Thursday, October 7, 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.

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