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.
This chapter argues that the poetic or aesthetic is the dominant function in La mala educación, a film that is structured around ellipses, employing metonymy to great effect, characteristics typical of literature of the Spanish Transition. In Almodóvar’s first historical film, temporal complexity and mise-en-abyme pull viewers in different directions at plot level and in relation to issues such as the film’s autobiographical nature, its use of history and public memory, and the representation of LGBTQ+ identities and desire. The film encourages a distrust of representations of the past and uses postmodern techniques with an ethical intent, but prosthetic memories are shown to be seductive even when surrounded by signs of their artificiality. La mala educación draws attention to the role played by Spanish culture (including Almodóvar himself) in the elision of discordant memories about the past and the creation of a collective memory whereby the strictures of the dictatorship are something that the country has left behind, something that is questioned here. In-depth analysis of the film’s metacinematic features and its mirroring of the Transition’s silencing of alternative histories highlights how filmmaking is perceived as archaeological or detective work.
Reviewers of Volver were distracted by its autobiographical dimension and local colour, aspects that mask the film's engagement with the silencing of the past, the ramifications of unaddressed trauma, and the specularisation of girls and women in cinema and society in general. Volver employs mother–daughter relationships to critique the persistence of patriarchal structures in contemporary Spain. This chapter analyses repeated intergenerational sexual violence as symptomatic of the persistence of Franco's ideological regime well into the democratic era, arguing that, as with other comedies by Almodóvar, Volver's genre and pop aesthetic disguise these serious topics. The overt comedy, much of it eschatological, performs an act of amelioration and diffusion of painful events by resorting to abjection. Volver’s deceptively simple narrative structure seems a comic relief of sorts within Almodóvar's latter career, but it is both a (historical and biographical) memory object and a screen memory for trauma that contains as complex a take on the haunting of the present by past events as preceding films with seemingly more complex plots.
This chapter analyses Los abrazos rotos as a companion piece to Volver and La mala educación. In each film, memory and trauma are addressed through private stories of grief. Los abrazos rotos shows how ignoring trauma leads to the repetition of violence, offering a tentative if imperfect healing method based on the power of cinema and prosthetic memory. It returns to the issues of parental censorship and mother–child relations present in Todo sobre mi madre, Volver, and Julieta. The film’s technical virtuosity and mise-en-abyme form a metamodern structure of feeling as postmodernist techniques and past styles are used with an ethical intent to reach towards new ground ethically, historically, and cinematically. The chapter explores how class, gender, and nationality intersect in the breaking of bodies, lives, and relationships, creating psychological trauma. The film industry is shown to be part of these systems of oppression. At the same time, the film argues for the reparative power of cinema, photography, and storytelling in aiding memory construction and redintegration.
This chapter argues that postmodern recycling in La piel que habito is used within a metamodern structure of feeling, as seen in the discordance between the plot’s horrific events and its aesthetically pleasing form. The film’s use of characterisation, intertextuality, mise-en-scène, and narrative structure provides viewers with paths to uncover the characters’ traumatic history. Comparing the film to Thierry Jonquet’s novella Mygale, the chapter shows how entomological symbols are extended to include regeneration and rebirth, as well as being closely related to noir’s figure of the femme fatale. Intertextual links to Luis Buñuel’s Tristana, Michael Haneke’s Cache, horror such as Georges Franju’s Les yeux sans visage, body horror, and melodrama are coupled with a specific Spanish use of neo-noir that explores the country’s Francoist past. La piel’s gleaming surfaces are used to explore how the ideological, political, and economic structures built during the dictatorship have remained hidden under a veneer of democracy. Gender violence and sex reassignment are discussed both as bodily trauma relating allegorically to historical events and as a challenge to automatic ascription of gender onto bodies and removal of self-determination, something that could well refer to current self-determination debates on the nature of Spain and Spanishness.
This chapter argues that although Los amantes pasajeros and Julieta are formally and generically different, they are still completely within the Almodóvar spectrum. The return to comedy closely followed by drama is a very Almodovarian response to the deep financial and institutional crisis that Spain has been immersed in for more than a decade. Both films fall within a Spanish tradition of ‘crisis cinema’ either by using satire and comedy to link characters’ experiences to communal ones in Los amantes or by using physical vulnerability allegorically to ponder vulnerability on a larger scale. Los amantes not only satirises different social classes and institutions, it also parodies a current Spanish trend in literature and television of re-creating Spain’s recent past, using a nostalgic gaze to look back to the Transition and movida years in order to critique the narrative of the perfect Transition based on censorship of the past and the inertia of contemporary Spaniards. Julieta, based on Alice Munro’s stories, is a fragmented narrative with elisions at its heart, showing how censoring the past wreaks havoc in the present for two generations.
This afterword analyses Dolor y gloria as the culmination of Almodóvar’s career. Cinematic excess is used to foreground the poetic function and memory is presented as dynamic. Mise-en-abyme, self-referentiality, circularity, and fragmentation encourage the formation of multiple memories and open a critique of the creation of these same comforting memories. The film uses autofiction and autobiographical material to explore trauma in relation to the LGBTQ+ experience and as a way to muse on fiction and memory as productive, whether they become restorative or not. Composed of multiple flashbacks, the film encourages retrospective interpretation through its mise-en-abyme. This chapter analyses the film-within-a-film (a recurrent feature in Almodóvar’s cinema) and its relationship to the main narrative and to autobiographical interpretations of Dolor y gloria. It argues that there is no strong autobiographical correspondence between Almodóvar and the main character Salvador. Whereas Salvador may be making autobiographical or autofictional cinema, Dolor y gloria manages to explore these genres whilst affirming the role of cinema as fiction that explores emotional truths which, in departing from factual detail, may achieve a closer portrayal of experience. This is in line with Almodóvar’s frequent use of prosthetic memory and films as memory texts and offers an alternative form for the exploration of situated identity to artists, an alternative that may be particularly important to LGBTQ+ artists whose work is frequently pegged to their identity.
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.
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.
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.