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As Spain’s narrative of itself has changed through the late 1990s and the twenty-first century due to its engagement with historical memory and an interrogation of the country’s democratic credentials, analyses of Almodóvar’s cinema have changed to accommodate this. This book explores the evolving way in which the cinema of Pedro Almodóvar is employed to read Spain within the country and abroad. It focuses on how Almodóvar’s cinema engages with the narrative of the nation and the country’s twentieth- and twenty-first-century history through a metamodern (rather than postmodern) aesthetic. Whereas Almodóvar’s cinema does not wear politics on its sleeve, this book argues that, through using postmodern techniques with an ethical intent, a foregrounding of cinematic excess, and the poetic function, it nevertheless addresses Spain’s traumatic past and its legacy in relation to gender, class, and the precarious position of the LGBTQ+ community. The political nature of Almodóvar's work has been obscured by his alignment with the allegedly apolitical Spanish cultural movement known as la movida, but his cinema is in fact a form of social critique disguised as frivolity. The book offers a comprehensive film-by-film analysis of the cinema of the Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, from early transgressive comedies of the 1980s like Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del montón and Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios to award winning dramas like Todo sobre mi madre, Hable con ella, and Dolor y gloria. In doing so, it shows how Almodóvar's films draw on various national cinemas and film genres.

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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.

in The cinema of Pedro Almodóvar
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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.

in The cinema of Pedro Almodóvar
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Entre tinieblas
Ana María Sánchez-Arce

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.

in The cinema of Pedro Almodóvar
¿Qué he hecho yo para merecer esto?
Ana María Sánchez-Arce

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.

in The cinema of Pedro Almodóvar
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Matador
Ana María Sánchez-Arce

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.

in The cinema of Pedro Almodóvar
La ley del deseo
Ana María Sánchez-Arce

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.

in The cinema of Pedro Almodóvar
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Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios
Ana María Sánchez-Arce

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.

in The cinema of Pedro Almodóvar
¡Átame!, Tacones lejanos, and Kika
Ana María Sánchez-Arce

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.

in The cinema of Pedro Almodóvar
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La flor de mi secreto
Ana María Sánchez-Arce

La flor de mi secreto is neither an aesthetic break from previous work nor the end of Almodóvar’s exploration of taboos and social boundaries. The film’s aesthetic and dramatic tone departs from the films preceding it, but it is not as dramatic a change in direction as many critics believe. In fact, in this tragicomedy there are as many satirical targets as in previous and later work: a couple trying to perform traditional gender roles, the military’s new image as protecting human rights, and the ruling socialist government, which was then eroding workers’ rights. La flor is a subtle poisoned dart satirising contemporary Spain’s over-confident self-image in the 1990s. Other important issues discussed in this chapter include the role of the countryside, gender performativity, and Spanish identity as shaped by Romantic orientalist folklore.

in The cinema of Pedro Almodóvar