This chapter analyses Pedro Almodóvar’s first adaptation, Carne trémula, inspired by Ruth Rendell’s eponymous novel. Its main focus is on Almodóvar’s representation of Spanish history and in particular his sceptical reading of contemporary events as a more or less peaceful movement from authoritarian rule to democracy. The film’s use of film genres such as thriller and noir is instrumental in its undermining of the narrative of Spain as having left behind the dark decades of the dictatorship. Spain’s optimistic narrative of the late 1990s frees Almodóvar to explore the country’s past. The form of the film contradicts its optimistic narrative. The film’s scrutiny of post-Transition Spain and contemporary Spain points to a more problematic take on historical memory and the widely accepted narrative about Spain’s exemplary Transition from dictatorship to democracy, exploiting thriller and noir to engage in memory work through the use of ellipses, circularity, chiaroscuro, urban settings, claustrophobic framing, unsettling mise-en-scène, and unbalanced compositions. Detective work prompts spectators to scrutinise Spain’s recent past, reconsidering how much of the dictatorship has survived the Transition.
This chapter analyses the film that propelled Almodóvar to international stardom, considering its intertextual relationship to Jean Cocteau’s La voix humaine and Almodóvar’s previous film, La ley del deseo, and the role of its star Carmen Maura in fostering these and other intertextual connections to Hollywood classics. The chapter argues that this comedy hides a depth that has not always been recognised. The chapter focuses on gender politics, explaining that intersectionality (class and gender) is central to characterisation. There is a subtext to Pepa’s desperate search for Iván to be found in Spain’s then legal and social contexts on single mothers and abortion. The discussion of gender leads to a critique of the film’s reception, which has focused on women’s mental health instead of the film’s focus on patriarchy and the behaviour of the male characters. This is apparent in the film’s blending of a comic mise-en-scène and narrative structure with cinematography more associated with melodrama and tragedy. Artificiality draws attention to the problematic nature of gender constraints and construction in a metamodern rather than a postmodern way.
This chapter analyses three films, all of which received a mixed critical reception, particularly outside Spain. It argues that the underlying reason for this critical and commercial backlash is Almodóvar’s increased experimental playfulness with genre and tone. The films draw on the thriller, slasher films, and pornography. This blending is employed to satirise the socially accepted links between love and violence. ¡Átame! and Kika in particular were criticised for their representation of violence against women, but criticism of all three films based on distaste of taboo-breaking in regard to gender violence miss the point. These films are indirect satires of contemporary society, sending up the genres they cannibalise. An analysis of the films’ use of distancing techniques such as mise-en-abyme, defamiliarisation, incongruity, and exaggeration leads to a discussion of the influence of European Romantic orientalism and their deconstruction of gender, sexuality, and Spanishness through the use of a high-camp, postmodern aesthetic. Additionally, sexual violence is discussed as allegorical in relation to unresolved past violence and the Spanish dictatorship. These are films about the past as much as the present.
This chapter analyses Pedro Almodóvar’s attack on complacent attitudes towards democratic Spain in the 1980s and his ambivalent use of cinematic and other Spanish cultural traditions such as bullfighting, with particular focus on his most symbolic film, Matador, inspired by Ôshima’s Ai no korïda. Analysing how two equally constructed versions of Spanishness are placed in dialogue (the traditional, Catholic, conservative Spain fostered during the dictatorship and the ‘modern’ Spain of the Transition symbolised by the fashion world), it argues that Almodóvar is parodying both by denaturalising the españolada. Matador’s use of local colour has obscured its satire of typically Spanish symbols and traditions, particularly outside Spain where reception has been steeped in the orientalism that produced these stereotypes in the first place. The chapter includes a section on the film’s failure to deconstruct gender roles via its use of Gothic and noir intertexts such as Bride of Frankenstein and tropes such as the femme fatale.
This chapter focuses on El Deseo’s first film, La ley del deseo, arguing that this melodrama-cum-thriller explores LGBTQ+ issues in the context of the AIDS panic before queer trans studies and trans theory emerged in the 1990s. The film highlights how LGBTQ+ issues were taboo. Homosexuality was criminalised in Spain and the situation of LGBTQ+ communities was precarious. The film draws attention to this by making the stereotypes about gay men and trans women crucial in the mistakes police make while investigating a murder and by turning viewers into detectives trying to discover the central characters’ traumatic pasts.
Pedro Almodóvar’s cinema in relation to his ambivalent attitude towards Spanish popular cinema and traditions encouraged under General Franco’s dictatorship. The chapter challenges the film’s sidelining because of its use of Catholic ritual and iconography, identifying it as a lesbian romance that draws on Spanish folkloric religious films, religious baroque paintings, and melodramas such as those of Douglas Sirk rather than a sexploitation or anti-clerical film. Through melodramatic pastiche, the film shows how Almodóvar’s cinema exposes the contradictions of Spanish society at the time. In addition to this, this chapter considers Almodóvar’s appropriation of Latin American music to tell a story of lesbian desire.
This chapter explores an early Almodóvar feature film and a short film, Tráiler para amantes de lo prohibido, both of which are understudied due to their departure from the established narrative about 1980s Spain and because the filmmaker was seen as a frivolous member of la movida. A parody of 1960s family films containing black comedy and drawing on Italian and Spanish neo-realism, ¿Qué he hecho yo?’s attention to detail of 1980s working-class social reality without being realist, overtly postmodern, or pop makes this a difficult film to classify. At the centre of this parody is the sending up of the return to the country narrative typical of films of the dictatorship and also present in Hollywood melodrama. Almodóvar combines these with postmodern distancing techniques, blatant artificiality undercutting the serious themes central to the film such as a critique of patriarchy and capitalism.
Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del montón and Laberinto de pasiones
Ana María Sánchez-Arce
This chapter explores how Almodóvar’s early underground films were seen as examples of an emerging modern Spain after the dictatorship and highlights how these can be seen as rehearsals of what later would become recognisable traits in Almodóvar’s style. These films jolt viewers out of the illusion of reality. At the same time, they have been interpreted through realist lenses to study the Transition and the Madrid movida. This chapter analyses how the film’s metacinematic aspects undermine these analyses. Furthermore, it offers a reassessment of la movida as not apolitical as commonly thought but as politics by the back door.
All about Almodóvar, or how to become a Spanish auteur
Ana María Sánchez-Arce
Whereas Pedro Almodóvar fits the main requirements to be considered an auteur, not least because his co-ownership of the production company El Deseo, S.A., gives him substantial autonomy in the production process, this introduction explores how this bias originates in conventional ways of thinking about Spanish cinema. It analyses how the Spanish government’s policies to promote ‘quality cinema’ prompted the Almodóvar brothers to start their own production company and explains how the Almodóvar construct hides a team of collaborators. It further outlines how Almodóvar does not fit the labels of auteur, postmodern, or gay activist filmmaker. Outside of Spain, he is seen as an auteur to the detriment of a more collaborative view of filmmaking and his cinema is generally considered highbrow. In Spain, media coverage of his cinema and emphasis on his biographical legend means his persona is something between an auteur and a celebrity. This has been detrimental to his reputation in Spain since many there think of his work as middlebrow. Similarly, Almodóvar’s relationship with LGBTQ+ activism is complex and grounded in his socio-historical context. Almodóvar’s cinema intervenes at the more fluid level of fantasy, constituting new cinematic subjects in a metamodern way.