to watch first from Almodovar’s movies is going to be…a strange experience, for sure. He’s a completely singular filmmaker, tonally unhinged, somewhere between telenovela, magical realism, serious drama, and comedy of manners in almost every one of his productions. Finding your way in isn’t necessarily easy, and I know a lot of people find his florid, expressive, intensive stylings too much to handle. And I get that, I do – I pretty much started with The Skin I Live In, a psycho-drama horror about a forced gender reassignment surgery. Where do you even start with this stuff?
But the truth is, Almodovar creates soap opera. The storylines he takes on are at the very edge of reality, not quite impossible but unlikely to ever actually happen. They teeter right at the edge of the downright unbelievable, but, instead of holding them at arm’s length and treating them as such, Almodovar approaches them with a straightforward set of questions; if this was real, how would it impact the people who go through it? It’s near-fantasy levels of unreality matched with a pragmatically human approach to those stories, and that mix is undeniably compelling when he gets it right.
I just adore Pedro Almodovar’s work, and if you’ve been looking for a reason to start watching him, this is it, right here. Talk to Her and Volver are great places to start, but almost any single one of his movies is printed with his iconic, inimitable style. And I just know you’ll love it as much as I do.
By Louise MacGregor
(header image via Filmmaker Magazine)